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.