HURST REPORTS ON CABINET OF WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 23 2022

Cabinet has decided that it will no longer hold virtual meetings; members therefore met face-to-face, one Minister absent.   1. Cabinet invited to its meeting the Commonwealth Support Group that has responsibility for promoting the Blue Economy; its members are collaborating with the COBE (Center of Excellence for the Blue Economy) at UWI-Five Islands. The seven-member group provided the Cabinet with knowledge of the steps taken by the group, and the progress which has been made in realizing its goals.Two members of the Commonwealth Support Group will accompany the Cabinet spokesperson to the 9:00 am post-Cabinet press conference on Thursday, February 24, to speak about their role and contribution in making the Blue Economy a significant part of UWI and Antigua and Barbuda’s future.The Principal of the UWI Five Islands campus was present and indicated that the UWI Five Islands has raised tens of thousands of US Dollars to ensure that the subject matter can become a fixed part of the UWI curriculum. The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda endorses the vision and notes the progress being made. On March 7th the University will engage in signing a grant document.  By April 29, there will be an accounting of the progress made in establishing the department at UWI Five Islands. 2. The Forestry and Plant Protection Division within the Ministry of Agriculture presented the Cabinet with several coconut palms that are resistant to lethal yellowing. The plants were bred from seeds that originated in Malaysia and will help to re-populate the destruction of more than 100,000 coconut trees in Antigua that were decimated by the lethal yellowing disease.3. The Cabinet welcomed a group of investors that has shown an interest in developing the Cedar Valley Golf Course. The group has agreed to deposit US$50,000,000.00 in an escrow account that will form a part of the joint venture between itself and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. The investors will build luxury housing, a hotel and necessary roadways off the course. The startup date is June 2022 and it will take 24 – 30 months for completion of the project. The total investment value is in excess of US$180,000,000.00.4. The Cabinet invited the Chief Medical Officer, the CEO of the Airport Authority, and their support team to address the Cabinet on the Travel Authorization Portal that is being developed. The Portal will allow passengers traveling to Antigua to upload a number of documents that would normally be presented on arrival to the authorities. By making the documents available electronically prior to arrival, the Cabinet hopes to reduce the time that is normally consumed on arrival. Every possible method that could be utilized to make entry into Antigua and Barbuda more efficient is being explored by those who have responsibility for that part of the tourism experience.5. The Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment has indicated that by Friday the National Solid Waste Management Authority will put mechanisms in place to regularize the outstanding payments owing to contractors and other workers at NSWMA; the workers threatened to withhold their labour.6. The Cabinet received a report from the Minister of Immigration about the Amnesty that will run from the 1st March to 30th April, 2022, on Mondays to Fridays from 2:00pm – 8:00pm. It will be a two-tiered system; one to regularize residency of anyone who has resided in Antigua more than four years but less than seven; and the other for those who have been resident in Antigua for more than seven years and would therefore qualify for citizenship. The Cabinet is aware that many non-nationals have been unable to meet the cost of regularizing their immigration status because of the lack of financial resources; hence, the Cabinet agreed to reduce many of the fees associated with bringing their status up-to-date.The amnesty processing fee will be EC $200.00 per person which will accompany the application form; and, an extension fee will be EC$150.00 for CARICOM Nationals and EC$300.00 for Non-CARICOM nationals. Those CARICOM Nationals who are seeking citizenship will have an additional base fee of $2,000.00 and a processing fee of $200.00; and, for Non-CARICOM nationals a base fee of $3,500.00 and a processing fee of $200.00 will apply. It is anticipated that amnesty will be a one-stop shop arrangement in order to minimize the number of steps that may be required in order to complete the application process. There will be distributed numbered application forms; those forms can be collected from the Immigration Department and from the various Consulates in Antigua. 7. Farmers whose production output is significant will be awarded a 10% reduction on Electricity, and a 15% reduction on APUA Water as determined by the Extension Officer whose decision will be ratified by higher authorities. APUA already provides a 10% reduction on water to farmers. These incentives are to ensure that the risk inherent in farming is significantly reduced and that farmers can make a profit.8. The Minister of Education and Sports noted that there has been a break-in at a school every day this past week.i. Greater electronic surveillance, to ensure better security, will be installed and Police patrols are also to be increased around schools.ii. A cricket Test Match is to be played in Antigua from March 8 – 13. Very strict rules will apply, not only to the cricketers and officials but also to spectators. Spectators must be fully vaccinated or test negative no more than 48 hours before entry.iii. The Science Wing at the Sir Novelle Richards Academy will commence construction on Monday 28th February. It is made possible by a gift of US$1.5 million by a generous donor.9. The Minister responsible for National Festivals has been collaborating with a working group made-up of officials from the Ministry of Health, the Royal Police Force and the Festivals Commission. They have set conditions for the staging of fetes, effective from the 1st of March. The number of people allowed at any venue will be determined by the size of the venue; however, a maximum number allowed to attend any one fete is to be determined by this working group.  Several venues have already been approved and an upper limit set in order to decrease the probability of the spread of Covid.The Cabinet reminds everyone who has not yet been vaccinated to proceed to any of the Vaccination Centres and Clinics in order to reduce the possibility of severe illness or death from Covid-19. Although Antigua and Barbuda has the highest percentage of vaccinated people within the CARICOM region, that percentage falls below the numbers required to achieve Community Immunity. Fetes and other gatherings shall not become super-spreader events, the Cabinet declared. 

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