The Cabinet began its meeting at 10:30 am and ended at 7:00 pm; two members participated virtually.
1. The Cabinet received a report from the Prime Minister on his travels to the United Kingdom and Guyana.
i. In the UK, the PM and the Minister of Education signed a 4 million pound sterling grant for the build-out of ABICE, where world-class training will take place. The building is to be completed by October 2022 when the philanthropist will visit Antigua. The building will be named after him: “The Harrison Center Antigua and Barbuda Institute of Continuing Education”. It will prepare tradesmen and women, through training and certification, to be able to seek employment in any country in the CARICOM region under the Skills Certificate programme.
The Cabinet reviewed the quantum of grants received by the Government over the past three years from wealthy people who visit Antigua and love it; they have contributed over $35 million dollars in grants.
ii. In Guyana, the question of food security was raised by the Heads who took part in the inaugural Agri-investment Forum. It was agreed, the Prime Minister reported, that farms must scale-up their operation by producing more food. The Prime Minister, during his feature address at the forum stated, “We need to move from rhetoric to firm decisions, for the advancement of the region’s agricultural sector and achieving food sovereignty and food security.” Today, the PM noted that Antigua and Barbuda’s port, when it is completed, can assist in strengthening food security in the sub-region by being the food hub for the sub-region; by having a petroleum storage tank-farm to serve the Northern Leeward Islands; these assets would also provide additional employment opportunities for Antigua and Barbuda youth.
iii. The Cabinet received a report from the Minister with responsibility for the Blue Economy. He reported on a plan to harvest many tons of sand from the open ocean. There apparently are billions of tons of sand offshore which could be safely harvested over a 20-year period, from the nation’s exclusive economic zone. Three arms of government: a) The Fisheries Department, b) the Department of Environment; and, c) the Development Control Authority, will all play a role in ensuring that this sand harvesting can be done safely and securely without affecting fish stocks or the environment.
2. The Minister of National Security and Public Safety reported that one fire truck arrived in Antigua today, Wednesday, and two additional fire trucks will arrive next week. Their delivery was delayed by the shipping/logistical challenges faced by all countries during the Covid pandemic. The Fire Department will have a more-than-adequate supply of fire trucks to meet the customary demand in Antigua with the addition of these three machines.
ii. The Minister responsible for APUA made it clear that the dates for putting new Reverse Osmosis plants into operation remain on point. The plant under construction at Fort James will be completed by the end of July and will deliver 500,000 gallons a day in its first phase, and then one million gallons a day in the second phase. The plant in Bethesda will deliver 3 million gallons a day. The new membranes that have arrived in Antigua and are being installed in the existing plants have, therefore, resulted in increasing efficiency and output.
3. The Cabinet invited a local hotel developer along with his architect to discuss the future of the Jolly Beach Hotel. After intense discussions, it was agreed that the developer would assist in securing a loan to the government of Antigua and Barbuda; and, the refurbishment of the hotel is to be completed in phases such that the first guests will likely be welcomed to the hotel in late October. Former employees of the Jolly Beach Hotel will be compensated for their outstanding pay and other monies owed. The hotel will not only have new furnishings, but also a new waste-treatment plant and a new Reverse Osmosis water plant.
4. The Cabinet invited a developer, who plans to build a business park on Friars Hill Road on land currently owned by West Indies Oil Company, to share the details. The developer has submitted his plans to DCA and they have been approved. He will spend $50 million EC dollars in two phases. The developer will also place solar-power panels on roof tops, and also build a car park covered with solar panels. The business park will include a mixed-use center to include a food court, stores, banks, and an array of other businesses. It will provide employment for at least 100 workers in the first instance and upon completion additional workers will be hired. West Indies Oil Company will participate by providing equity in the land.
ii. WIOC is to be listed on the eastern Caribbean Stock Exchange within 60-90 days and certainly by July 7th 2022; its stock value will likely increase. Two years ago, the government divested itself of 10% of its 51% holdings by sale to the people of Antigua and Barbuda. The company has grown in value since.
5. Cabinet invited the Chief Environment Officer to report on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) board meeting held in Antigua last week. The Ambassador reported that a GCF 2020 project came to fruition. A schools project worth $7 million USD is on the drawing board. The schools are to be retrofitted with solar panels, hurricane shutters and other improvements beginning early next year. A GCF roads project is also to be supported by burying utility lines alongside roadways; and, a water project for the benefit of farmers is to be funded; it will utilize Reverse Osmosis but without any chlorine added to the potable water.
6. The Minister of Information and technology gave a report on the Cricket West Indies media center and the progress made in bringing it about within a matter of months. When its first phase is complete, all games involving the West Indies Cricket teams will be beamed to the center in Antigua, and a team of technicians will ensure distribution to other media outlets across the globe. Antigua hosts the W.I.C.B.
7. The Cabinet agreed to provide annual scholarships for students interested in creative writing and the performing arts. Several students are already enjoying the scholarships that allow them to become adept at theater and the performing arts. One such student is Ms. Shaveesa Gasper, currently pursuing her studies at the Edna Manley School of Performing Arts, Jamaica; the student suffered burns about her body and was sent to France to repair the damage.
8. The National Housing and Urban Renewal Company will be building a new headquarters that will accommodate the National Housing, DCA, the Lands Office and also to serve as a storage yard for supplies, vehicles and equipment owned by these agencies.
ii. The National Clean-up, scheduled to commence on June 1st, is gaining traction. CBH, and National Solid Waste Authority are making assessments; their trucks will cart away old cars and broken-down abandoned houses, along with bulk waste, where the waste poses a threat to health and safety. The teams will clean one community at a time.
iii. The Cabinet agreed to place a new focus on improving mental health. The repair of the Clarevue Mental Hospital, to cure it of its deficiencies, is well underway. An additional psychiatrist has been recruited to supplement the work of the lone doctor assigned to the hospital.
Special needs education is also being placed on the radar. The Second Chance Program (YEEP) is to be expanded to meet the growing needs of those who require higher education in order to advance on their jobs.
iv. The Ophthalmology Center at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center will have a new home at the Sir Cuthwin Lake Medical Center on Nugent Avenue. The Cardiac Center will take the place of the Renal/Dialysis unit at the SLBMC while the Renal/Dialysis Unit will now be housed at the old Holberton Hospital at the refurbished Edward Ward.
9. The Home Empowerment program for starter homes is one step closer to readiness, the Minister of Housing reports. The homes are expected to cost $120,000 each and the monthly repayments will likely not exceed $900 a month. Application forms are now available via the CHAPA website and the Central Housing and Planning Authority office on Lower All Saints Road.