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Prime Minister Bruce Golding is seeking to secure the livelihood of staff members of Air Jamaica, as the Government embarks on a programme to transfer the national airline over to private operators.
He said a major concern in negotiations to privatise the national carrier would be the retention of staff and the preservation of Jamaican jobs. He noted that another condition of any deal would be the continuation of the Air Jamaica brand, including its iridescent colours.
Mr Golding was responding to questions from the audience at the final leg of his four-city whistle-stop tour of the United Kingdom at the Marcus Garvey Centre in Nottingham on Friday night.
The subject of Air Jamaica is an emotive one for Jamaicans in Britain as the community has remained disgruntled over the sale of the landing slots at Heathrow Airport to Virgin Atlantic. Jamaicans in the Midlands and North of England are particularly aggrieved over Air Jamaica as the airline had closed its Manchester route before eventually pulling out of the UK. He said the Government was duty bound to honour deals made by the previous administration but was busy preparing to invite bids from investors to secure the airline’s future. While not making any promises about a reinstallation of the UK routes, he said the idea was to attract an investor capable of integrating the airline into the wider network of international carriers to guarantee seamless airlift to Jamaica from anywhere in the world.
“We have a major problem with airlift to service the tourism industry. We want to make sure that anybody who is successful in acquiring Air Jamaica will be able to afford people anywhere in the world, the opportunity to make their bookings in one place and be assured of a high standard of service along the route to Jamaica,” Mr Golding said.
The Government of Jamaica has engaged the services of the International Finance Corporation to ensure a seamless privatisation of Air Jamaica by March 2009.
Toasting Air Jamaica’s finer attributes Mr Golding said: “There is no pilot anywhere who can land a plane as smoothly as an Air Jamaica pilot, we have some of the best cabin crews and our ground and maintenance crews are first class. These are qualities that we must retain.”
Members of the audience expressed dissatisfaction with the treatment they receive at the Norman Manley International Airport when they visit Jamaica. Elderly persons complained that customs officers were insensitive to their challenges, often rummaging through their luggage and leaving them to try and put their bags back in order.
Mr Golding promised to mandate Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Daryl Vaz, to investigate the complaints and look at how the service provision can be improved and maintained.
On the question of the increasing difficulty Jamaicans are having acquiring visas to the United Kingdom, Mr Golding said perhaps the time had come for all the countries that face similar experiences to sit down and discuss the matter with the British authorities. Among the areas of serious concern he cited was the deportation treaty which continued to land unfairly land some people in Jamaica.
Prior to responding to specific issues raised by members of the audience, the Prime Minister made a spirited two-hour long presentation in which he outlined the Government’s policies to grow the economy, fight crime and improve the education system.
He was cheered and encouraged by the large audience who travelled from various parts of the Midlands and the North of England.
In very frank dialogue with the audience, Prime Minister Golding lamented the crime situation and outlined measures that are being taken to fight crime, including clearing rid the police force of corrupt elements.
While at the podium he was told of the shooting deaths of two policemen in Kingston. With a pained expression on his face Mr. Golding stridently reinforced his resolve to tame Jamaica’s crime monster.
He recommitted his full support to the Commissioner of Police and promised to work ceaselessly to offer Jamaicans a society in which can live without fear.
Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Karl Samuda gave a moving presentation in which he emphasised the vibrancy of Jamaica’s economic climate. He spoke about the possibilities that will be presented to producers and manufacturers under the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.
Senator, Dr the Hon. Ronald Robinson, Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, gave the gathering a clear sense of the Government’s plans to strengthen the relationship between Jamaica and the Diaspora. He mooted the idea of a centralised service which will address the diverse concerns persons raise.
Before the meeting Mr Golding was met by the Sherriff of Nottingham Councillor Brian Grocock and his wife Judith. Former two-time Lord Mayor of Nottingham, Jamaican Des Wilson formerly welcomed the Prime Minister and Mrs Golding to Nottingham. Jamaica’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Burchell Whiteman formally introduced Mr Golding.