Summary of the Meeting of the Cabinet

Held on Wednesday 23rd March 2022

Cabinet convened at about 10:30 with two members joining via virtual means. As is the custom of the Gaston A. Browne Administration, experts within their fields were invited to the Cabinet to provide guidance on several issues.
Fuel Prices in Antigua and Barbuda

1.     As promised, the Cabinet held discussions on the price of fuel at the pumps in Antigua and Barbuda. It was noted that the price of oil on the world market has been trending upwards for several weeks, with the price per barrel surpassing US$120.00. The continued war in Ukraine is having a negative impact on global supply and this has the effect of driving up the per barrel cost. Moreover, while other countries in the region have incrementally risen their price at the pumps for several years, the price in Antigua and Barbuda remained the same to ensure there is stability and predictability in the cost of fuel, an approach that ensures prices for other commodities such as food remain stable. In doing so, the government collected less Consumption Taxes, and it is the case that the government collected only $1.7 million for this month. In fact, before the recent rise in the cost of fuel at the pumps, this country enjoyed the lowest fuel prices in the OECS. The price of fuel at the pumps will therefore remain unchanged for now, at $15.70 per gallon for gasoline and $15.50 per gallon for diesel. Cabinet reaffirms its commitment to continue to monitor the price of oil on the international market and will adjust the price downwards when the price per barrel on the international market permits a reduction at the pumps. 

2.     Taxi, bus operators, and fisherfolk are soon to begin benefitting from the government’s twenty-five per cent (25%) fuel subsidy programme. The Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board and the Ministry for fisheries have developed a voucher system that came into effect on Thursday 24th March. Under this arrangement, transportation service providers and fisherfolk will receive a 25% reduction in the cost of fuel. It means, therefore, that taxi and bus fares will remain the same for people utilizing these services, and the price per pound for fish and other seafood should remain unchanged.
Management of COVID-19

3.     The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to report a global decline in the number of COVID-19 infections. Even though some places have seen recent spikes in cases, the total number of new cases worldwide continues to decrease. The same is true for Antigua and Barbuda, and more importantly, the number of hospitalizations has fallen to zero. This augurs well for a return to normality in the country. In this regard, all restrictions on beach activities have been lifted. It is expected that in the coming weeks the country will see fluctuations in the number of cases and so Cabinet continues to emphasize the importance of personal responsibility in the fight against the disease. Consequently, with the return of weekend vaccinations at the various clinics, the Cabinet encourages all persons to get vaccinated against COVID-19, especially since Carnival and the feting season make a full return this year.

 Carnival

4.     Having been forced to hang up its costume for the last two years, the Caribbean’s greatest summer festival, Antigua’s Carnival, is poised for a grand re-entry onto the national stage. The Hon. Michael Browne, Minister of the Creative Industries and Innovation, outlined an exciting plan for the full return of Carnival this year. The Ministry is actively pursuing marketing opportunities in several key Caribbean and international markets. These include the Trinidad, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and the United Kingdom. The schedule of events will include the various competitions that we all love. In addition, this Carnival will bring three days of jamming on the streets, with a route that promises excitement, revelry, and creativity.
Investment

5.     A company that is engaged in investments in media, education, hospitality, and real estate presented a proposal to the Cabinet for the construction of a medical school at Willoughby Bay. The company proposed to construct a campus town in the area, inclusive of a hotel, marina, and an 18-hole championship golf course. In addition, the company is ready to begin investing immediately, and has agreed to place US$5 million in escrow to start the project. Students from India, China, Africa, and Europe will be the focus, and the university will forge linkages and partnerships with existing institutions in Antigua and Barbuda.
Infrastructural Development and Emergency Services

6.     The Cabinet turned its attention to the question of the country’s infrastructure. It was agreed that while there is much work to be done, the Public Works Department (PWD) ought to be given high commendations for the work it continues to do with the road infrastructure. It was pointed out that the road network has been much improved when one considers the totality of work undertaken thus far. Not only are highways receiving much attention, but within villages the road network is presently being improved. Communities in St. George’s and St. Mary’s North constituencies are to benefit soon from the continuing road development programme. 

7.     The Cabinet also discussed the issue of water supply in the country and a representative from the APUA addressed the Cabinet on the matter. The Fort James reverse osmosis plant is to be expanded from five hundred thousand gallons to one million gallons per day. The additional units to achieve his expansion in capacity have already been ordered and APUA will engage the manufacturers so that shipping can be expedited. The plant will service areas such as St. John’s City, Point, Villa, Fort Road, Yorks, and McKinnon’s. APUA will also replace the membranes for several existing reverse osmosis plants that have not been producing at their maximum capacity, thereby vastly improving water production in the country. In this regard, 1,800 membranes at a cost of $1.3 million have been ordered and they are to arrive in the country within a few weeks. APUA will provide a report on the water situation to the Cabinet at least once every two weeks. Additionally, the water tanks that the government ordered and paid for a few weeks ago are now ready for distribution to needy households. The approach to solving the water issues in the county that is being undertaken by the Gaston Browne administration is one that is holistic and comprehensive. When completed in a few months, the country will experience a surplus in water supply and that will be supplied to farmers at an extremely low cost. 

8.     The country’s fire services will be bolstered by the purchase of four additional fire tenders. These tenders are scheduled to arrive in a few weeks and will assist the Fire Department in carrying out their duties more efficiently. Moreover, APUA will assist in the repair of fire tenders that are experiencing mechanical challenges. 

9.     Cabinet also decided that two new ambulances are to be ordered to increase the fleet of available ambulances to the Emergency Medical Services. 

Immigration Amnesty Programme

10.  A team from the Department of Immigration updated the Cabinet on the progress of the amnesty programme. Inter alia, the Cabinet was informed that 1,166 applications have already been approved, with the Department processing about 110 applications daily. The process requires the filling of a secure application form which is accompanied by a passport and application fee of $200.00. Forms have been distributed to consulates in Antigua that represent some of the larger immigrant communities, viz., Jamaica, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic. This is to make the forms easily accessible to applicants. Under the programme, applicants who have been residing in Antigua and Barbuda for four years or more and who may have gaps in their residency are eligible to apply to regularize their immigration status. The Cabinet commended the Chief Immigration Officer and her Department on the excellent job in the management of the programme, now into its twentieth day. 

Home Improvement Loan Programme

11.  In preparation for the upcoming hurricane season, the Cabinet took a decision to launch the Home Improvement Loan Programme to assist persons desirous of effecting repairs and other improvements to their homes. Under this new programme, homeowners can apply for loans of up to $25,000 at the very low interest rate of four per cent (4%). Under the revolving fund to be managed by the Ministry of Housing, unsecured loans will be given a maximum time of 7 to 10 years to be repaid, and the proceeds will be ploughed back into the programme to assist others. Persons from both the private and public sectors are eligible to apply to the programme that the government will capitalize to the tune of $5 million. 

Health and Wellness

12.  The Cabinet continues to take note of the number of vehicular accidents on recently resurfaced roads, particularly Friars Hill Road and Sir George Walter Highway. Motorists are encouraged to abide by the rules of the road and to exercise due care and caution when using the roadways. There will be increased police patrols on the roadways and the use of speed guns has already been deployed. Additionally, the Cabinet took the decision to install traffic cameras at strategic points throughout the island in an effort to bring to justice those motorists who are intent on causing mayhem on the roadways. The Ministry of Transport and the police will collaborate to ensure the success of this strategy. 

13.  The Cabinet commended the Medical Director and staff at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre for their care of recent accident victims, the Fergus sisters. Two of the sisters are now recovering at home, after extensive surgery at the hospital. The third sister recently came out of a coma and continues to receive care at the hospital. It is to be noted that while all three patients were considered critical on admission, they received specialist care here in Antigua from medical experts who reside in the country. It is a credit to the hospital for the level of service being provided. 

14.  Work at the new renal centre at Holberton Hospital is continuing apace. The government is partnering with an internationally recognized organization to bring the centre to reality. When complete, it will be a first-of-its-kind in the OECS and a facility of which all Antiguans and Barbudans can be proud. Dialysis patients in the country and further afield will be able to access world class services at the facility when complete. 

New Work Experience Programme

15.  Cabinet took the decision to permanently employ all trainees on the New Work Experience Programme who have been assigned to offices within the Public Service for no less than six months. Where necessary, the positions are to be created and the individuals are to be assigned the post to which they were assigned during training. 

Labour Day 2022

16.  Labour Day 2022 will be celebrated on Monday 2nd May 2022. This year, similar to the upcoming Carnival, the day will be celebrated with the usual pomp and ceremony that has characterized Labour Day since its inception. The usual speeches, marches, and gatherings with live entertainment at beaches return to the calendar this year. A full calendar of events will shortly be announced.

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