Island signs pact to advance divestment of national airline by 2009

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Kingston, Jamaica – Jamaica on Monday signed a grant agreement with a U.S. agency to get the debt-ridden national airline off the Caribbean country’s books by 2009.

Island leaders and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency signed a $820,000 grant pact to assist with divestment of state-owned carrier Air Jamaica, which Prime Minister Bruce Golding has identified as a significant drag on the national budget.

Sen. Don Wehby, who holds a senior position in the Ministry of Finance and Public Service, said the U.S. grant would allow Jamaica to shed all holdings in the airline by March 2009.

“We believe that it will be in the best interest of Air Jamaica and for Jamaica for this divestment process to go through as quickly as possible,” Wehby said at the Monday signing ceremony in the capital, Kingston.

Golding has said Air Jamaica has cost the country millions since 2004, when the government took over the airline and began a restructuring. But the struggling carrier has continued to eliminate routes and lay off workers as it attempts to turn a profit.

Calls made to Air Jamaica’s corporate offices in Kingston went unanswered Monday.

Minister of Finance and Public Service Audley Shaw said that eliminating all state holdings will ultimately help the airline survive.

“We are looking forward on a very positive basis to this privatization process, which will ultimately be to the benefit of Air Jamaica,” Shaw said.

sun-sentinel.com