HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY, March 13, 2019
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF FEBRUARY 28 2019
- The Cabinet invited three groups to meet with its members in order to provide useful information and to help to guide the body’s decision-making:
- A four-person group from a Norwegian engineering and construction group has sought and received Cabinet’s approval to move forward on building a green-energy hotel, on the shoreline of Antigua. The Brova Idea Pearl Hotel will be 170 rooms large, will cost €130,000,000 (one hundred and thirty million Euros) to construct and equip, and will employ more than 200 permanent employees when completed in 30 months or by November 2021. The innovative design of this partially submerged Brova Idea Pearl Hotel will be itself an attraction that will help to re-define and renew the Antigua product. The group assured the Cabinet that the funding through Banco Deutsche has already been secured, the principals reported. Its hotels are in operation in Europe and China, and the product has been very successful. Antigua was selected because of its many shoreline indentations and the possibility of building within a sheltered bay. The Pearl Hotel team will be submitting the architectural plans, the Environmental Impact Assessment, and the letters from the Bank giving assurances of funding.
- The Head of the Environment Division addressed the Cabinet on the possibility of receiving funding from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to assist in replacing those engines from the Blackpine Plant that will soon be retired. APC, the operator of the Blackpine Plant, has informed the Minister of Public Utilities that at least two of the plants’ engines have a very short life left; in order to keep energy levels at the level that is acceptable, the engines will have to be replaced. Cabinet has agreed that as the life of all fossil fuel engines end, they will be replaced by green energy sources including wind and solar. The Green Climate Fund will likely become one of the sources of funding to end dependence on fossil fuel energy.
The structure of the relationship between the GCF and Antigua and Barbuda was also examined. The Cabinet agreed that it would take whatever steps are required in order to place Antigua and Barbuda in a superior position to utilize the inexpensive resources that the GCF has available. Ambassador Black-Layne sits on the Board of the GCF and exercises significant influence in decision-making.
iii. Two representatives from BHM, the construction and engineering company that is building the runway in Barbuda and repairing the two major roadways under construction in Antigua, were invited to Cabinet to give an update on the projects. The Barbuda runway is likely to be completed before the end of the 2019 year; its delay is occasioned by the temporary injunction by members of the Barbuda People’s Movement which inflicted a heavy cost, as machines and men remained idle for more than one month. The work slowed-down significantly as machines were deliberately damaged and workers moved to other jobs during the injunction shutdown.
The Friars Hill and Airport Roads are capable of completion in a few months, providing the aggregates required can be delivered to the sites. A promise was made by the Minister of Works that BHM will be given priority in the delivery of certain sizes of aggregates. The stones will come from the Bendals Quarry and the Burma Quarry where new crushers were installed, in order to produce all the crushed stones that would be required. Complaints about payments were directed to the CDB—the bank responsible for making cash payouts.
- The Cabinet was informed by the Prime Minister of the highlights of the CARICOM Heads meeting which took place in St. Kitts on Tuesday and Wednesday, 26 and 27 February, 2019. The subject of LIAT was foremost on the agenda, given the need to provide the regional carrier with the resources required to keep the airline flying. While a loan of US$16 million dollars was required to re-capitalize and restructure LIAT, contributions from all the countries to which LIAT flies are not forthcoming. Every effort was made by Barbados, St. Vincent, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda—the four, current shareholders—to encourage Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Kitts/Nevis to purchase shares in the carrier. Whenever monies are borrowed, the distribution of the repayment-amount is spread among the ownership states based on the ownership-percentage. There were no firm commitments from any of the non-ownership states.
Outstanding payments owed by all member-states to the CARICOM and its many institutions, was a topic high on the agenda of the Heads. The CARICOM proposed that all the states undertake to raise the resources required to whittle-down the outstanding debt-payments by increasing a travel tax, which could be dedicated solely to paying the CARICOM. No state would make a pledge to do this, the Prime Minister reported, although many pledged to give consideration following consultations with their several Ministries. The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda has not yet determined the way forward.
- The Minister of Tourism met for an hour with a delegation from the St. John’s Taxi Association, just before Cabinet started. Upon completion of the meeting, the Minister reported that the drivers sought reassurances that they were in no danger of losing their trade at the Heritage Quay. Many members had been listening to untruthful claims made by oppositional forces to the effect that they would be replaced. The Minister reported to the Cabinet that the delegation left satisfied that their livelihood is in no danger. A number of the drivers had been misled by those seeking political advantages. The failed picket at the Heritage Quay (while the meeting was taking place)—seeking to be disruptive while four cruise ships were docked in St. John’s Harbour—did not include taxi-drivers. The use of a megaphone, it was noted, is contrary to the rules governing pickets.
- The Minister responsible for Broadcasting reported that ABS was back to normal. Strikes and pickets have ended and the workers there have returned to work. Every effort is being made to continue the improvements at the national broadcast station, which now has very high ratings.
- March 21, 2019, the third Thursday in the upcoming month, marks the first anniversary of the electoral victory of the administration over its political opponents. The ABLP won 15 seats in the general elections; the UPP won one seat by 10 votes, and the BPM won the Barbuda seat. The Gaston Browne Cabinet noted that the UPP has tried ever since the general elections, one year ago, to gain traction among the electorate by raising objections to, and making wild claims about, two very innovative choices made by the new administration. However, the Cabinet is of the view that the oppositional forces have failed in their wild attempts to change the minds of the Antigua and Barbuda people. The Cabinet will roll-out a listing of its accomplishments by each ministry in the twelve months since March 2018; and, several Ministers and others will share their successes with the Antigua and Barbuda people on several media.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY, 20 FEBRUARY 2019
- The custom of the Gaston Browne administration is to invite officials and other experts who provide leadership and who can share very useful information with the Cabinet. Three experts were invited to Cabinet:
- Two members of the Rastafari Community who have an abiding interest in the interesting rock formation at Greencastle, calling it the equivalent of Stonehenge in England, came to Cabinet to seek to preserve Greencastle Hill from further quarrying, and to turn the Antigua Stonehenge into a better organized tourist/nationals’ attraction. Priest Isaac, the spokesperson, made a report on his findings of the quarrying and the danger it poses to destroying the special site; the grave of former Governor Baldwin, whose ashes are buried on Greencastle Hill, is also threatened by the quarrying. The spokesperson also reported on the special arrangement of the stones which seem to be phallic symbols that are arranged to measure the annual summer and winter solstices, consistent with the earth’s movement around the sun.
The elected representative of the St. Mary’s North constituency has insisted on the inclusion of the members of the Bendals community. The Bendals Community Group also regards their interest in Greencastle to be generational. Hence, the Cabinet agreed to allow the Ministry of Works, the Development Control Authority, the National Parks Authority, in collaboration with the Rastafarian Group and the Bendals Community, to design and develop: a.) a walking trail and a smooth path, sufficient for a golf cart to carry disabled or elderly tourists and nationals to the historic and geological site, 950 feet above sea-level; b.) a sheltered gathering area, a rest area for tourists and nationals at the foot of the hill; c.) a parking area for taxicabs and automobiles, also at the foot of Greencastle. The cost of the investment will be recuperated from the tours that will likely flock to the site, very much like what happens in England, where the Stonehenge there attracts millions of visitors annually.
- The Head of the Disabled Society, Mr. Bernard Walker, was invited to Cabinet to further his proposal to develop a special service for disabled and elderly tourists who still wish to enjoy the beaches of Antigua. Disabled tourists often remain on board the vessels which bring them to the St. John’s Harbour, or remain confined to certain spaces at the hotels, he reported. The disability group wishes to provide the technological improvements in wheel chairs that can be rolled into the sea, allowing those confined to wheelchairs to enjoy sun, sand and sea. Various mats that have the ability allow for wheeled chairs to enter on the beach and to carry the user to the water’s edge were displayed in pictures. The group agreed to make the investment once assured that it could ply its trade to cruise vessels and hotels. The special van which the group uses to carry wheel-chaired passengers would have to be specially insured and provided a license to operate at the ports. The Cabinet agreed to make representation on the group’s behalf, in order to assist with achieving the success for which the group aims.
iii. Cabinet invited the former Solicitor General, Mr. Lebrecht Hesse, to provide a legal opinion on the ownership rights of the state over the spectrum which is utilized by the telecommunications firms; they are reliant upon certain bands in order to provide cellphone and data transmission. APUA has been closed-out of the 850 megahertz band on the spectrum; the Cabinet is seeking to ensure its entry without incurring liabilities. The matter will come before Cabinet next Thursday, February 28, 2019, when the APUA technicians, managers and others with expertise will be invited to join the discussion.
- The Cabinet held a discussion on the previous day’s press conference on the Global Ports Holding (GPH) LLC., and addressed the responses of the viewing and listening publics. More people are learning of more of the details of the agreement and the spending of more than US$80,000,000 to improve the cruise-port, to ready the harbour to receive the largest cruise ships in the world, and to create more shops and entertainment options than now prevail, the Cabinet agreed. The Cabinet also applauded the Head of the GPH for making it very clear, contrary to many unsubstantiated claims by oppositional forces, that the owners of the cruise ports will continue to be the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Cabinet was reminded that Mr. Harold Lovell, when he held the position of Minister of Tourism, entered into an agreement with a group to virtually give away the cruise-port. This matter will find its way into the discussion during the sitting of Parliament, scheduled to commence tomorrow, Thursday, February 21, 2019, at 9:30 am.
- The Prime Minister reported that he held discussions with the principals of Rubis, a gasoline wholesaler and a provider of jet fuel at the V.C. Bird International Airport. The Rubis has agreed to partner with WIOC in the provision of fuel to aircraft at the international airport. Rubis has also agreed that it will withdraw its legal actions against gasoline stations, and seek to negotiate a reasonable rent increase from the gasoline retailers that operate gas stations that it owns, and which stations carry its brand name. This agreement brings to a successful end a series of negotiations that seemed headed for further court action. The Cabinet congratulated all the stakeholders for finding an acceptable solution to the brewing crisis, and applauded the Prime Minister for his leadership.
- The Cabinet agreed to amend the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code CAP 27 to further protect workers from employers who seek to exploit loopholes in the law. For example, the Cabinet agreed thata contract worker who completes three consecutive contract periods is to be declared a full-time employee of the firm. It appears that several employers, including hospitality establishments, have been stringing along employees on contracts for more than one decade, offering several short-term contracts that allow for an end to the employer/employee relationship at the whim of the employer.
The Cabinet also agreed that an employee of a firm that is being sold to another company ought to be free to determine if that employee prefers to accept severance (and to be re-employed by the new owner), or to continue with the new owner as a continuing employee with all benefits intact. The Labour Code CAP 27 does not now offer the choice. The Cabinet is of the view that employees must be presented with the choice. The determination cannot be left to the employers—the buyer or seller of the business.
- The Cabinet has agreed to fund the Entrepreneurial Development Fund (EDF), to name its Board, and to set limits and other rules governing the use of the funds. The EDF Fund will be capitalized, as announced two weeks ago, by more than EC$17 million dollars. Global Ports Holding will provide US$5 million dollars which will complement the additional EC$4 million dollars to come from the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF). Cabinet has agreed to have the resources placed in the Caribbean Union Bank, which is 80% owned by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. The CUB has the expertise required to process the disposition of the fund and to ensure compliance with the Government’s objectives. The funds will not be applied to the distributive trade (known as buy-and-sell businesses) but by businesses which add value to goods by improving on their ultimate worth.The CUB will have available a Business Advisory Service Office that will assist entrepreneurs by developing business plans, at a nominal cost not to exceed 1% of the borrowed funds, and accounting systems to be able to measure the success of the business. The object is to defeat the expensive services which private consultants are likely to charge for the same services. The funds will be made available at a concessional interest rate of 2%, and the maximum to be allowed any single business will be no more than EC$100,000 (one hundred thousand Eastern Caribbean dollars).
- Cabinet agreed to provide a lease to the One Love Tribe situate in Bendals, at the urgings of the Parliamentary Representative for St. Mary’s North. The Rastafarian group has been occupying the land for at least two decades, and now seeks to build a chattel house on the 25 acres of land in order to help safeguard their crops. Praedial theft and other invasions have challenged the Tribe. The Ministry of Legal Affairs has been charged with completing the documentation, with having the land surveyed, and with fencing. The Cabinet has agreed to provide assistance to the group in completing the several tasks.
- The Cabinet has agreed to institute a Revenue Court to hear appeals by taxpayers against the decisions of the Inland Revenue Department. The Court will be put in place before mid-year 2019, the Minister of Legal Affairs announced.
- The Minister of Health announced that the U.W.I. Health Economic Unit will provide assistance in the amount of $50,000 to fund the study that will determine the structure of the National Health Insurance coverage, to be provided to all nationals and residents of Antigua and Barbuda.
- The Minister of Health also reported that the young man who reported that he had been robbed, and hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat on the 7thFebruary 2019, was deemed to be mentally challenged or disturbed. The MRI and other examinations revealed that he had not suffered a blow to the head or the neck as reported. His several visits to the hospital Emergency Room over a period of four days were accounted for; but, on each occasion when he was called, the young man did not respond to the nurses, having left the compound. The Minister will provide details to the public when he speaks in the Parliament on Thursday morning, February 21, 2019.
- Eight cases of dengue fever have been confirmed in Antigua during 2019.Cabinet continues to encourage every man, woman and child in Antigua to continue to exercise caution by ensuring that no uncovered water is allowed to accumulate anywhere that mosquitoes can breed, and to avoid being bitten by the flying creatures.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 13 2019
- The Cabinet invited Dr. Barbara Paca, a curator who volunteers her time and talent to promoting Antigua and Barbuda at several venues, and has been instrumental in mounting a permanent exhibit of Antigua and Barbuda art at The Venice Biennale art gallery in Italy. The curator, who also serves as the Cultural Envoy of the Ministry of Culture, put forward a plan to promote Antigua and Barbuda further at the outstanding gallery in Italy, in 2019, and to have a permanent presence there. The Cabinet examined the submission and asked that various costs be reduced. A final decision is to be made at the next meeting of the Cabinet, following a revised submission in the interim. The Ministry of Tourism will collaborate with the curator in order to bring more wealthy Italian tourists to Antigua. More than 42,000 visitors saw the Antigua exhibition and a similar number is likely to visit during the coming days of the exhibition in 2019; hence, the reason for collaboration.
The Cabinet also was informed of the dangers faced by ancient documents at the National Archives because of a leaky roof and other dangerous conditions; the micro-climate within the archives building, that needs to be controlled, is challenged by the intrusion of variable ambient temperatures. Cabinet was persuaded that Yale University is willing to assist and that the contribution would likely be given as reparations. An approach to Yale University was authorized by the Cabinet.
- Cabinet examined the developments taking place in the Point, and applauded the St. John’s City West Parliamentary Representative for the improvements that have been made, and those that are planned for a community that has not seen major improvements in decades. The applause followed a visit to Lower North Street in the Point on Saturday, February 9, 2019, by many of the members who went to a social function in celebration of the Prime Minister’s birthday. An area that previously was a dump for abandoned cars and a rotten wooden house, measuring less than an acre, was sold to a new owner for nearly $26.00 per square foot. A new building was constructed thereon at the cost of hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, transforming the area into a new hub of economic activity. Many residents, the Cabinet was informed, have applauded the changing circumstances at the previously run-down area.
The Cabinet also recalled that the Booby Alley is to be transformed with 150 new houses, intended to replace the dilapidated wooden houses that crowd the 3-acre site. Cabinet members acknowledge that the transformation of the Point is on its way. They applauded the Representative for doing more in the four years as Head of Government than the previous Prime Minister undertook in his constituency in 29 years.
- The Cabinet was informed by the Minister of Health that 4,000 more patients visited the Emergency Room of the Mount St. John Medical Center (MSJMC) in all of 2018, than in the year 2014. The increase in the number of patients is credited to knowledge of improved care at the MSJMC and in healthcare, despite the reports of occasionally long waits at the Emergency Room. More doctors and nurses have been assigned to Emergency Room service since 2014; however, critical emergencies can sometimes cause the surgeons and nurses to divert to life-threatening cases, as was the case recently. Three emergency cases one night this past week involved patients suffering heart ailments; the immediate intervention of the E.R. Doctors meant life or death. Other patients were required to wait.
- The Cabinet took a decision to waive all duties and taxes on gym equipment, in order to lower the cost to homeowners and consumers, effective March 1 2019. In an effort to contribute to healthier lifestyles, and to abandon the sedentary routine that characterizes many who work in offices, the Cabinet was advised that gyms are essential equipment. By lowering the cost of exercise equipment, the Cabinet intends to make such equipment more affordable. The Cabinet was made to understand that the neutral revenue impact which guided its decision in raising taxes on sugary drinks, is to be offset by the elimination of duties and taxes on gym equipment. The Cabinet also gave consideration to building outdoor gyms within communities, attached to basketball courts and other sporting centers. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the major cause of death in Antigua and Barbuda, characterized by hypertension and diabetes; getting boys and girls, men and women, to live active lifestyles including exercising in outdoor gyms, is one sure method to address the killer diseases plaguing Antiguans and Barbudans.
- The Cabinet reiterated its decision to establish within the Ministry of Works a Building Maintenance Unit responsible for the repair and refurbishment of all government-occupied buildings that are in need of upkeep. The Unit will clean the properties—although those who use the buildings and the spaces are also called upon to keep their surroundings dirt-free. The Unit will also have the responsibility to ensure proper aeration of the buildings; will repair leaks; and, will be charged with ensuring regular service checks, including the buildings’ overall health.
- The Cabinet reaffirmed its decision to transfer $200,000 to the Public Works for urgent repairs of the Margetson’s Ward at the old Holberton Hospital, transforming the same into a temporary extension of the Fiennes Institute. The refurbishment of the Nurses Hostel on Queen Elizabeth Highway is nearly complete; the residents of the Fiennes Institute will be temporarily housed at this government building while the 90 year-old buildings at the Fiennes compound are razed and new buildings that are purpose-built to accommodate the elderly are erected. The P.D.O. building on Valley Road is to be repaired beginning later this month. The staff have been moved to other quarters temporarily while the building is being assessed. The building is more than 50 years old, and requires a thorough cleaning and to be re-painted.
- 7. The Ministry of Health is seeking to enter into an agreement with the Green Climate Fund to engage in a test for sickle cell in newborn babies. The exact amount of the contribution and the length of the project has not yet been agreed. However, Cabinet welcomed the offer by the Green Climate Fund to provide the resources to begin the testing. Sickle Cell Anemia is one of the inherited diseases that affect people of African descent moreso than others. Experimentation on addressing the very painful attacks which “sicklers” suffer is being undertaken in many countries.
- The Cabinet was very pleased with the conduct of the Official Funeral for Dame Yvonne Maginley held on Tuesday, and continues to express condolences to the family.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2019
- The Gaston Browne administration invited three groups to Cabinet in order to assist in decision-making, providing advice, and seeking support.
- The APUA General Manager, the Telecommunications Manager and the Electricity Manager were invited to Cabinet to address several issues including: the undersea cable that APUA plans to purchase for use; the arrangement which APUA will make with the operators of the Blackpine Engines that will become APUA’s property shortly.
The APUA Telecomms Manager provided Cabinet with a history of the amounts which it has paid to three undersea-cable providers within the past fourteen years. The amount which APUA has paid for the rental of the suppliers’ cables has far surpassed the investment cost of owning an undersea cable. The cost of investing in its own undersea cable, by borrowing to purchase the asset, even at this point, will still allow APUA to expend less than if it were to continue to pay rental to the three providers. The Manager estimated that over the fifteen years of amortization of a loan, APUA could lower the cost to the consumer, make a decent profit, and provide higher speeds to customers.
The APUA Electricity Manager explained that the Blackpine Engines, operated by Antigua Power Company, will become the property of the APUA under the BOOT arrangement which governed at the start of the agreement. The issue facing APUA is whether to train its own engineers to manage the engines, or whether to employ the APC workers who have institutional knowledge of the plant, or whether to pay APC to continue to operate the Blackpine Engines. The data provided to the Cabinet were deemed incomplete for an intelligent decision, and therefore asked that the team return next Wednesday when the Cabinet re-convenes.
- The Director of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority and three Board Members were invited to Cabinet to address the marketing needs of the destination—the ABTA having articulated a strategy and certain tactical approaches to advancing the Summer 2019 program for growth. Each of the members and the Director led the Cabinet through a presentation that identified the core programs: Health and Wellness, Romance, Yachting and Sailing, Heritage Tourism. The Cabinet added Sports Tourism, and asked the ABTA to cost the program which has to begin immediately, since the bulk of Summer bookings are usually made in February and March each year; they may trickle off into May. The ABTA costed the promotional program at US$1,000,000 (one million United States dollars); the return is expected to bring US$12,000,000 in business, making the investment well worth the outlay. The Cabinet agreed to provide the resources in two tranches of equal amounts, so that the flow of tourists during Summer 2019 will not be severely reduced. The object is to ensure that jobs and services in the tourism sector, during the May to October period, are not greatly diminished. Other Caribbean destinations are seeking to maximize tourism arrivals during the same summer period, making the competition intense.
iii. A high tech group from Trinidad, known as NOVO, was invited to Cabinet to share its experience at the Piarco International Airport, with the possibility of having Antigua and Barbuda purchase equipment that has become standard at many international airports. The company provides kiosks and recognition technology that allow for a swifter flow of passengers through security checkpoints and to boarding areas. The new technology can also examine bags that are to be placed on aircraft with a degree of accuracy that now surpasses the technology now in use. The company costed four E-Gates and 24 departure gates at Trinidad’s Piarco airport at US$15 million, plus a US$1.5 million for a license fee. The Cabinet has asked the firm to examine the V.C. Bird International Airport and to assess a cost specific to the International Airport.
- The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda has authorized a new loan facility from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) in the amount of US$16 million dollars, to re-capitalize LIAT while it undertakes restructuring. The Cabinet accepts that its efforts are designed to save the airline which is vital to the survival of the sub-region, and to Antigua and Barbuda’s national interests. The governments that own shares in LIAT are seeking to have other Caribbean countries served by LIAT to join in burden-sharing. Further, the Cabinet agreed that it will take legislation to Parliament when it next sits to declare LIAT an essential service, as defined under the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code. The Cabinet is seeking to protect the investment in LIAT and to help ensure its long-term survivability.
- The Cabinet also took a decision to re-capitalize the Antigua and Barbuda Development Bank (ABDB). The $4 million dollars which the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) will provide in the form of a grant, will be placed in the ABDB. Additionally, the US$5 million dollars which will flow from Global Ports in the form of a grant, will also be placed in the ABDB. The development bank was essentially bankrupted by the previous administration which made several imprudent loans that exhausted its capital base. A fishing vessel and a cotton-growing enterprise that both failed, consumed the bank’s capital without a single penny in repayment made to the ABDB. The re-capitalization of the ABDB will once again make resources available for legitimate uses.
- The Cabinet was informed by the Minister of Health that an organized effort to cripple the good works of the Ministry of Health will see some employees of three service institutions go on strike on Thursday morning, February 7, 2019. Some workers at Clareview Psychiatric Hospital, Fiennes Institute and the Central Board of Health may be withholding their labour, ostensibly to protest the physical conditions of buildings at these three service institutions. Patients who are mentally ill, the 64 elderly patients, and ill residents who visit CBH are likely to find the institutions’ ability to deliver service much slower if the employees follow-through with their threat to withhold their labour.
Although dates have been provided for the start of the rehabilitation of the buildings that are in need of repairs, agitation has been rife. The Government has set-aside monies and materials to complete the rehabilitation of the several buildings at the three sites. Yet, the agitation proceeds. The patients will likely be deprived of adequate treatment if the labour of the employees is withheld.
- The Cabinet was informed that congratulations were in order on account of the success of the second test match, England vs. The West Indies, played at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week. Since the match was concluded in three days by the superior bowling and batting of the West Indies team, no economic activity, took place on the Sunday and Monday as had been initially anticipated. Nevertheless, the Cricket West Indies considered the match a tremendous success and applauded the Antigua and Barbuda Government for the supportive role it played. The Cabinet took a decision to make good on the expenses by paying the amount agreed, in two tranches.
The success of the female West Indies Team, two months ago, was not lost on the organizers. Antigua as a venue has become a very significant location for international cricket. The stadium has been rehabilitated following its use as a shelter after Hurricane Irma; more than $1 million were spent to bring the buildings and the ground up to standard. The state of the stadium stands in stark contrast to the four-year ban placed on international cricket at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium following the shortest test match in history, held on February 13, 2009, or nine years ago, during the life of the previous administration, when the nation was shamed by the incompetence and carelessness of those in charge.
- The Cabinet agreed to return to Parliament on February 21, 2019, to pass several pieces of legislation including the improved litter act. Most importantly, the Cabinet was informed that there is no special legislation governing the disposal of medical waste. When feet and legs have been amputated, or used syringes placed in waste bins for disposal, they are treated no differently than household waste. The Cabinet agreed that incineration is compelled as the standard in many developed countries and cities around the world. Hence, the new standard will be adopted by law for the benefit of the Antigua and Barbuda population.
- The Cabinet examined the unfinished subject of the purchase of the Deluxe Cinema property which has been put into foreclosure sale by the Antigua Commercial Bank. The ACB is selling the property for $6 million dollars. (There was an error in last week’s Cabinet Notes when it was reported that the price was $8 million dollars.) Cabinet has made clear its intention to purchase the property through the bank’s foreclosure sale, and to retrofit parts of the building to meet the designation: The Performing Center for the Arts. The Cabinet examined the rental option and rejected it, given that the period of amortization of the loan amount outstanding can be met within a few years. The calculations clearly point to ownership as a superior alternative.
- The Fire Brigade will be separated out from the Royal Police Force and made a stand-alone entity. The authority so to do will come before the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda at the very next sitting. The object is to professionalize the Fire Brigade further, by ensuring that training consistent with the firefighters’ duties will be afforded the officers.
- The Cannabis Board has been fully organized and will hold its first meeting before next Wednesday, February 13, 2019. The Board will determine which entities receive the licenses required to operate farms, laboratories and dispensaries of medical cannabis products. The Medical Cannabis Law also permits the Rastafarian community to conduct its religious services using its sacrament.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 2019
- Three officials were invited to Cabinet today to assist with decision-making and in elucidating where necessary. This approach to governance has been a staple of the Gaston Browne administration for the four-and-one-half years since its governance began.
- The Race Director of the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge was invited to receive the thanks of the Cabinet for selecting Nelson’s Dockyard, Antigua, as the place where the cross-Atlantic race ends. The international exposure which Antigua receives, as a consequence of the interest in the race across the Atlantic Ocean, is priceless, the Cabinet believes. The interest in the Team Antigua Girls will be long-lasting and is now etched in the history books, it was agreed. Cabinet applauded the four women once more for their courage and daring.
The Prime Minister had already proposed varied teams comprising Rastafarians and other cultural groups, and the Race Director reported that scores of sailors, both experienced and inexperienced, had already indicated their interest in the December 2019 Atlantic crossing.
The Race Director also sought to have a five-year exclusive agreement that would foreclose copycats from piggybacking on their innovative approach to their charity-raising drive. Already, others were attempting to announce races from the African shores to the historic Nelson’s Dockyard.
The Race Director also noted that accommodation for the large number of media specialists that travel to record the event, the landing and the after-party which ensues, can be prohibitive. Hence, a contribution by Antigua could possible revolve around finding places for the twenty-or-so officials to stay. Uploading the videos from the various events can be slower than the organizers wished; hence, there is a need for many gigabytes to enable instant uploading. The Cabinet agreed to consider all requests. The Minister of Tourism is charged with developing a package that will be presented to the organizers shortly.
- The Director of the Board of Education was also invited to Cabinet to address the requirements for a fully-functioning e-books system in the shortest possible time so that Antigua and Barbuda will not be left behind by other Caribbean island-countries. The BVI, Bahamas and Barbados, the Cabinet was told, are racing ahead with this initiative, and Antigua and Barbuda cannot be left behind. Besides, CXC Exams will be exclusively conducted utilizing computers for multiple choice and true/false exams in two years; all students and their teachers must begin immediately to make themselves proficient in the use. The Director is committed to moving ahead expeditiously, the Cabinet was informed.
The Education Official explained that he has long considered his function as principally to implement the policy of the Government, and that inquiries into the cost of the policy decision is someone-else’s responsibility. While he did not focus upon the per-user cost of the devices to be used in the e-book exercise, he was pleased that negotiations have led to a decrease that now places the cost at US$80.00 each rather than multiples of the newly-agreed sum.
The Cabinet applauded the Minister of Education for assuming the responsibility for the mix-up, and noted that his apology in the Parliament on the day prior is a clear indication of the transparency which characterizes the Gaston Browne administration. The Minister indicated his determination to keep the e-books system front and center in education, since the Antiguan and Barbudan student was facing competition globally. The Cabinet was informed that one teacher quit his job in order to turn a textbook into an e-book earning more than $1,395,000.
iii. The principals of Global Ports Holding LLC were invited to Cabinet in order to review the final terms of an agreement that had been negotiated by a Cabinet Sub-Committee, several lawyers including the Solicitor General, and other officials. All Cabinet members then examined the agreement, contributed to finalizing the document, which was adjusted to reflect the changes. A Press Statement, on the signed subject agreement, was distributed on Thursday afternoon, January 31, 2018. The Agreement is to be laid on the table in Parliament on Friday, February 1, 2019.
- Cabinet agreed that the space required temporarily by the Magistrates’ Court at the Transport Board Headquarters in Herberts, is to be made available immediately. The Ministry of Works would immediately begin the retrofitting to make the temporary courtrooms, offices and waiting areas acceptable. A number of restrooms would also be created to fill the needs of nearly 60 staff members who will move to the Herberts’ location during the three months it will take to rehabilitate the 1967 Courthouse on High and Temple Streets.
- The Cabinet asked Minister Charles Max Fernandez to recuse himself while a debate on the future of the Deluxe Cinema property was being discussed. Following an analysis by the Minister responsible for Festivals and Culture, and the input by several Cabinet members, the Cabinet decided that a purchase of the property was in order and very well worth the current offering price of EC$8,000,000. The Cabinet calculated the rental now being paid by a restaurant, the cost which would be required of the government were it to rent, set against the amount of the monthly mortgage, and the Cabinet concluded that the wisest decision is to purchase.
The property will henceforth be called—following the purchase—the Antigua and Barbuda Performing Center for the Arts. It will be a place for rehearsals, innovation, shows and other kinds of in-door performances. Already, a National Youth Orchestra will be provided with instruments that the High Commissioner in London has acquired. Other kinds of artistic and cultural events will find a permanent place for the display of talent. The terms of the purchase would later be worked-out with a bank.
- The Cabinet decided that the incomplete building in Nut Grove, started by the U.P.P. regime as part of the Fences Scandal, which came to light in 2008, is to be completed and made available as a clinic for that village and its communities. The Ministry of Works is to provide an estimate of the cost of completion and any retrofitting that has to be undertaken, in order to ready it for its new role. The Cabinet agreed to set aside those monies, very likely from the C.I.P. funds, in order to complete the transition.
- The Cabinet agreed to provide a contribution to the fund-raising that was initiated to assist former West Indian cricketer Ralston Malcolm Otto of Swetes, whose illness has prevented him from practicing his craft or earning a living. The approach had been made by one of the organizers of the event thru the Minister of Sports. It met with Cabinet approval.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY January 23, 2019
- Prime Minister Gaston Browne returns to Antigua and Barbuda on Thursday evening, January 24, 2019, from Switzerland where he addressed several meetings of leaders from three continents, and spoke on global citizenship at several forums. Honourable Steadroy Benjamin is Acting Prime Minister, and chaired the Cabinet session today. There were no invited guests to the Cabinet.
- The Cabinet approved the conclusion of the secondment of Prison Superintendent Albert Wade, who will be returned to the Antigua and Barbuda Royal Police Force. He will take up his position at the Police Force on February 1, 2019, serving as Deputy Commissioner for Operations. As Prison Superintendent, Mr. Wade was very well-liked and respected. He is credited with bringing reforms to the prison and improving some conditions.
The Cabinet also approved the appointment, by secondment, of Major Eugene Phillip of the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force to the post of Superintendent of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP). Major Phillip has been a Member of the Prison Visiting Committee during these past three years and knows well the challenges of the institution. He will take up his appointment on February 1, 2019, so that there will be no break in the leadership of HMP. On Friday morning, January 25, 2019, the new Superintendent Phillip will be introduced to the staff at HMP, and the transition process will begin.
- The Cabinet was informed by the Attorney General and the Minister of Works that an area of the Prison Farm, not so far from the Blackout Nightclub, has been fenced. That enclosed acreage is to be used for the containerized units which will serve as a temporary prison for those persons on remand. The current Prison on Coronation Road houses almost 300 prisoners, one-half of the inmates have been convicted; the other half is awaiting a trial date and are on remand. All the remand prisoners who are not considered a risk will be transferred to the temporary housing, in order to ease overcrowding at the main facility. The containerized houses will reach Antigua before March 31, 2019, and the facility ought to be completed within weeks afterwards.
- The Cabinet was also informed that repairs will shortly begin on the 1967 Court House on High and Temple Streets. During the repair period, the Magistrate’s Court will be temporarily transferred to the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board Headquarters in Herberts. The Traffic Court will also be temporarily transferred to the ABTB Headquarters Building. The repair period is not yet determined, but twelve weeks are likely. Furthermore, upon completion of the repairs at High Street, the Traffic Court is likely to remain at the Herberts’ building.
Staff at the Magistrate’s Court have complained about conditions in the building. Workhours were reduced to half-days, and many of the functions of the court were significantly reduced. The building at Herberts will allow for the return of all services to the public.
The General Post Office was also in a state of disrepair, requiring work-interruption since the start of this New Year, for one week, until the building was partially repaired. Work continues in the afternoon each day.
The former administration carried out no repairs on government properties during their two terms in office, resulting in rundown conditions in many workplaces, including schools, offices, the Government House.
- The Cabinet was informed that the nationwide fogging undertaken by the CBH has been very successful in reducing the population of Aedes Egyptae mosquitos that carry the dengue fever. The nationwide effort has taken 11 days, and the CBH is repeating the undertaking, especially in high density areas, giving notices to communities so that precautionary measures can be taken if required. The substance used to reduce the mosquito population is NOT harmful to humans; the CBH nevertheless advises that no-one ought to deliberately expose himself/herself to the mist, no more than one ought to deliberately expose oneself to falling rain.
- The Cabinet ratified and confirmed a decision of last week concerning waiver or exemption from Entertainments Duty Tax that would normally be paid to the Inland Revenue Department whenever a pay-to-enter fee is charged. The exemption or waiver would apply to: Certain charitable institutions upon request, Churches, certain sporting events, National Festivals events, and events put on by registered charities.
- Cabinet was informed of the automobile which crashed into the air terminal at V.C. Bird International Airport, damaging another car, a barrier, a sign, and the cladding of the lower column adjacent to No. 7 sliding door. Although no-one was hurt, the passengers in the car that was hit were terribly frightened. A pregnant passenger had to be transported to the MSJMC. The accident occurred shortly after 9:00 am. The Cabinet discussed the possibility of installing safety barriers along the sidewalk of the terminal; an architect will be asked to develop an aesthetically-pleasing plan.
- The decision by the US Administration to recognize a Venezuelan parliamentarian as Interim-President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will come to decision-making at the Organization of American States, within 24 hours, the Foreign Minister reported. The US has been moving to suspend Venezuela from the OAS, utilizing the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The approach of the USA may now change, since it is reported that the USA will likely seek to replace the OAS permanent representative of the Maduro administration with a representative of the Venezuelan Opposition. Antigua and Barbuda has seen these actions as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and has steered clear of the attempt to have the country vote in favour of the OAS resolutions. The Foreign Minister shared his views with the Cabinet. Although the Prime Minister was not present at Cabinet, his views have been shared publicly. Both Ministers views are the same.
- The Minister of Works made a presentation on the repair work being undertaken on Friars Hill Road and the Airport Road. The Minister assured the Cabinet that the planting of the pipes and the construction of the manholes are now complete. Widening of the roadways is now taking place; resurfacing will then follow and that will take weeks. Soon, drivers will have smooth highways. The Minister believes that speeding will become the next challenge.
- The Cabinet will jointly travel to Nelson’s Dockyard to greet the valiant Team Island Girls who have been rowing for more than 40 days across the Atlantic Ocean. Next week, the Parliament will convene for Budget Debate 2019. The parliament will take a break, should the team arrive before the debate ends.
Hurst Reports on Cabinet of Wednesday, January 16, 2019
- As is the custom of the Gaston Browne administration, three groups were invited to the Cabinet to lend their knowledge and wisdom to the decision-making of the executive body.
- Don Official, a wheel-chaired promoter of shows, was invited to Cabinet to make a presentation on the imposition of the 1948 Entertainments Duty Tax that had been suspended for many years. The Cabinet announced late last year that those who promote parties and shows would be required, beginning January 2, 2019, to pay the tax in amounts that reflect the gross yield of a show.
The promoter made several counter-proposals that would have lessened the amount to be paid per show, but would have increased the standard amount which each promoter would be required to pay to the Police for a temporary Liquor License. He also proposed that each promoter would require an annual license which would also yield revenue. The Cabinet held an open discussion with the promoter, proposing alternatives that would be administratively simpler and would NOT require any amendments to the existing legislation. After twenty minutes of dialogue, the Cabinet indicated that his proposals would receive a fair hearing.
- The Cabinet later received the Inland Revenue Commissioner and his IRD team who were asked to assess the likely effectiveness of the proposals put forward by the well-known promoter. The idea of a flat rate, depending upon the likely amount to be grossed by the event, is very attractive the Commissioner indicated. The promoter would know the expense before the event even begins, and the IRD would also know precisely how much it is owed. The fewer the income categories for any event, the simpler the process would be, he indicated. Consequently, up to 999 patrons would not attract any tax; above 1,000 patrons would yield $1,500 (fifteen hundred dollars). The alternatives to a flat rate are:
- a) a percentage of the tickets sold. That would require the presence of an IRD official at every gate at every party, to check on the number of patrons entering the event. That approach is labour intensive and would reduce significantly the yield in revenue by the salary payments to the IRD staff; and,
- b) an after-profit tax. That would require submission by the promoter of collections, expenses, and profits resulting. The likelihood of accuracy diminishes as the event grows larger, it was reported. That conclusion is by experience, especially with small businesses that do not keep accurate records and are trying to maximize profits.
The Cabinet therefore agreed to accept the flat rate of $1,500.00 to be charged on events where more than 1,000 patrons attend. Certain charitable institutions will be exempted upon request, it was determined. Churches, sporting events, National Festivals events and registered charities would be exempt from the $1,500 Entertainments Duty Tax.
iii. The General Manager of the National Housing and Urban Renewal Company Ltd., responsible for the construction of the 500 homes, along with a team of his managers, also graced the Cabinet with their presence. The Cabinet sought answers on the deadlines that have been exceeded, and the pace of the work leading to completion of the first phase. Dredge Bay is all complete, the Cabinet was assured. Paynters is still under construction; delays have resulted in part because of the recent rains, which make completion of the surface of the roads near impossible. Nonetheless, the Minister of Works assured the Cabinet that road work will intensify at Paynters so that those owners, who have indicated their desire to move into homes, will be able to do so by the end of the second week in February 2019.
At Denfields, where 69 of 150 homes are actively under construction, roadways are also a challenge. It is anticipated that 35 homes will be ready for occupancy by the end of this month.
As houses are sold, the monies generated by the sales are ploughed back into the project to construct more houses. Teams of National Housing construction workers have been utilized to refurbish government buildings and public properties that are in a state of disrepair and require quick interventions in order to save taxpayers’ money. This diversion has contributed to a slower pace of completion.
- The Cabinet held a brief discussion on the E-books arrangement; a firm out of India was contracted to provide the many services connected to the project. It was again repeated that the cost of the e-book alternative is to be lesser than the paper textbook upon which the schools now rely. Meetings have been held with principals of the firm providing the services, and the same message has been relayed. Counter offers have been received that do not comport with the policy guidelines set by the Cabinet.
- A final offer by Credit Suisse was also received by the Cabinet for a loan of US$40,000,000 that would be added to the unpaid amount outstanding from the near $100-million-dollar loan by the previous administration from the same lender. The total amount owing would be in the region of US$85 million dollars at an interest rate that would be 5.3% above Libor, if the offer is accepted. Libor is 2.3% at present. The Cabinet will allow the search for cheaper money over the next seven days before responding to Credit Suisse.
- The Cabinet was informed that the autopsy on the young man who died tragically at Jolly Harbour—presumably by electrocution—was inconclusive. The autopsy certainly did not conclude that he died as a result of electrocution. His mother has been demanding answers and the release of his body so that she may bury her son’s remains. The Cabinet was informed that the body has been released to his mother. The Cabinet decided that it would meet the cost of inviting an expert pathologist from another Caribbean country to undertake a second autopsy.
- The Cabinet was informed that the worst of the dengue outbreak may likely have passed. Ten cases were suspected of which three were confirmed. An aggressive mosquito destruction campaign, conducted primarily by CBH fogging— in the early evenings and early mornings, in places where the mosquitos breed—has significantly reduced the population of pests. Nevertheless, all residents are advised to wear long sleeves shirts and pants when venturing out during the hours when the mosquitos hunt for human blood. Homeowners are asked to reduce the mosquitos breeding sites by changing water in vases, emptying out used tires, and removing all containers which can accumulate water in which the pests lay their eggs.
- i. The Metropolitan University Medical School, located on Newgate Street in the former City View Hotel, has been growing its student population, the Minister of Education informed. The medical school moved to Antigua one year ago, commencing with 61 students; it is now up to nearly 100 students with more to come later this year. Twenty-six nationals of Antigua and Barbuda are employed at the school, several as professors teaching various aspects of the practice of medicine.
The students have rented apartments, they purchase and rent cars, they shop in the supermarkets, and their parents fly into Antigua for visits, staying at hotels. The school also pays rental sums to the owner of the property on Newgate Street, and will seek additional property as the demand for more classroom space grows. The Cabinet congratulated the school for its successes.
- ii. The American University of Antigua (AUA) has also been enlarging its student population; more than 1,000 students are now enrolled at AUA. The President of the medical school met with Prime Minister Browne on Wednesday morning, January 16, 2019, to thank the Prime Minister for all the support which has been rendered by the Antigua and Barbuda Government. Those AUA students who are citizens of the USA, qualify for certain loan programs. That has ensured that the number of students continues to grow. AUA is very successful. The Cabinet agreed to find certain methodologies that will ease the student visa systems for the AUA students.
- The Prime Minister, who is also the Minister of Finance, will deliver the 2019 Budget Statement on Thursday morning, January 17, 2019, commencing at 9:30 a.m. at the Parliament Building. The public is asked to be seated by 9:15 a.m.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY JANUARY 9 2019
- The Cabinet re-assembled for the first time in 2019 and immediately returned to business. Minister Michael Browne also re-joined, and participated actively.
Four groups were asked to appear before the Cabinet in order to provide information and to assist in intelligent decision-making.
- Two officials from Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC flew from New York to discuss the extension of a loan to the Government. The firm was instrumental in lending US$100 million dollars to the UPP regime at a whopping 13% interest rate. The interest rate was negotiated downward by the incoming Gaston Browne Administration after 2014. That loan has been significantly reduced by regular payments. The Gaston Browne administration, having been assessed as a good credit-risk, has won the assurances from the lending company that it is willing to lend an additional amount at a far lower fixed-and-variable interest rate. The firm’s first proposal, which included a lender’s fee of a burdensome amount, was rejected. The counter-proposal to the Credit Suisse officials, by the Cabinet, will likely be agreed-to by the decision-makers. The team will confirm the rates early next week, the Cabinet was told.
The entire series of events leading to the loan will likely be conveyed by Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Honourable Gaston Browne, when he brings forward the Budget Statement next Thursday morning, 17th January 2019, at 9:30 am at the Parliament.
- Robert DiNero, the renowned American actor, known here for his Barbuda Paradise Found Project, came to Cabinet on Wednesday morning accompanied by four officials, one of whom is his new partner named Daniel Shamoun of SLH (Small Luxury Hotels of the World). The DiNero partner operates 520 small luxury hotels all across the world, and has been persuaded to join the Paradise Found Project, investing many millions in the Barbuda project.
The Paradise Found Project was delayed by a pointless lawsuit brought by supporters of the BPM, who were trying their best to derail the US$250 million project. More than US$25 million dollars have already been invested in the Paradise Found Project by its principals, and Mr. DiNero is committed to completing the project which will occupy the space previously occupied by the K Club. The demolition of the K CLUB buildings is to begin in the coming week, palms are to be planted along the shoreline, and construction of the new buildings to house workers during the construction phase will also begin shortly.
The DiNero project is next door to the PLH/CoCo Point project by John Paul DeJoria which has already broken ground, selling plots to millionaires for the building of luxurious housing and a new kind of tourism accommodation called “glamping,” (glamorous camping). More than one hundred workers are transported to Barbuda in the early morning and returned in the evening each day, constructing the beautiful and luxurious bungalows that will comprise part of the PLH / CoCo Point project. That project will be worth more than US$250 million dollars also. A third project on Barbuda’s south shore, known as the Dulcina Hotel Project, will also be kicking-off within months, making the south shore of Barbuda a very busy construction site for months to come.
The Barbuda runway is under construction, although a pointless lawsuit by BPM supporters brought the project to a halt for many weeks; those delays are estimated to cost more than US$750,000 (seven hundred and fifty thousand US Dollars). The BPM Opposition has tried to block every project which has been proposed for Barbuda’s development.
iii. Ministry of Education Officials and other Officials from the Board of Education were invited to the Cabinet to discuss the E-book project that has been nursed along for a few months. Two principals from the E-book company were also invited to the meeting. Discussions revolved around the cost of the project. It was agreed that the cost will not exceed the cost of using text books, which the E-book project is intended replaces. The principals will therefore return to the drawing board to re-compute the cost of the various inputs to bring them in line with the anticipated costs.
- Four doctors from the Ministry of Health were invited to appear before Cabinet at the insistence of the Minister of Health and Wellness. The Chief Medical Officer explained that a plan has been devised to ensure that dengue fever, which has posed a problem in several countries, including deaths in one Caribbean country, does not impact Antigua and Barbuda. Although the disease is carried only by the Aedes Egyptae mosquito, elimination of the mosquito is virtually impossible. Fogging and other methods of vector control have therefore been planned on a wide scale, and all households are asked to ensure that breeding places for mosquitoes are eliminated. The Aedes Egyptae mosquito lays eggs in vases, old tires, flower pots and anywhere that water accumulates. The doctors recommend nets over beds, long sleeves when going out in the early mornings and early evenings, and other defensive methods that prevent mosquitoes from biting. There is no immunity against dengue; therefore, anyone can contract the disease. Given the importance of tourism to the economy of Antigua and Barbuda, every effort has to be made throughout the nation to prevent the disease from making many people sick. A public relations campaign will commence immediately, and Cabinet voted a sum of money to enable the printing of materials, and the use of infomercials on radio and television.
The same mosquito is responsible for chikungunya and other diseases. Antigua and Barbuda was very successful in combating that painful disease.
- The Cabinet discussed the Cannabis Act 2018 and especially the appointment of the members of the Board of the Authority. Nine members sit on the Board, seven of whom are officials of the Government; they include the Attorney General, the Chief Medical Officer, the Commissioner of Police, the Comptroller of Customs, the Chief Agricultural Officer, a member of the Rastafarian Community, a Social Transformation Official. Two persons of integrity are to be nominated by the Cabinet, and are to come from scientific research, or medicine, or business or cannabis science. The Attorney General will draw up the relevant instruments for the appointees, or their representatives, as stipulated by the law.
The Cabinet also discussed the issuance of licenses for growing the plants, harvesting the stock, manufacturing the medicines in a secure laboratory, and dispensing the medicines. License fees are in the region of US$125,000; the law’s regulations will contain the cost of each license. The Regulations are not yet ready though the Attorney General indicated that the regulations will likely be completed by next week Wednesday, January 16, 2019.
- The Cabinet was reminded by the Minister that one of the engine sets at the Antigua Power Company electricity plants at Crabbs, known as Blackpine, is to become the property of the Antigua and Barbuda Government next month. The issue relating to who will operate the engine set—APUA or APC—was broached by the Cabinet. The Minister was instructed to develop a plan to be presented to Cabinet next week. Two power plants, capable of providing more than 80 MWH of electricity, are in operation. However, peak electricity consumption is now at 54 MWH or about two-thirds of the available power supply. Additionally, green energy, generated by solar power plants, is set to produce approximately 10 MWH. Wind power is about to become a significant contributor of green energy when the newly-arrived windmills are constructed.
Barbuda’s electricity supply will likely come exclusively from green power in the very near future, given the contributions from various sources to produce solar and wind-powered energy on the sister island.
- The Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment reported that the unlawful garbage dump near Pigott’s Village, which was recently brought to the attention of the Ministry, is to be closed off by the placing of huge boulders at those points where trucks could enter or exit the 8 acre site. Five acres were leased by an Antiguan businessman many years ago; he tried to backfill the site by surreptitiously dumping garbage on the wetlands. It is a natural watercourse. That leaseholder has died and all 8 acres are the Crown’s property. The site will be cleaned and certain natural features restored.
- The West Indies versus England test match will be played at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, beginning at the end of January 2019. Reports on the Internet are that tickets and airline seats from the U.K. are all sold out. However, tickets that are reserved for Antigua and Barbuda fans are still available for sale. More than 5,000 British cricket fans are expected to follow their team to Barbados, Antigua and St. Lucia.
- The Minister of Sports reported that work on the YASCO Sports Complex resumed today, Wednesday, January 9, 2019, following a break during the wet season and the holidays. The work on the track will be completed in about 8 weeks, or by March 12, 2019.
- The One Nation Concert takes place this Saturday night, 12th January 2019 at the Antigua Recreation Grounds, starting at 8:00 pm. Local and regional artistes will keep the crowd entertained for many hours. The One Nation Concert is an annual event on the calendar of the island-nation, not unlike Carnival; this is the third edition. It is intended to bring the many citizens of the various countries that call Antigua and Barbuda home into a single venue with Antiguans and Barbudans, in order to create a feeling of oneness. The expectation is that thousands will attend the concert which is free. Its object is to mould the Antigua and Barbuda nation into a cohesive and binding whole, despite the competition which takes place for the many benefits which living here allows.
- The Deluxe Cinema property on High Street has not been purchased by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. The property is being rented and will be known as the Performing Arts Center of Antigua and Barbuda.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 19 2018
- The custom of the Gaston Browne administration, practiced since June 2014, is to invite experts to the Cabinet in order to enable better decision-making. Three groups were invited to Cabinet on this date:
- The Chairman of the Social Security Board (SSB), the Executive Director and the Accountant returned to Cabinet, following their visit last week. They were armed with data and graphs showing the state of the Social Security finances. First, the Social Security payments to all recipients for the month of November 2018 have been met, the Cabinet was told. Second payments to Social Security recipients for the month of December 2018 will commence tomorrow, Thursday, and be fulfilled by Friday, December 21, 2018. Everyone who is entitled is likely to receive their December 2018 payments before the Christmas holidays.
The Social Security administrators provided some very useful data that proved helpful to the Cabinet. The population of Antigua and Barbuda in 2018 stands at 110,000 (one hundred and ten thousand). In 2015, the year for which the data have been confirmed, 49,308 workers were in the labour force. 19,200 youth were enrolled in schools across the country. 40,000 others comprise the infants, the elderly, the sick, and those in-between jobs. The number of jobs grew within the past four years, with many workers holding two jobs simultaneously.
Social Security contributions are on the rise, and investment income has become a very necessary component of the payments it makes monthly. The Central Government has paid its monthly contribution in full since June 2014, and has not borrowed any resources from the Social Security in its four and one-half years. The number of pensioners continues to grow, and the administrative expense has remained flat.
The Social Security administrators pointed out that they can report on sectors of the workforce whose members chronically evade paying social security deductions though the law requires payments. Self-employed workers are the least likely to pay. This sub-set includes building contractors and sub-contractors, barbers and hairdressers, taxi drivers, fisherfolk and small business operators.
Inspectors are incentivized, it was reported, to go after those who do not pay but are required to pay by law. It is in the best interests of the construction workers and others to meet the payments to the statutory bodies, including to the Medical Benefits Board, the Education Levy and the Social Security, the Cabinet pointed out. If they fall sick during their self-employment and need to rely on the hospital, it is best to have their Medical Benefits paid-up. Further, the Social Security will begin paying when they reach an age past 60 years; too many youth are of the view that 60 is a long way off. Time flies, the SSB administrators reminded.
- The Head of the Environmental Division was invited to Cabinet to report on the resources that have been accessed by Antigua and Barbuda from The Green Climate Fund. The financial resources have been earmarked for Antigua and Barbuda to plant windmills and to move towards the production of more energy by non-polluting sources. Solar energy plants will also be financed by the Fund in due course. The money has to be spent within a certain timeframe or it may be lost.
The United Nations has begun a plastic-free world campaign, and Antigua and Barbuda has been pivotal in leadership because of the many successes the state has recorded, to include the ban on plastic bags, the ban on Styrofoam food trays and cups, and the increased reliance upon green energy. The United Nations will stage a concert in Antigua next April 2019 to further the ban on plastics. Thousands are expected to travel to Antigua for the concert and the big names who will give their time and talent to promote a plastic-free world. The Prime Minister spoke at the first outdoor concert in New York, back in September 2018, which was widely covered by the media and broadcast around the world.
iii. The Financial Sub-Committee of the Fourth Landed Campus of the University of the West Indies, Antigua, reported to Cabinet on the negotiations that have been taking place with the UWI team. The UWI wants assurances on the source of the funding that will go towards the support of the Fourth Landed Campus. It is estimated that the Campus will attract approximately 4,000 students in 2019, when the campus opens, and that the numbers will grow in the years following. OECS students attending UWI now pay less than the students from the other Caribbean states; Antigua will be a greater attraction for this group, it is thought, than the other campuses. The Sub-Committee will submit its Viability Analysis in January 2019 to the UWI, and then meet in February 2019 to complete the negotiations. The UWI Fourth Campus will open in September 2019.
- The Cabinet agreed to form a Sub-Committee of Cabinet comprising The Ministers of Health and Wellness, of Education, of Agriculture, of Sports and of Social Transformation in order to fulfill the human development goal of the United Nations to achieve health throughout life. Beginning with infants and following thru with young adolescents, the object is to ensure that those in need of assistance, in order to escape the usually harmful effects of poverty, will not be left behind. Good nutrition, an active lifestyle, access to classrooms and education, access to vaccinations and other kinds of treatment for infants, young mothers and youngsters, are to be assured the groups at risk. Antigua and Barbuda scores high on the Human Development Index which measures a multiplicity of factors, including income, to determine how developed each country is relative to others.
- The Cabinet agreed that it will intensify the effort to remove wastewater from the gutters of commercial St. John’s. Merely flushing the gutters daily is insufficient; new wastewater is added every hour after the businesses open in the morning. The Cabinet agreed that it will have every business-place install an inexpensive wastewater plant that will remove the substances that can cause the gutters in St. John’s to smell. At the moment, more than 750,000 cruise tourists will arrive Antigua in the 2018/2019 tourism season. The numbers will grow as the largest ships, the OASIS class, begin entering the harbour. Everything must be done to make the City more attractive, the Cabinet agreed. More details will follow in the weeks ahead.
- The Cabinet agreed to make an extra payment to National Solid Waste workers before Christmas. The Minister of Health made a special plea to the Cabinet to address outstanding overtime pay owed to this group of workers. Each week, US$100,000 is paid over to NSW; however, that amount is not sufficient to meet all the monies due weekly. The Cabinet agreed to address the overdue overtime by making extra payments.
- The Ministry of Culture will take occupancy of the Deluxe Theater commencing January 1, 2019. It will retain the largest of the three movie theaters for the continued showing of cultural films and Antiguan productions. The other spaces will be retrofitted to meet other demands.
- The Throne Speech will be delivered on Thursday morning, December 20, 2018, at 9:00 am at the Parliament building. All are asked to be seated by 8:45 am.
- The next Cabinet Meeting will be held on January 9, 2019. The Budget Speech will be delivered on January 21, 2019, and the Budget Debate will likely commence on January 28, 2019.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 12 2018
- The custom of inviting experts to the meetings of Cabinet, in order to provide information and facts to members, was continued today.
The Chairman of the Social Security Board, its Director and the Accountant, were invited to Cabinet to address the projected shortfall in revenue which will affect recipients in the current month and in January 2019. The Board made a request for $15 million dollars to meet the amounts required in December 2018 and January 2019. The Cabinet learned that private enterprises—employers of two-thirds of the nation’s workforce—owe Social Security more than EC$27,000,000 (twenty-seven million) dollars. Cabinet was informed that $10 million dollars of the $27 million have been declared bad debt, which cannot be recovered. The statutory corporations also owe the Social Security unpaid contributions of $54 million dollars. The Cabinet insisted that the management of Social Security must devise methodologies to collect unpaid contributions, including use of the courts and agents who can be incentivized by offering a small fraction of the amounts they recover. Contractors and sub-contractors are among a group that avoids paying legitimate social security contributions.
The Cabinet has asked the team from the Social Security to return next week when the decision to secure the $15 million dollars will likely be ratified.
- The Cabinet reviewed the debate which took place in the Parliament on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, on the issue of the likely sale of Scotiabank by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank to a bank from Trinidad. If there was a doubt about the language in the law, the Cabinet asserted, the legislative amendment left no doubt about the intent. Whenever a bank is to be sold, the vesting order can only be signed by the Minister of Finance and NOT the ECCB Governor, now that the amended law has been adopted. The Senate will meet next week to debate the amendment.
A consortium of local banks have signaled that they are sufficiently positioned to acquire the assets of the multinational bank, evidently up for sale; the Cabinet agreed that these local banks ought to be given a first option to purchase. The amount to be negotiated, by the local banks, is within their reach given the cost of US$123 million for the nine branches, as revealed. The determination to allow the local banks to have a first option is to ensure that: a) profits from banking can be retained in the local economy to make more capital available to borrowers; b) to help ensure that local banks can grow and survive, rather than become vulnerable and subject to shocks. Many other reasons for securing the sale to local banks were offered during the parliamentary debate on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, when the subject was discussed.
- The Cabinet also reviewed the presentation which took place in the Parliament on the subject of the media personalities who have seemingly purchased equipment and other intangibles from the bankrupt Observer Media Group (OMG) and are operating continuously as Observer Radio. The Minister responsible for Telecommunications had offered a ten-minute commentary to the Parliament under the agenda item called “Statement By Ministers.” It was pointed out that the law does not permit ownership of the radio broadcast equipment unless one possesses a broadcast license. Further, a broadcast license cannot be transferred from one owner to another, under the law. The Minister revealed the discussion that has taken place between the lawyer for the new entity and the Solicitor General, by letters as well as by oral communication.
- The Minister of Foreign Affairs reported on the outcomes of the Heads of Government Meeting held last week, December 3 & 4, 2018, held in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Among the most important items was the reiteration of the freedom of movement aspiration among certain categories of professional workers within the CARICOM states. Antigua and Barbuda has sought a derogation or delay in the implementation of this aspiration, given the large number of CARICOM nationals already resident in Antigua and Barbuda. The Minister reported that the rules may not permit any further derogation, compelling Antigua and Barbuda to become a recipient.
- The Minister of Aviation reported that arrangements have been made to meet the US$5 million dollar cost of the new cab—that will house the modern air traffic control equipment and the workers who will occupy the elevated tower—at the V.C. Bird International Airport. A precise delivery date is not yet set but the arrangements are all in place.
- A discussion was held on the terms of a near-complete negotiated agreement with Global Ports Company. The firm will provide more than US$85 million dollars of financing to enable the cruise tourism port—from Point Wharf—to be capable of receiving the OASIS Class ships. The world’s largest cruise ships have begun docking in St. Kitts; that neighbouring destination now receive more than one million cruise passengers each year. Antigua and Barbuda receive about 750,000 cruise passengers annually. No cruise infrastructure was developed during the 10 years of the previous administration.
- The Cabinet agreed that portions of the annual profits from the State Insurance Company will be utilized to build: a) a new building to house ABS-Radio and TV; and, b) to commence the construction of a prison for persons on remand. The two bodies will be allocated $2 million dollars each. The Cabinet agreed to improve conditions that have proven vexing for employees, and in the case of the prison, an embarrassment and a health challenge for inmates. The previous administration placed State Insurance on the block for sale to private individuals. The ABLP opposed the sale and the UPP was forced to back down. State Insurance has delivered more than $20 million dollars in profits since that time.
- The Honourable Michael Browne returned to Cabinet today. He was welcomed and embraced by all Cabinet Ministers.
- The Cabinet will meet for the last time this year on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. Plans are being put in place before the year ends to hold a joint Cabinet Press Conference, when all Ministers will make themselves available to be questioned by reporters.
- The Annual Throne Speech is to be delivered on Thursday morning, next week, December 20, 2018, commencing at 9:30 am. The Budget Speech will follow shortly thereafter, and the Budget Debate is to commence in mid-January 2019.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2018
- The Cabinet invited two groups to address its members in order to provide expert legal and other advice that was helpful in decision-making:
- A team from the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Attorney General’s Office, that included the Solicitor General, were invited to discuss the Government’s commitment to ensuring severance is paid immediately to the Observer Media Group’s former workers. Although the Government has no legal obligation to the Observer workers, the Cabinet is seeking to find a lawful method by which it can subordinate the Government’s superior claim to the workers’. An injunction filed by the APUA in mid-November 2018, sought to keep the managers of the firm from unlawfully disposing of the firm’s assets; under the law, the APUA claim takes precedence over payments to any others. The Solicitor General and the legal team were consulted by the Cabinet, whose members wished to subordinate the APUA’s lawful claim to the workers’ severance payment. APUA is owed more than $1.5 million dollars by the Observer Media Group. Other taxes and subscriptions are owed to statutory bodies by the failed company.
Since the calculation of the severance payment has not yet been established and agreed, the legal team worried that the remaining assets and cash may not be sufficient to meet the obligation to workers. Although three pieces of real estate are a part of the holdings of the failed business group, their value is questionable, and no buyers have stepped forward since news broke that the media group has gone out of business. The sell-off of broadcast equipment, which signaled the start of the collapse of the OMG, has been deemed unlawful. The Telecommunications Law requires owners of such equipment to first have a broadcast license. The attempt to transfer a broadcast license is also not permitted under law. The Observer Media Group has purportedly sold equipment at a price vastly lower than the value, and sought to transfer its license to the buyers. Both actions offend the law.
- Cabinet also invited the APUA General Manager and a telecommunications expert to address the amendment to the Telecommunications Act, which is to be considered by Parliament on Tuesday, December 11, 2018. The 1951 law is to be amended in order to allow the portability of cell phone numbers. At this moment, a customer wishing to change his/her phone carrier has to change telephone number as well. The object of the amendment to the law is to ensure that customers can keep their numbers but utilize another phone carrier. The 1951 law requires the establishment of a Commission or some other neutral body that will oversee the management of the system.
- Cabinet held a discussion on the challenges faced by the Antigua and Barbuda Ministry of Finance sparked by the Scotiabank announcement on November 27, 2018, that it intends to sell its branches to Republic Financial Holdings of Trinidad. The members of Parliament have taken a decision to amend the Banking Act 2015 on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, by replacing the word “may” by the word “shall” in the section pertaining to vesting.
The Cabinet took exception to learning of the sale of the most successful private business (in Antigua and Barbuda) by a media release, without any discussion with the Antiguan authorities. Further, to forego the opportunity to sell the Scotiabank assets to local financial institutions also proved unsettling. The Prime Minister, as Minister of Finance, has written to the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank. The Governor has responded. The substance of these discussions will be made public by the Prime Minister on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, when the Parliament is convened to amend the law. A videoconference will also be held on Friday, December 7, 2018, which will include all Finance Ministers of the ECCB Monetary Council.
- Cabinet called upon the Manager of the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board (ABTB) to explain the plan to improve the flow of traffic in St. John’s, especially during the busy Christmas season with multiple cruise ships in the harbour. The Cabinet has asked that all street-painting take place on Sundays, when there is little traffic, and that drivers be encouraged to park their cars on the outskirt of the commercial center. At Christmas time, many take the opportunity to shop in St. John’s. The city is always crowded at Christmas time; however, the recent acquisition of automobiles by hundreds of households has increased the traffic in St. John’s daily. The Royal Police Force and the ABTB are working closely to move traffic as swiftly and as safely as possible throughout the city and its environs.
- The plan to finance the Social Security Board in order to ensure timely payments to recipients in the month of December 2018 and January 2019, was discussed by the Cabinet. A sum of $15 million dollars has been pre-arranged; however, the Cabinet has decided to summon the Chairman and the Director of the SSB to its meeting next week in order to receive further assurances.
- The Minister of Public Utilities reported that many households in Barbuda are not applying for re-connection of electricity, even though the power plant produces sufficient electricity to provide to all homes that are occupied. He reported that 340 homes are connected, and 170 have not made an application. Meters are attached to the homes that are connected, and the amount to be paid is determined by the amount of electricity the household consumes. APUA desalinated water is also connected to more than 300 homes.
- The Attorney General reported that a temporary jail will be constructed to house the men and women who are on remand, and therefore have not been convicted of a crime. The system of jurisprudence declares that they are innocent until they have been found guilty. Those men and women will be moved from the 1735 facility when the temporary prison is constructed, bringing the overcrowding at Her Majesty’s Prison to an end. No precise date has yet been set for the commencement or completion of the temporary facility.
- The new Cab, that is to replace the ancient air traffic tower at the V.C. Bird International Airport, is near completion in Canada. The Minister informed Cabinet that the Government has spent considerable sums to ensure a more comfortable workstation for air traffic controllers, and a more modern system with many new machines.
- The Minister of Information, Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Information Technology reported on the Cryptocurrency Conference which he was invited to attend in London on November 26, 2018. Like the Internet which grew by user-demand and escaped state control, cryptocurrencies are likely to grow in the same way, he opined. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank is considering and discussing the possibilities of issuing its own crypto coin in due course. It has published a paper.
- The Minister of Health provided the Cabinet with an update on the continuing recovery of Minister Michael Browne, who returned from Florida and the Cayman Islands last Saturday, December 1, 2018, following a health crisis on Monday, 26 November, 2018. The Minister is reported to have suffered from intense pain when his sternum became inflamed. The EKG suggested that he had experienced a heart problem, though the Antiguan doctor concluded after blood tests and x-rays that his heart was functioning perfectly fine. All the examinations and tests which took place in Antigua were repeated in the Cayman Islands and at Baptist Hospital in Florida. The doctors in these two foreign healthcare facilities diagnosed the illness and prescribed rest. The Minister of Education was absent from Cabinet today though he is much better than before.
- The Cabinet members, celebrating V.C. Bird Day, will be attending a service of worship at the Salvation Army Citadel on Sunday morning, December 9, 2018, at 9:30 am, to celebrate the life of Vere Cornwall Bird, born December 9, 1909. The annual V.C. Bird Day will be celebrated, commencing on that Sunday.
On Monday morning, December 10, 2018, a national holiday, speeches and a wreath-laying ceremony will take place at the V.C. Bird bust at Market Square beginning at 9:00 am. The event will last about two hours.
- The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine will be re-dedicated on Sunday afternoon, December 9, 2018, at 5:00 pm. The Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet will be attending.
Hurst Reports on Cabinet of Wednesday November 28, 2018
- Cabinet invited two officials to assist the members in making well-informed decisions:
- Two drafting experts from the Ministry of Legal Affairs, who attended the consultations held with the cannabis stakeholders, returned to Cabinet to report their findings and the stakeholders’ proposed changes to the Cannabis Bill 2018. There are currently 16 pharmacies throughout Antigua and the experts proposed that there ought NOT be a greater number of dispensaries. The businesses that will actually stock and provide cannabis medicines to patients, possessing a prescription from a medical doctor, are called “dispensaries” in the law, not pharmacies. The forms of the cannabis medicines will be in ointments, creams, pastes or oils; the products will have the precise quantities of the medicinal components that will allow the doctors to determine precisely how potent the application for each patient ought to be. Thirteen illnesses are specified in the draft, and permission to add more is also granted to the medical authority so empowered.
The licenses that will be required at each stage of the production are listed in the draft law, and will be as many as ten. A license to cultivate, a license to transport, a license to dispense medicinal cannabis and even an infused product manufacturing license. A Cannabis Authority will be created under the law to manage the entire process. However, Cabinet will reserve the right to waive a license fee, which will be EC$100,000 for cultivation.
The draft bill will come again before Parliament when next it meets on Tuesday, December 11, 2018.
- The Cabinet also invited the Police Officer, with responsibility for securing evidence, to provide its members with information about the loss of evidence in criminal cases. Dampness, rodents and the passage of time have caused some evidence, stored in the Police Evidence Room at the Newgate Street Police Station, to become unusable. A proposal was put forward to build a 12,000 square-foot, two-storied building on vacant land at the Police Headquarters, where all evidence could then be stored. It was accepted. A temporary space will be sought in the meantime to allow for the security of the accumulated evidence.
The Cabinet also learned that the AFIS Project—a computer system that allows for the electronic storage of fingerprints for sharing with other police agencies and for quickly identifying criminals—has been inoperable for several months. A small sum of $30,000 was authorized to the operators, in order to get the system working again.
The Cabinet was also informed that the third floor of the Headquarters building, constructed in 1975, is partly unfinished. The Cabinet was given an estimate of $500,000 for its completion; that sum will be included in the 2019 Budget for completion in the coming year.
- The Parliament will next meet on Tuesday, December 11, 2018. The Senate will meet on December 18, 2018. The Throne Speech, scheduled for December 13 has been postponed until Thursday, December 20, 2018, commencing at 9:30 am.
- The Minister of Health gave an update on Minister Michael Browne who was flown to the Cayman Islands on an air ambulance. He has been released and will fly to Miami, Florida, where he will undergo additional tests at Baptist Memorial Hospital. The nation will be kept informed on the Minister’s condition.
- The Cabinet held a discussion on the closure and sale of the Scotiabank branches in Antigua and seven other Caribbean states. The Prime Minister’s letter to the General Manager of Scotiabank Antigua, and a second letter to the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central bank (ECCB), were discussed. No responses had yet been received. The Prime Minister of St. Vincent called Prime Minister Browne during the Cabinet meeting to express his solidarity with Antigua and Barbuda. P.M. Browne has indicated that a consortium of local banks will pool their resources in order to spread the risks, by the likely purchase of the Scotiabank assets. Nevertheless, it was agreed that the resulting circumstances of the closure and sale are a regional challenge. The Cabinet awaits the responses of the other governments, the Central Bank and Scotiabank.
- The Cabinet was reminded that on December 31, 2018, all concessions granted to businesses other than hotels, agriculture and fishing enterprises, shall be discontinued. Tax-free holidays and waived withholding taxes shall become due and liable commencing on January 1, 2019. This item has been debated publicly and is effected in order to enable a growth in revenue as the economy grows. The taxing agencies collect only 17% of GDP annually; however, the norm is closer to 25% annually. This measure is intended for the Government to collect its fair share as the economy grows. Antigua and Barbuda’s economy is the fastest-growing in the Caribbean.
- The Sunwing Travel Group, owners of the Royal Antiguan Hotel and operators of the Jolly Beach Hotel, have purchased 50% of the ownership of Rex Resorts and Spa. The Halcyon Cove Resort, owned by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, is leased to Rex Resorts for 99 years in 1989. However, the Government moved to end the lease before its conclusion, since it was certain that Rex Resorts failed to abide by the lease terms. The matter was litigated and the Government emerged victorious at the High Court level; Rex Resorts has entered an appeal. However, Sunwing has proposed to develop the Halcyon Cove Resort to a 3½ Star Hotel, to build 200 additional rooms and invest $80 million dollars. Sunwing will increase its flights to Antigua by two flights weekly in order to ensure more than 80% occupancy of the Halcyon Resort.
Sunwing has agreed to collaborate with the Government in setting-aside 5 to 8 acres of the 25 acres held by Halcyon, for entry of 100 nationals into the rental luxury-house industry. Sunwing will end the appeal process.
The Cabinet has made a few alternative proposals which will be presented to Sunwing on Thursday, November 29, 2018.
Sunwing Travel purchased the Royal Antiguan Hotel for US$27 million dollars, nearly 14 years following its sale by the UPP for $12 million dollars. At the time of the Sunwing purchase, the hotel was closed, rundown, and in need of $100 million dollars of improvements. The new Royal Antiguan Hotel, to be called the Royalton, will open in February 2019.
Sunwing Travel is also managing the Jolly Beach Hotel, and has maintained more than 80% occupancy during the traditionally slow summer season.
- The Minister of Sports reported that the ICC lauded Antigua and Barbuda for the hosting of the two T-20 Women’s Cricket Games held at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, last week. The Saturday night attendance was the largest ever at the Antiguan stadium, despite West Indies having lost on Thursday afternoon, November 22, 2018. The numbers on Saturday night, November 24, 2018, stunned many hosting nations whose principals thought that the West Indies Women’s games could not be profitable. Antigua’s marketing of the games, including the 1:00 p.m. ending of public workers’ day on Thursday, the explosion in automobile ownership, and the Saturday night show that lasted until 3:00 am on Sunday morning, are the main contributors to the phenomenal success, the Cabinet surmised.
- The Cabinet discussed the Post Office crisis and the conditions there that have led to a stoppage of work among certain workers. The Union proposed moving the workers affected to the Multi-Purpose Center where sorting and distribution could take place. Another proposal to use the old Bryson’s Supermarket, across the street from the Post Office, has also been made. The Cabinet exhorts the workers to get to work as quickly as possible, given the important role played by the Post Office at Christmas. The Cabinet pledged the resources to fix the Post Office roof and to repair the electrical system.
- The Cabinet was given a report on the Booby Alley project by the Minister of Housing. The object is to clear the 3.65 acres of land in the Point, after its acquisition by the Crown. One hundred and fifty houses are scheduled to be built on the land thereafter, and the new houses are intended to be distributed to those who live there and would have been temporarily moved to other housing during the construction. The Parliamentary Representative for the Point and Villa communities has made clear his pledge to fix Booby Alley which poses a health threat, a fire hazard, and a deplorable situation that requires a remedy. The success of Booby Alley will inexorably lead to similar communities being addressed following the model fix.
- The Cabinet has agreed to address the shortcomings of the Social Security Board that has been late in payments during the past month. Raising enough capital for SSB payments to the elderly at the end of November and in December 2018, are priorities of the Cabinet. This issue is being pursued vigorously.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 21, 2018
- The entrenched practice of the Gaston Browne administration is to invite well-informed officials to Cabinet meetings, so that they may contribute to important decision-making.
- The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), represented by its Resident Representative and three other UNDP Managers, were invited to Cabinet to report on three aspects of their work: a) The Barbuda Projects which UNDP manages; b) The UNDP Country Programme for Antigua and Barbuda; c) UNDP’s role in environmental resilience and other objectives, funded by the E.U.
The UNDP successfully completed the US$2 million dollar China-funded re-roofing project. More than 250 homes in Barbuda had new rooftops installed by the UNDP, compliments of the People’s Republic of China; the UNDP was required to secure the supplies, but the Government of Antigua and Barbuda paid the contractors for the work. The UNDP does NOT owe any contractors.
The UNDP is preparing to repair the Hanna Thomas Hospital and to acquire new hospital equipment utilizing the US$1 million dollars provided by the Government of India. The UNDP is finalizing the arrangements to begin the work on the hospital within a few weeks; and, that project ought to be completed by May 2019. The Barbuda Post Office will also be repaired utilizing this Indian fund.
The European Union has set aside US$15 million for three countries in the Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda. The Cabinet sought to ensure that Antigua and Barbuda secures one-third of that amount, which will be utilized to support gender-based initiatives, support for small entrepreneurs, and training. The U.K. and Canada have provided a portion of the resources.
- Seven officials from the National Housing and Urban Renewal Company were invited to Cabinet to explain the company’s express need for more than $5 million dollars, in order to complete the 160 houses at Paynters and 150 homes at Denfields. The two projects have been slowed by infrastructural shortcomings; the projects require paved roads, piped water, street lights, underground electricity, and fiber optic cables for telephones and Internet. All the necessary supplies have been purchased, Cabinet was informed, but the demand on the government agencies from other customers has been unrelenting. However, in the weeks ahead, the APUA and Public Works will intensify their work at these two sites so that the houses can be turned-over to their buyers. There was also a discussion about productivity, and managers assured Cabinet that more will be achieved.
- The Cabinet held a discussion on the portability of telephone numbers. At the moment, a customer who is dis-satisfied with the services of a provider must change his telephone number if he wishes to switch to another provider. The Cabinet agreed to alter that outcome. The object of the change in the existing six-decade old legislation is to ensure that customers can switch without having to change their telephone numbers. This change is especially welcomed by businesses, the Cabinet was told, since many firms are compelled to remain with a service provider, no matter how poor the service might be; to switch would require a change in telephone numbers, though firms may prize their existing numbers. The matter will go to Parliament next Thursday, providing the draft legislation has been earlier prepared.
- The Cabinet agreed that it will take to the Parliament as quickly as possible an amendment to the Bankruptcy Law, allowing firms to declare bankruptcy and to seek protection from their creditors for a period of time while they re-organize. However, in order to ensure that creditors are not cheated by unscrupulous business owners, safeguards that would prevent the kind of abuse which has taken place in the USA, under its bankruptcy law, would be written into the Antigua and Barbuda amended law. Firms seeking to declare bankruptcy would be required to show that they are not seeking to hide valued assets by sale or transfer, in order to deny creditors any opportunity to recover money owed.
- The Cabinet agreed that there will be consultations with all stakeholders before any insurance obligations are imposed by law on medical doctors, requiring medical malpractice insurance by that group. The Cabinet reflected on the recent case of an adult female who underwent a colonoscopy and subsequently died.
The Cabinet also discussed an amendment to the law governing medical practitioners and especially the creation of a Disciplinary Committee. The Minister of Health proposed the mandatory replacement of doctors on the Committee by a retired judge, nurse or other professionals capable of making sound judgments on the basis of experience and knowledge. The first reading of the amended law is likely to come before Parliament next Thursday when the elective body re-convenes.
- The lessee of the Halcyon Cove Hotel, who lost a case in the High Court which allowed the leased property to revert in ownership to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda—the owner of the property—has entered an appeal, seeking to overturn the judgment of Justice Wilkinson. While the Cabinet acknowledged their right to appeal, it was agreed that the Government would move forward on seeking another firm to which to lease the property for a hotel that is fitting on one of the premier beaches on Antigua.
On adjoining land, owned by the Crown, the Cabinet has given consideration to nationals owning lots for the purpose of building properties that can be used to generate rental income for owners. Details are to be worked out by the Department of Legal Affairs; however, the Cabinet is determined to give nationals a larger stake in the industry that will continue to dominate the economic life of the state for many generations to come.
- The Cabinet continued its examination of the agreement between Global Ports Inc. and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed which allows for Global Ports Inc. to provide US$100 million towards the building of a new pier to accommodate the OASIS Class ships, to build shops and other amenities along the shoreline, and to improve the Heritage Quay shopping experience by infusing the area with a new look. Negotiations are continuing with a team led by the most senior minister, other officials from the Ministry of Tourism, and a team of lawyers from the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
- Tropicocean Airways, the operators of seaplanes in Florida, the Bahamas, and another jurisdiction in the Caribbean, has expressed an interest in establishing a presence in Antigua in order to fly between St. John’s and Barbuda. The seaplanes will seek permission from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) to operate the aircraft in this jurisdiction from December 1, 2018. A study will be undertaken to determine the areas where the craft would take-off and land in both islands. The Minister of Aviation has been charged by Cabinet to complete the negotiations with ECCAA and to relay all the requirements to the operators. One of the principals will be visiting Antigua in the week ahead.
- The Parliamentary Sub-Committee on the Cannabis Bill will meet on Friday, November 23, 2018, at the Parliament Building commencing at 10:00 am. All interested parties are invited to attend, in addition to those designated by the Parliament.
- Cricket will take place on Thursday and Saturday, November 22 and 24 2018.
HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2018
- The Cabinet invited only one official to appear before its members in order to assist in making better and informed decisions.
- The Director of National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) was asked to provide answers to: a) the funding available and outstanding amounts owed to contractors on Barbuda; and, b) the pace of recovery in Barbuda in the post-Irma recovery period of more than one year, at this time.
The NODS Director reported that the process of activating resources allocated through the UNDP is exceedingly slow. The UNDP, he explained, will only activate one project at a time, such that even if funding is available for a second project, the UNDP must complete the first project before it activates the second. The UNDP is completing the roofing project funded by China, and has not moved forward on the Hanna Thomas Hospital repairs for which India has provide US$1 million dollars. Although the UNDP has costed the materials for repairs, following a bidding process, the actual start of the rehabilitation process has not yet begun. While the resources provided by China and India go towards purchasing materials for repairs, the cost of labour is borne by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. One contractor is still owed more than $200,000. An arrangement was made to pay a part of the bill so that the contractor does not de-mobilize his workforce or equipment.
The pace of recovery is slow, the NODS reported, and that is the result of many factors including accessing the resources donated, and meeting costs associated with labour which draw on the resources of the Treasury. The NODS Director will return to Cabinet before the end of 2018 to provide more detailed information and assessment.
The new NODS building built with resources from USAID will be completed and opened on November 15, 2018.
- The Cabinet held a discussion on the results of the November 6, 2018, Referendum on the CCJ, and considered the impact which the rejection of the CCJ will have had on the Antigua and Barbuda people’s appetite for constitutional reform. Although the number of registered voters is nearly 53,000 voters, only one-third of the total or 17,743 voters participated in the referendum. The non-participation of more than 35,000 voters was a powerful signal, deemed a clear indication of the absence of interest in constitutional reform.
The Cabinet agreed that the disappointing results could be accounted for by the politicization of the referendum by opposition political forces. While the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) played an education/middle-of-the-road role as required, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) decided to abide by principle and not engage in politicizing the issue. The ABLP held no public meetings, or did no house-to-house campaigning, nor did its elected members link the CCJ referendum to an ABLP ambition; the effort was apolitical and nationalist, the Cabinet agreed.
The political opposition, through its many surrogates and its leaders, did its best to politicize the referendum and to undermine the non-political effort. The Cabinet recalled the pronouncements of the two opposition elected officials, its Senators, and surrogates that supported the opposition in the March 2018 general elections. Judging from the outcome, the Cabinet has agreed to examine the breadth of the constitutional reform which the Committee will examine, especially those proposed changes which would require a referendum.
- The Cabinet discussed the payment of backpay to government employees. Although cheques have been prepared for all who are entitled to backpay, the instruments have been sent to the various ministries for distribution. The established workers were paid first; however, the Cabinet agreed that the non-established workers will continue to receive their entitlements during the remaining days of the week. Those entitled will receive one month’s gross salary; however, a second payment will be made before Christmas 2018, to those entitled.
- A draft agreement with Global Ports was examined thoroughly by the Cabinet in an effort to reach a final contract that would govern the relations between the financiers/port managers and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. Global Ports is to advance US$125 million dollars for the building of a new pier that can accommodate the OASIS Class ships, the largest sailing vessels in the world; the firm would also contribute significantly to the building of new shops and other amenities along the shoreline of the ports; Global Ports would also renew Heritage Quay and participate in the upgrade of Fort James. In exchange, the Government would permit Global Ports to exercise management so that it can recoup the loan amounts. The precise period for its management is not yet agreed-to, but would form a very necessary part of the agreement.
- The Minister of Education, who was elected from the All Saints West Constituency, has brought to the Cabinet’s attention a vexatious issue involving a supplier of sand and aggregates operating from the Mount Joy community. As a result of large trucks carrying heavy loads, the surface of the roads leading to and from the homes in the Mount Joy area have been severely impacted and destroyed. Mud, water and deep indentations from truck tires, following heavy rainfall, now replace the smooth surface, making the roads impassable to residents and their automobiles. The distress which the homeowners suffer was brought to the Cabinet’s attention with photos and a plea from the representative to end the abuse. The Cabinet has asked the Minister of Public Works to develop a rehabilitation plan and to solve the problem of the trucks which disturb residents late and night until early in the morning. The Development Control Authority is also to work with the PWD to bring a permanent solution to this challenge.
- The Cabinet agreed that a reinvigorated focus will be placed on communities, including fixing basketball courts, adding floodlights to playing fields, and improving the aesthetics where the necessity exists. While big infrastructural projects are being pursued—including the Ports, the highways, a Barbuda runway and highway, a new Cab for the international air terminal, new desalination plants, and solar-powered electricity plants—communities are in need of improvements that would enhance the lives of the villagers, the homeowners within communities, and youth. The young who wish to improve their athletic abilities, and the elderly desirous of building healthy bodies by an active lifestyle, ought to be assisted by a growing investment in the neighbourhoods. The Cabinet agreed to expand its attention to communities by spending additional resources.
- Work is continuing to ensure that the University of the West Indies Fourth Landed Campus at Five Islands meets all the requirements imposed upon the degree-issuing institution before it opens its doors in September 2019. Although several buildings are now occupied by various schools, more work is to be done to make certain that all systems are equal to (and even superior to) the other three UWI Landed Campuses. At the moment, all Internet capabilities have been installed to meet the UWI requirements.
Although both political parties promised to have a degree-issuing university on Antigua, available to all, the current administration has gone beyond talk and has made the Five Islands Campus available for the seat of the University. Three other locations throughout the 108 square-mile-island will make up the UWI Fourth Landed campus. The administration’s effort is to ensure that Antigua and Barbuda’s youth shall have easy access to tertiary education at home, thereby making the acquisition of a degree less costly and more youngsters give consideration to earning a degree.
- Arbor Month is November 2018. The Cabinet members were all presented with saplings in two-gallon pots by employees of the Department of the Environment. The Department has agreed to plant 60,000 trees annually, primarily fruit trees that can provide food to those who are encouraged to care for the trees until they grow into mature plants. Hence, each Cabinet member was presented with a guava, or avocado, or sugar apple, or other fruit sapling for eventual transplant in his or her garden. The Prime Minister has been calling for the planting of fruit trees all across Antigua and Barbuda in order to ensure that many young people will always appreciate the utility of fruit trees.
The nurseries of the Government are growing tens of thousands of plants, ornamental as well as fruit trees, hardwoods and other trees, for distribution, in order to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and as a means of attracting more rainclouds when they mature. For the past six years, Antigua and Barbuda has had rainfall that is far below the average, making those “drought” years. The presence of more trees will enhance the local climate by sucking-up the carbon dioxide emissions from the growing number of automobiles, buses, trucks, power plants and other fossil-fuel engines; unwanted gases from burning gasoline, diesel, gas and other fuels lead to an increase in emissions that imperil normal climate. Reducing the country’s carbon footprint is an international obligation which Antigua and Barbuda has agreed to pursue. Solar power plants, and wind energy, are also methods for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
- On Friday morning, November 9, 2018, at 9:30 am, the Governments of the People’s Republic of China and Antigua and Barbuda will sign and exchange letters that will form the Agreement to build 250 homes at two sites in Antigua and in Barbuda at no cost to the Government. Barbuda will receive 50 homes, Bolans 50 homes, and Booby Alley in the Point will have 150 new homes constructed on the acreage that will be cleared. The Ambassador of China and the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda will sign and exchange the letters of agreement.
All media are invited to witness the signing agreement and to pose questions to the diplomat and the Head of Government following. The event will be over in 30 minutes, it is estimated.
HURST REPORTS ON THE CABINET OF OCTOBER 31, 2018
- As is the custom, the Cabinet—chaired by Prime Minister Gaston Browne—invited four groups to address members in order to assist in smart decision-making.
- A Legal Draftsman from the Ministry of Legal Affairs/Attorney General’s Office, accompanied by a consultant expert, addressed the Cabinet on the draft Cannabis Bill. The new, draft legislation seeks to make lawful the cultivation, harvesting, transportation, and processing of cannabis into medicines.
The draft law, in its first part, makes a special provision for cannabis to be lawfully used in religious rituals by the men and women of the Rastafarian faith. The draft law, in its second part, seeks to ensure that certain standards and safeguards are included in order to enable specially licensed farms to grow plants that may vary in their strength (or presence) of certain substances including THC, the psychotropic substance. The law also ensures that a tightly regularized system for dispensing the medicines is put in place. The Cabinet is given ultimate control under the draft law, in order to ensure flexibility in responding to any changes that may have to be made. There are more than 80 pages of Regulations. The draft law is expected to be presented to Parliament for its second and third readings before the end of the year.
- The Head of the Fire Department was invited to Cabinet to address the need for more firetrucks. An increased number from 10 trucks, across Antigua and in Barbuda, to an acceptable count, in order to meet the growing requirements of the state is warranted, the Cabinet believes. As the number of houses increases, more apartment complexes and taller buildings are constructed, the Cabinet believes that more fire-fighting and emergency equipment needed by firefighters will have to be purchased. Conditions brought on by global climate change that result in droughts that lead to bush fires; and other dangers, including multiple automobile accidents, that require special equipment which firefighters are trained to use, spurred the Cabinet to invite the firefighters to give their assessment.
Eight of the current stock of 10 working firetrucks span from 11 to 20 years in age, with two that are 3 years old. The life of a firetruck as specified by industry standards may be one decade, although the Department stretches the lifespan. A new firetruck, depending on its size and capabilities, costs more than $1 million dollars. Used firetrucks tend to bring their own challenges, the Cabinet was told. The Cabinet is giving thought to expanding the fleet by adding a small number during a specified period, following a more detailed assessment of cost to be carried-out by the Fire Department.
iii. The General Manager of APUA accompanied by a member of the APUA Board, and two technical staff who are knowledgeable about the radio-spectrum, were invited to Cabinet in order to consider several options on the redistribution of spectrum space. The technicians informed that the 850 megahertz (mghz) band is used by millions of customers in the USA; since Antigua and Barbuda does not have as many subscribers as even a small city in the USA, the 850 mghz band can be equally distributed among the three players without harm coming any of them. Redistribution of spectrum takes place in the USA with frequency, especially when technological advances change the equity sought in sharing, which the Federal Agency is pledged to ensure. APUA, FLOW and Digicel are competitors for customers. A recommendation was made to assign each of the service-providers equal space on the spectrum.
The APUA was further advised that resources will be made available for the Authority to increase its fiber-to-the-home-network. While the north side of Antigua and parts of the City of St. John’s are being reached by fiber-optic cable to the homes and buildings, other sections of the country have not been so fortunate. The APUA wishes to complete the entire country in two years.
- The CHAPA Board, consisting of seven members and a recording secretary, was also invited to Cabinet to address staff displeasure that was expressed in industrial action, one day this past week. The Cabinet learned that the HEO (Housing Executive Officer) is weeks from reaching her 60thbirthday. In anticipation, the HEO was informed weeks ago that her employment would end on that date; the HEO was therefore entitled to pre-retirement leave and was ordered to proceed. That order was rejected and the resulting disagreement became the source of some friction. It was agreed that no government employee, upon reaching retirement age, can demand an extension; a government employee may seek an extension from Cabinet, which may or may not be granted. The Cabinet lent its support to the decision of the CHAPA Board.
- The Minister of Finance has succeeded in negotiating a $5 million dollar loan for the purpose of paying one month’s backpay to civil servants only.Established workers will therefore likely be paid by Tuesday, November 6, 2018, an amount of five million dollars in total which will cover one month’s backpay. Further announcements, on the amounts and the dates on which other government workers will be paid, are to be made in due course.
- The Ministry of Health has flown a three-week old baby and mother to Jamaica for surgery on the infant who was born with a congenital defect.The capability exists at the UWI Hospital to undertake the surgery successfully, and so the MSJMC has completed the arrangements to enable the infant to undergo the surgery and to grow normally.
- The West Indies Oil Company (WIOC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) today presented a magazine which recounts the fifty years, since 1968, when the WIOC began to produce petroleum products for domestic consumption and export to other markets in the region. The 60-page magazine contains snippets of history and plans for the future.
The WIOC has become increasingly profitable now that it has introduced another element in the form of bunkering sales to cruise ships in the Antigua Heritage Quay Port. It has also built more storage capacity to enable it to hold more than one million barrel of products in its several storage tanks.
The WIOC is owned 51% by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, and the remaining 49% is owned by two firms. However, since the oil company was purchased nearly three years ago from private owners for US$31 million dollars, it has paid more in taxes and earnings to the Government than the purchase price for the Government’s 51% ownership. The Government also separated out 120 acres of housing land along Marble Hill and Friars Hill Road, previously owned by WIOC, and has begun to plan for new housing by the National Housing and Urban Renewal Company on these lands.
Today, October 31, 2018, is also fifty years since the Deepwater Harbour was officially opened on October 31, 1968. The Port is undergoing a US$90 million dollar upgrade, funded by the China ExIm Bank. It will be completed before next year December 2019.
- The Prime Minister reported to Cabinet on his meeting with the Ambassador of the USA to Antigua and Barbuda, this Wednesday morning,at the office of the Prime Minister. The US Ambassador is currently in Antigua to join in the celebration of the country’s 37th Anniversary of Independence. The Ambassador raised several issues with the Head of Government, including noting that US investors were eager to invest in the island-state. The Prime Minister responded to each of the issues and added the failure of the USA to settle its WTO obligation to Antigua and Barbuda. The victory at the WTO by Antigua and Barbuda, in the amount of US$21 million dollars annually, has been continuously pursued by the Gaston Browne administration with glimmers of success. The Ambassador acknowledged that further discussions are warranted.
The Prime Minister also met with Japan’s Ambassador to Antigua and Barbuda, stationed in Trinidad. The Ambassador pledged continued support for two projects: The 40,000 gallon per day desalinating plant funded by Japan, to be placed near Potworks Dam, where many farms are located; and, the green energy project which Japan will fund for Barbuda. The two countries continue to have very close relations, especially on whaling issues and the blue economy (or the potential to develop jobs and opportunities utilizing the 200-mile exclusive economic zone that Antigua and Barbuda enjoys under international law).
- A National Youth Corps is to be established for the purpose of directing young males away from destructive anti-social behaviour, especially those behaviours which land them before the law; and, to increase their capacity for useful contributions to Antiguan society. The overwhelming number of males presently incarcerated has led the Cabinet to begin serious consideration of methods by which young males can be placed back on track to be useful contributors to social development. While providing jobs is surely one mechanism, more has to be done for younger boys that have not reached their age of majority but are heading towards trouble. Those who drop out of school and learn very few useful skills are being targeted for improvement. The Cabinet has instructed the Minister of Legal Affairs to present a draft law that would capture the essence of the intended National Youth Corps.
- Since Thursday, November 1, 2018, is our National Day, the post-Cabinet Press Briefing will be held on Friday morning, November 2, 2018, commencing at 8:00 am at the Prime Minister’s Conference Room.