HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF Wednesday 14 June 2023
The Cabinet commenced its meeting at approximately 10:30 am with a prayer delivered by a priest of the Catholic denomination. The Cabinet then proceeded to hold a discussion on a request from the Pensioners Association for an increase in basic payments. It was agreed that the Ministry of Social Transformation will meet with the principals of the Pensioners Association next week, and will report to Cabinet on the extent of the demands and on the ability of the government to meet their expectations.
1. The Cabinet agreed to a hearing from a local investment group that had permission to commence a housing project 25 years ago in 1998. The land that was assigned to the group has been partially occupied by private citizens. The group failed to perform back then. In 2015, the group sought to renew the Agreement under the condition that it would forfeit the land on which private citizens have built homes. Without the resources, the investment group again failed to perform. The investment group has now returned to Cabinet indicating that it can raise the resources to commence performance within three months. The Cabinet has allowed the group six months within which to show evidence of access to the capital. Although 25 years have passed since the initial promise to commence this project, the Cabinet continues to show faith in the local investment group whose principals expressed their thankfulness.
2. The Cabinet invited the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) to present his Country Report on Antigua and Barbuda, and the Bank’s Report on the economic performance of the ECCU region, to make projections and recommendations for strengthening the state’s and the region’s economic performance.
For two hours, the Governor of the Bank held an interactive session with the Cabinet, addressing a wide range of issues that hinge on good economic performance in Antigua and Barbuda, and throughout the other ECCB member countries. The Governor declared that resilience is the watch word that all the member countries must adopt. They must in fact “bounce forward” following every crisis. He noted, for example, that Antigua and Barbuda’s health system has been significantly strengthened in the post-Covid era. There are now more nurses and doctors, medical personnel, hospital beds, poly-clinics and other health infrastructure available than before the pandemic.
The Governor noted that the Antigua and Barbuda gross domestic product (GDP) stands at 5 Billion EC dollars. What, he asked, would it take to double the size of the economy? What would it take to double income in Antigua and Barbuda? The governor noted that while 60% of adults in the United States invest in financial instruments, only 4% of the Antigua and Barbuda people invest in financial instruments. While savings in Antigua and Barbuda exceed 2 Billion EC Dollars, bank interest rates are at 2%, which is lower than the rate of inflation. More Antiguans and Barbudans need to invest in financial instruments than is now taking place. He noted that inflation is declining; in the United States; latest figures show inflation at 4%. Antigua and Barbuda imports inflation which tracks the rate in the United States, such that inflation stands at about 5%.
Nevertheless, the National Debt-to-GDP-ratio has been declining; the acceptable ratio is 60%. The Governor of the Central Bank and his team will make the rounds to the Bankers Association, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to the Barbuda Council and others before departing on the weekend.
3. The Minister of Legal Affairs reported to the Cabinet that the building which houses the High Court has been thoroughly deep-cleaned. The carpeting has been removed and is being replaced by ceramic tiles. Assurances have been given that the mould has been removed and the building has been made as habitable as any new building in St. John’s. The Minister also reported that a new forensic lab will shortly be made available to law enforcement, to aid with solving criminal cases.
4.i. The minister of education made a report on the UWI Five Islands expansion project, to be funded by the Saudi Fund for Development. The US $86 million dollar loan will be apportioned in six packages at about US$12 million each on average. There has to be a bidding process. By dividing the build-out into six different packages, the borrower will be offering local contractors an opportunity to participate. The six different packages would include dorms, sporting facility, classrooms etc. The design packages are to be completed within a matter of months and the funding is already secured. The very first of the packages will likely be a new Five Islands Primary School.
ii. Antigua and Barbuda has become a significant cricket venue with two world class stadiums – Coolidge Playing Field and the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium. Every effort is being made to increase the number of practice pitches around Antigua so that more professional leagues can also choose to use Antigua as a cricket venue in the Caribbean. The Minster reported that cricket is turning out to be a high-income earning sport for many players, including Antiguan professionals. The expectation is that many youth will take the opportunity to improve their skills so that they can be considered for high-paying selection.
5. The Cabinet held very brief discussions following receipt by the AG of the letter from the Kevin “Shuggy“ Simon debacle. The sale of the Alfa Nero is soon to be consummated. There was no discussion on the West African migrants.