CABINET NOTES

HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF Wednesday March 16, 2022The Cabinet met face-to-face for nearly seven hours, one member was absent.

1. i. The Cabinet held a discussion on the rise in gasoline and diesel prices that have resulted from a global increase in the per-barrel cost of petroleum, as a consequence of the war in Europe. The price pass-through mechanism that determines the cost of these two items at the pump was repeated for the Members’ and the public’s benefit. Every three weeks a shipment of <3 million gallons of fuel is purchased by SOL and stored at WIOC. Portions are then sold to WIOC at a markup price.WIOC in turn sells its purchases to distributors at an additional markup. The distributors in turn add an amount to account for their costs and profits, and the retailers are compelled to add the Government consumption tax. This price pass-through mechanism determines the end cost (as all these amounts are added) when it gets to the consumer.The Government tax is intended to provide a yield of no less than $2.5 million dollars monthly. Whenever the purchase cost to SOL rises, the Gaston Browne Administration deliberately retains the retail price, thereby collecting less; whenever the cost to SOL decreases the Government consumption tax revenue rises. This mechanism provides stability to the cost of gasoline to automobile owners, trucks and buses, to fisherfolk and others who utilize gasoline to run generators and the like. It reflects skillful management of inflationary pressures which are significantly reduced by not passing on every increase to petroleum consumers.

ii. Several aspiring politicians and commentators have been deliberately misleading the Antigua and Barbuda public. They pointed to another Caribbean country that measures the cost of gasoline in liters, deliberately forgetting that it takes 5 liters to make one gallon. This misleading and untenable debate leaves many radio listeners confused. The cost of gasoline in Antigua and Barbuda is now EC$15.70 per gallon; and, the cost of a gallon of fuel in Barbados is EC$24.90.

iii. Cabinet was assured that the current prices at the pump are to be reviewed in 30 days or in mid-April and the amounts which the Government collects in consumption tax may be lowered at that time. The Cabinet notes that there was no global crisis in 2014 and the incumbent UPP administration raised the consumption tax in order to increase tax yield from the sale of gasoline and diesel.

2.i. The Cabinet agreed to propose the creation of a CIP Regulatory Commission among the Caribbean countries that market their citizenship. The Commission would seek to blunt the announcement that European countries are moving to block CIP states from enjoying the privileges of Schengen visa waivers.

ii. The OECS Assembly meets in Antigua on Friday and there is every possibility that the subject will be broached by the Antigua and Barbuda delegation.

iii. The Cabinet agreed to amend the CIP law of 2013 so that the program can be known as The Residency and Citizenship by Investment Program .The United States, it was pointed out, runs a similar program. Those who wish to establish residence in Antigua and Barbuda will be able so to do under the identical conditions as under the citizenship program. It will allow those who wish to retain their citizenship of their place of birth to enjoy virtually all the benefits of the Citizenship by Investment Program without having citizenship conferred.

3. The Cabinet invited a Crown Counsel (Attorney) from the Solicitor General’s Office to address the issue of acquiring the Crown’s property at Dow Hill which was leased to a medical school many years ago. The Medical School no longer operates and the Cabinet is planning to have the property returned to the Crown.The Crown Counsel also reviewed a lease of property in Barbuda that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. The operator of the hotel seeks to rebuild though the purpose for the lease had been frustrated by an Act of God; that owner is prepared to move forward with rebuilding. 

4.i. Cabinet held a discussion about Covid and its diminishing impact on the Antigua and Barbuda nation. All persons entering into healthcare facilities will be required to continue wearing masks, such that Doctors’ Offices, hospitals, private and public clinics, homes for the elderly, and other healthcare facilities will still be mandated to wear masks and to practice the other protocols that remain in effect. The Cabinet was responding to a request by the Medical Association to retain the tried and tested method of reducing infections.

ii. The Cabinet maintains that it can achieve 70% vaccination rate in Antigua and Barbuda since the state is now at 62%; it is accepted that the target can be reached by June 30—the date which The World Health Organization (WHO) has selected to provide states with special incentives if they meet that vaccination target.

5. The Director of Education was invited to Cabinet to report on the opening of Schools on Monday past. He reported that all Preschools, Primary and Secondary Schools returned to face-to-face learning on Monday. Only one Secondary School, the Sir Novelle Richards Academy, has not had full return of students because of overcrowding. The Cabinet agreed to the temporary use of the auditorium and other unused spaces to be turned into temporary classrooms. In the meantime, a build-out of one block of eight classrooms will begin almost immediately, utilizing resources that have been donated by a philanthropist. The Cabinet congratulated the Director for his leadership during the Covid-19 crisis, and indicated that it will support the nomination of teachers for National Honours during the 2022 Independence celebrations.

6. i. The Cabinet received a report from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration on the amnesty program that took effect from 1st March 2022. The Cabinet learned that the Immigration Department can effectively process eighty persons daily and that may prove to be insufficient for the forty working days, six hours per day, to achieve the object of addressing the needs of the Amnesty Program. The law was adjusted to give the Minister authority to go beyond the time frame, if necessary.  

ii. Lawful residents of Antigua and Barbuda from the Dominican Republicdo not require visas in order to re-enter Antigua after visiting their home country. If their visit abroad exceeds six months, the Immigration Department regards their residence status as abandoned under the law.

7.i. The Cabinet agreed to immediately purchase three firetrucks to replace several broken and abandoned trucks. Delivery will likely be within months. The Cabinet nevertheless made it clear that there are sufficient firetrucks in Antigua and Barbuda to adequately address any of the fires that have thus far occurred. Water trucks accompany firetrucks to fires, such that the availability of the additional truck may exceed the ability of a single loaded firetruck to extinguish a fire.

ii. Another reverse osmosis plant is expected to arrive in Antigua in thirty days. It is anticipated that by September 2022, the country’s reverse osmosis capability will approach 10 million gallons daily.

8.i. The Cabinet has taken note of the number of accidents on recently-re-surfaced smooth roads to include Friars Hill Road and Sir George Walter Highway. The Cabinet wishes to remind drivers that accidents cause death, and serious injury, and the destruction of property. Driving above the speed limit is an offence. The Cabinet joins with the MSJMC/SLBMC hospital to make a plea to the public to provide blood to the recent victims of car accidents (and to the blood bank, especially O- and A-).

ii. The All China Women’s Federation of the Peoples Republic of China provided 147 sewing machines that are intended to benefit women’s groups throughout Antigua and Barbuda.  The Antigua and Barbuda recipients are charged with identifying the tutors and trainers that are to impart skills which would be turned into an economic benefit to women in Antigua and Barbuda.

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