JIS News

The new nine-member Air Jamaica Board, which became effective on July 1, has seen six persons from the previous 11-member Board being retained and three new members.
The retained members are: Shirley Williams, Dennis Lalor, Richard Byles, Wilfred Bagaloo, Dr. Carolyn Hayle, and Omar Parkins, while the new members are: Derick Latibeaudiere, Chris Berry, and Colin Steele.
Making the announcement at yesterday’s (July 2) post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, Senator Don Wehby noted that Miss Williams will be the non-executive Chairman of Board, which means she will not be involved in the day to day operations of the airline.
A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) has not yet been selected. However, Acting CEO, Will Rodgers, will continue to serve in that post. It is intended that a new CEO will be recruited by the end of July. In addition, a Chief Financial Officer will also be employed.
Senator Wehby said that in his assessment of the governance of the airline, “I felt that the size of the board at Air Jamaica was too large.when you have an airline that is facing the challenges that Air Jamaica is facing.I believe that we need a more focused board with a level of expertise in making some tough decisions for the airline.”
Meanwhile, he said the Government is currently seeking a divestment partner for Air Jamaica as part of its privatization exercise, noting that there are specific criteria being used for the selection of such a partner.
“The Air Jamaica brand must be maintained; the selected partner must commit to providing adequate airlift to Jamaica as a tourist destination; (and) the prospective partner must have extensive airline experience and appropriate capital,” he stated.
He noted further that “any partner that we bring to the table for discussion, must have that sort of resources to recapitalize Air Jamaica, and they must be able to do it on an equity basis or a long term basis.”
The Minister noted that it will take approximately US$300 million to US$500 million to recapitalize Air Jamaica, so it can return to its glory days. “That will be the capital injection needed to put the airline in good stead,” he stated.
The need for a divestment partner, is in keeping with the Government’s commitment to meet the divestment deadline for the airline by the end of March 2009 – a deadline that Mr. Wehby assures will be met.
He said that he supported the view that Air Jamaica is a national asset, noting that the airline carries about 30 per cent of visitors to the island.
Senator Wehby said in terms of the divestment structure of Air Jamaica, the Government will maintain 20 per cent of the airline as a minority shareholder. “We think that will show good faith and our commitment to the national airline and really what we are trying to develop is a win/win situation for all. Once the airline has the capital and the technical expertise, I really believe that the losses can be wiped out over a number of years,” he said. Between January and May, Air Jamaica’s losses stood at some US$85 million.
He went on to commend staff members for being devoted to their work. “I have not seen members of staff so loyal to a company and so passionate about their company. The Air Jamaica staff is really first class.One of the greatest assets that Air Jamaica has is actually the staff and the expertise there. They work at times under some very trying conditions,” Senator Wehby said.
He said that his personal hope, was to establish, under the divestment structure, an Employee Shareholdership Plan (ESAP), which will give the employees an opportunity to invest in the airline.
The overall objectives of the divestment exercise are the transfer of complete or substantial majority ownership and full management control of the airline to the private sector; the recapitalization of the airline; retention and long-term sustainability of Air Jamaica as the national carrier; and structural or contractual linkage to a major global carrier.