The Cabinet commenced its meeting at 10:30 am and received the prayers of a Moravian Minister, who chose a reading from the Book of Psalms. The meeting ended at 7:30 pm, or nine hours later.
1. The Cabinet held a discussion about the West Africans who have been present in Antigua since late December 2022. The UNHCR and the IOM have concluded a preliminary report which is to be examined by the national agencies that are playing a part in the resettling exercise. There was a report that the small fishing boat—which unlawfully departed Antigua with 32 passengers and overturned near St. Kitts—drifted into Puerto Rico’s waters with one body on board. A group of about 15 West Africans who are now in Guadeloupe, are likely to be dealt with by those authorities. The West Africans and two Antiguans who were rescued by the St. Kitts and Nevis Coast Guard ten days ago, remain in that country’s custody, it was reported.
2. The Cabinet invited seven officials from the Ministry of Legal Affairs to address all the intricacies related to the seizure and sale of the superyacht Alfa Nero. The Cabinet is determined to ensure that every step taken by the several arms of Government—involved with the ultimate task of disposal of the vessel—will cause future pitfalls to be avoided, at this point.
The legal team has made the application to ensure that the Alfa Nero is de-listed as a sanctioned vessel by the USA, so that it can be free to enter the waters of the USA and will also ensure that the vessel will not be seized again. The Antigua and Barbuda flag is now flown by the vessel. Insurance has also been secured. The negotiations with the Captain and crew has also been concluded. Liabilities incurred by staffing/crew, WIOC re-fueling, provisioning and some maintenance upkeep will fall to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda—the newest owner. When the vessel is sold by auction, the monies received will meet these obligations; it is likely to leave Falmouth Harbour and Antigua in a few weeks.
3. i. The Cabinet held a meeting virtually with a wealthy investor who hopes to build a boutique hotel on a 30-acre beach property owned by the Crown. The Saudi Arabian Government’s investment arm has shown a willingness to participate, utilizing Antigua as one of the first places in the Caribbean where the investment arm has chosen to do business. The Saudi investment arm has already agreed to lend US$86 million for the expansion of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Five Islands Campus; the loan is in the final stages of consummation.
ii. The Cabinet conducted a virtual meeting with six members of the Government of Saudi Arabia to include the team which seeks out investment for the Saudi Wealth Fund. The meeting was held to confirm that the Saudi fund will in fact participate in the hotel development project that is being proposed. Confirmation of such participation was achieved using the virtual platform. Several members of that Saudi fund will visit Antigua next week Friday.
4. i. Two Lawyers from the Ministry of Legal Affairs provided the Cabinet with an update on the attempt to restore the OECS region to a Category One Status. The Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) is a single district for the purpose of the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA); many of the flights that arrive in the OECS originated in the United States; ECCAA airports, therefore, must meet the same high standards as US airports receiving international flights. Safety and security remain a top priority that cannot be compromised since many aircraft fly from the ECCA destinations into the United States.
ii. The Cabinet was also brought up-to-date on the policy of the return of plastic bottles. A deposit by wholesalers is required with the import of bottled drinks; and, those who produce plastic bottles from pre-forms also pay a special fee upon the entry of those pre-forms into Antigua. Consideration is being given to repatriate the used bottles or turning them into another product here in Antigua. In either case the collection of the bottles by many folks has provided a means of earning an income; those folks who choose to supplement wages and salaries keep the plastics out of our gutters, waterways and the ocean seafront.
5. The Cabinet addressed the issue of the rise of LIAT 2020 and the demise of LIAT (1974) Ltd. The expectation of Antigua and Barbuda is for LIAT to be revived and for it to continue to serve its useful purpose, connecting Caribbean peoples and countries to each other. Everything that can reasonably be done to ensure that LIAT, loved by all in our Caribbean, will fly regular schedules in the future, is to be done. Competing airlines will find that LIAT’s longevity has been earned.
6. Seven members of the Government’s negotiating team reported to the Cabinet on their negotiating success with several unions which represent employees of Government, in different sectors. The Cabinet accepted a proposal put forward by the team to grant paternity leave to males who become fathers, whether within or outside of marriage. The negotiating team will set the parameters, having received the approval of the Cabinet for the policy. Almost ten years ago the oldest trade union in Antigua succeeded in negotiating paternity leave with a Government statutory corporation that is profit-making.
7. The head of the USAID at the Embassy in Barbados, by Zoom, introduced the Cabinet to two new programs that USAID will finance. The first involves the training of Police Officers to address human trafficking. The second program is intended to follow-through on the Juvenile Justice Reform System (JJRS); USAID will train trainers who will help youth to build marketable skills, and to assist youth that have been in custody to reintegrate into society. That visit will take place next week Tuesday.
8. The Cabinet joined in congratulating the swimmers who participated in the CARIFTA Games, especially those who brought home medals. The Cabinet reminds that a huge swimming pool is being constructed on the grounds of the Sir Novelle Richards Academy, for the purpose of enabling many more swimmers to emerge winners in regional and international competition. Cabinet will invest in change rooms and bathrooms at YASCO that were begun in 2006, after several hundred-thousand dollars had been wasted on unfinished structures.
9. A soil-turning ceremony is scheduled to take place in Barbuda on the 20th of April to mark the commencement of construction of a renewable energy plant. Had it not been for the 2017 Hurricane Irma, Barbuda would have been one hundred percent Green Energy Island by 2020. That ambition is delayed.