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HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 12 2018

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. The Honourable Michael Browne returned to Cabinet today. He was welcomed and embraced by all Cabinet Ministers.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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

  1. The Cabinet invited two groups to address its members in order to provide expert legal and other advice that was helpful in decision-making:

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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

  1. Cabinet invited two officials to assist the members in making well-informed decisions:
  2. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. Cricket will take place on Thursday and Saturday, November 22 and 24 2018.

HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2018

  1. The Cabinet invited only one official to appear before its members in order to assist in making better and informed decisions.
  2. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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).

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.
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