HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Thursday 6 July 2023
Following prayers, the Cabinet held a brief discussion on the sale of the Alfa Nero. The decision by the High Court of last Friday, June 30, 2023, to dismiss the latest request for injunctive relief by a Russian citizen/litigant who claims ownership of the vessel, prompted the Cabinet to decide to provide the purchaser with a guarantee against future liabilities and to proceed with the consummation of the sale. Further delays, the Cabinet fears, may frustrate the purchaser. The Cabinet’s decision will bring an end to the wasteful and frivolous litigation by the Russian citizen.
Prime Minister reported on his recent participation in the CARICOM meeting held in Trinidad to celebrate the 50th Anniversary on the establishment of the CARICOM, 4th July, 1973. He noted that the CARICOM meeting attracted a significant number of Non-CARICOM Officials. The President of Rwanda, a special guest, has a significant record of achievement following the Civil War which resulted in thousands of deaths. Rwanda has bounced forward since that time; it has the highest record of employment among youth in Africa, and significant implementation of the use of technology. The CARICOM leaders are of the view that the Rwandan President was sure to provide significant lessons on spurring development in their own countries. The Secretary General of the United Nations was also invited to the CARICOM Heads Meeting for the purpose of pledging United Nations support for the Antigua and Barbuda Proposal for “Loss and Damage”, the SIDS Global Conference that is scheduled for Antigua next year, and for the multi-dimensional vulnerability index which is also an idea put forward by Prime Minister Gaston Browne as Chairman of AOSIS.
1. The Cabinet invited the Development Commissioner to report on the negotiations taking place between Air Peace, the Nigerian air carrier, and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. The official travelled to Nigeria to meet with the principal of the airline and a group of wealthy Nigerians, all of whom are multi-millionaires. The Air Peace will fly a contingent of 50 of the businesspersons to Antigua for a 4 day business symposium, in early August 2023; the Air Peace aircraft will also bring several cultural groups to participate in the Carnival festivities. The carrier will take its passengers back to Nigeria on 9 August 2023.
The Prime Minister also reported that several Caribbean destinations tried to encourage the Air Peace principal to choose their country. The air carrier has already chosen Antigua, and the CEO has even become a CIP citizen of Antigua and Barbuda. Some specific decisions regarding visas and national origin will be issued to the Immigration Department in order to avoid the debacle which occurred late last year.
2. The Cabinet invited two officials from APUA Telephone to report on the progress made with “number portability”, as ordered some time ago. Number portability allows a subscriber to move from one carrier to another without changing their telephone number. The officials reported that several meetings with the three telephone carriers (Digicel, Cable & Wireless and INET) and the APUA have taken place; included were officials of the Clearing House that would receive payments when overseas and local calls are made or received, and those payments would be directed to the correct carrier. That same Clearing House is also contracted by other Caribbean countries (members of the ECTEL) and receives a flat rate each month, NOT a transaction-based fee. The same would apply in the Antigua and Barbuda’s case. It is estimated that receipt of all the necessary equipment and software would allow for the transition by April 2024.
3. The Cabinet invited three officials from the Antigua Port Authority and the Ministry of Finance to report on the Port’s profitability, and any barriers to making the Port more efficient. The Port now has a USD$97 million dollar mortgage to repay, following its recent expansion and upgrade using borrowed money from the ExIm Bank of China. The Port must generate sufficient revenue to meet its monthly mortgage and other expenses.
The Port now spends 70% of its revenue on making staff payments to include salaries, wages and overtime. It operates at a deficit which cannot be continuously sustained. The Managers are also faced with demand for increased wages which would completely make profitability unattainable and make the Port incapable of meeting its legal obligations to its creditors. The Port Manager reported that a formal report on reform is being submitted by a consultant, following which there will be a decision to undertake Port Reform.
4. A report was submitted to the Cabinet on Mr. Gregson Joseph, who on 26th June 2023 suffered burn injuries during work at the Burma Quarry. Mr. Joseph is currently being treated in a private room at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC). The Ministry has been in touch with his family, both here in Antigua and the United States, who have been apprised of Mr. Joseph’s status. Family members have been in direct contact with the Medical Director, SLBMC, and indicated their satisfaction with the information shared to date. Mr. Joseph continues to receive attentive care at SLBMC and, according to the Medical Director, his recovery has been very positive. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda remains committed to ensuring that Mr. Joseph receives the necessary treatment for his recovery.
5. The Cabinet received a report from the Minister of Public Utilities on the provision of potable water to homes, businesses and institutions. He reported that the Fort James Plant is capable of producing 1 million gallons of potable water daily, now that the second half of the plant has been commissioned. That water is intended to serve Villa, Yorks, Upper Gambles, Fort Road, Point and Cruise Ships. An Ultra Filtration Plant is being readied for export from Dubai; it will be placed at Fort James to eliminate suction of sand, pebbles, vegetation and other debris that would otherwise harm the plant during rough seas.
ii. The RO Plants at Crabbs supply nearly 60% of all the potable water produced in Antigua; the machinery is 30 years old and requires refurbishment. Two of the units have been recently repaired and four are scheduled to undergo upgrades although parts are difficult to source.
iii. It was recently reported that a five-thousand-gallon truck has been supplying government institutions with potable water when running water is not available through the pipes. The truck is owned by the Ministry of Works