HURST REPORTS ON CABINET of Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

The Cabinet commenced its meeting at about 10:30 am and ended at 4:00 pm, all but one member being present.

The Prime Minister and the Honourable Maria Browne have been invited by the American Foundation of the University of the West Indies (AFUWI) to accept an award for “stellar accomplishments as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, for improving the lives of his people by increasing the housing stock, reducing unemployment, improving healthcare, upgrading plants and equipment, increasing the number of medical practitioners, upgrading infrastructure including airports and seaports, funding for venture capital and entrepreneurial endeavours, and increasing investments in expanding tourism…increasing access to outstanding Caribbean nationals to the University of the West Indies.”

The delegation returns in time to greet the Royal Couple whose visit to Antigua takes place on Monday, 25 April 2022.

1. The Cabinet invited to its meeting the Head of the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) and a CIP Expert who has more than thirty years of trading in the citizenship of several countries. He brought the Cabinet’s attention to a European Parliament press release of February 15th, 2022.The release calls on the states operating CIP Programmes to end their schemes by 2025; that request would include five of the six OECS independent states. The Europeans are discussing the possibility of ending the Schengen visa programme–that allows visitors entry into oneEuropean state and unimpeded access to the other twenty nine–for those countries operating CIP Programmes.

The European Parliament also asked their members to discontinue their CIP Programmes (Cyprus, Malta).

The Antigua and Barbuda Digital Nomad Programme is one alternative that could be more fully exploited, since it does not involve alleviating tax burdens which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) deems to be unfair competition. The Head of the CIU and the CIP expert will return to Cabinet in three weeks with a plan that can possibly surmount the concerns of the OECD.

2. The Cabinet invited to its meeting an investor who has three additional partners interested in purchasing the Jolly Beach Property, andto build a new hotel that will cost up to $200,000,000.00 USD, with 150 rooms and several villas. The investor estimates that it will employ more staff per head than the old Jolly Beach did, and it will not be an all-inclusive property. An MOU is to be signed within months; and, the demolition could be completed by April 2023, and the replacement hotel and villas will take three years to build.

3. The Cabinet invitedArchitect Luke Robinson to present a Master Plan for the UWI Five Islands. The team has been working for several months to produce a plan that will take into account the incorporation of the Five Islands Primary School property. The plan will lead to an upgrade of the Primary School and incorporation of 8 acres of private land into the new designs; the plan will also lead to new buildings, to an Olympic-size swimming pool, an amphitheater, a massive library and additional classrooms. The object is to make UWI Five Islands even more attractive to OECS citizens.

When it is completed, the UWI Five Islands is expected to occupy 40 acres of land and will comfortably accommodate 11,000 students.

4. The Cabinet discussed the situation as it pertains to eggs. At the moment Antigua and Barbuda is self-sufficient in egg production; however, the egg producers are reporting a reduction in their profits as a consequence of the increased costs in fuel, feed and other inputs. Should the egg producers increase their prices to consumers, the Cabinet is of the view that imported eggs will become more affordable to large egg consumers like hotels and supermarkets, and to households.

The Cabinet is unwilling to keep imported eggs out of the market if it would mean an increase in the cost of living. Many consumers have chosen eggs as a source of inexpensive animal protein, and a part of many breakfasts. The Cabinet is very much aware of the increased costs which the local egg producers face but implores them to keep their prices competitive, such that there will be no need for imports to displace them in any market. For this reason, the Cabinet proposes to have an accounting firm procure the services of a cost accountant, jointly acceptable to both the egg producers and the government, to examine the cost of producing a dozen eggs and the price for which a dozen eggs are sold by the producers. Until this study is completed, the Cabinet asks the egg producers to hold-off any change in prices.

5. The Minister of Tourism reported that summer tourism bookings are extremely high, and that the usual lull in summer flights and hotels reservations will not be occurring this year. Hence, the expectation is that demand for services and products will continuously be in demand and will result in greater economic activity throughout the entire Summer 2022. The Minister further informed that discussions with the current owners of the Yeptons property resulted in an agreement to sell. The new hotel is likely to be a Marriott which is a well-known brand globally and will surely cause an increase number of tourists to visit Antigua and Barbuda.

6.  The Cabinet held an extensive discussion on the challenge of water supply that has emanated principally because of drought. Last year, 2021, less than 18 inches of rain fell, when ordinarily an average of 39 inches of rain will fall each year. The country is now relying 100% on desalinated reverse-osmosis water to hotels, homes, business places and institutions.

The APUA now provides more than 6.5 million gallons daily but total demand is more than 8 million gallons daily; this shortfall has led to rationing of water (as is being done in California, a very water-rich state in the USA). Three new reverse osmosis plants—that were ordered as many as two years ago—have been delayed because of the pandemic that includes shipping disruptions; the products have been paid-for, along with spare parts and pipes, that have been delayed.

The Cabinet estimates that the water shortage will be overcome by September 2022, with increases in supply as the months go by. New pipes will have to be laid in those corridors where old pipes are leaking; the process will cause a disruption in traffic and the loss of some commerce while road surfaces are being repaired. It is also anticipated that the pipes for a sewer system in central St. John’s will also be laid at the same time in order to avoid the disruptions twice. The coordination between APUA and the Ministry of Works will be at its best, the Ministers agreed. There are 700 miles of pipes delivering potable water in Antigua.

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