The Cabinet meeting commenced at 10:45 am with prayers from a Catholic priest. He asked God to guide the decision-making of the Prime Minister and of the other members. The meeting ended at 6:30 pm.
1. The Cabinet invited all heads of the security services and support staff, totaling twelve officials to address the issue of youth violence, robbery by young males bearing guns, and the report recently of rape of a young mother during the daytime.
The Commissioner of Police informed that sixty five percent of all reported crimes occur in the City of St. John’s; thirty five reported robberies occurred for the year thus far, and nine illegal guns were taken from the streets thus far in 2023. Not many incidents of Youth on Youth Violence have been reported since the execution of a plan put forward by the Uniformed Bodies. However, the Police have concluded that older criminals are using young men to commit crimes. The Police proposed the introduction of CCTV cameras in and around St. John’s, so that images of the criminals can be captured. The Police also proposed a VHF radio system to reduce the response time following their receipt of a reported crime or a reported automobile accident. The cost of the radio system is estimated at $350,000 USD.
The Commissioner also reported that just a little more than 600 active duty officers and about 200 fire police make up the RPFAB. A little more than 2,000 additional police officers are required to meet the force-strength that would be ideally able to address adequately the crime situation throughout the nation. The Chief of Defence Staff of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF) informed that 120 additional soldiers are required to fulfill the calculated quantum of soldiers to match Antigua and Barbuda’s population. He also reported that not only an increase in manpower but VHF radios, military assets and training are also required.
A report was also received about what assets and human resources will be required for the new Barbuda Airport. More Fire Police and a firetruck will be required. The Cabinet thanked the Security Officials for their several reports and for pointing to the needs to successfully fight crime. They were assured of the full support of the Executive, including the allocation of funds to meet the deployment of equipment.
2. The Cabinet invited the owner of a rented office building in St. John’s that has remained unoccupied since the time of the past administration, to join the meeting; a Crown Counsel from the Ministry of Legal Affairs was also invited. The former CIBC building, situate at the corner of High Street and Corn Alley, owned by the Antiguan businessman, had been rented by the former administration and gutted but unused. Nothing more was done until 2014, when an agreement was entered into with the new Gaston Browne Administration to acquire the building by way of unpaid taxes and other unmet obligations. The owner reneged. He has now returned to the Cabinet with a further proposal to exchange land which he owns elsewhere for a crown land with an ocean front. The decision on the old building is put off for one week.
3. The Cabinet held discussions on acquisition of the Cancer Centre at a cost that reflects the valuation undertaken by the Governments’ Valuation Officer. While the owner was demanding $15 million USD; the valuation concluded that it is valued between $6 and $9 million EC Dollars. The land on which the Cancer Centre is built is the Crown’s. The Centre has incurred liability of $6.9 EC Million. Should the Government acquire, there would be a need for both personnel and additional equipment. Nurses with the expertise are available and there are two doctors available to operate there; they are all ready to begin. All the equipment has depreciated and would have to be separately assessed.
4. The Minister of Health reported that a six month program developed by PAHO to address the issue of HPV (human papilloma virus) was successfully completed long before the six month period ended. Consequently, the PAHO is being moved to scale-up and integrate HPV testing in ten clinics throughout Antigua and Barbuda. The HPV can cause Cervical Cancer in women that can lead to death. The HPV Vaccine can prevent the virus from spreading and harming the host.
5. The Minister of Tourism reported that Sandals has submitted plans for expansion which would result in 107 new rooms being added to the existing plant at Dickenson Bay. Sandals is also adding a reverse osmosis plant to provide sufficient potable water for its guests. Sandals has also submitted plans for overwater bungalows; that request will be assessed by the Department of the Environment.
The Minister also reported that the Hermitage Hotel is planning to expand since the demand for its high quality service exceeds the current supply of rooms. The same financiers who have provided the capital for Hermitage are also financing the NOBU Hotel on Barbuda. Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism is growing.
6. The Minister of Education sought the permission of Cabinet to establish a satellite unit of the School Meals Programme at the Urlings School. The Minister explained that this Unit will serve the schools in the Southern part of Antigua that receive prepared meals from the School Meals Headquarters in Coolidge. The object, he explained, is to reduce the time that it normally takes to transport meals from the Northern to the Southern parts of the country and to reduce the risk of a system-wide shutdown in the event of any incident at the main kitchen, and improving the quality of the food served by reducing mass production. This satellite unit could become operational by the new school term.
7. The Minister of Works reported that community roads continue to be repaired and some finishing touches are to be applied to the highways going east and south that have been resurfaced. The Minister received applause for the work done on two well-traveled roadways; the Fort James Road and the Ffryes Beach Road are much improved.
8. The Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda convenes on Thursday, 18th May, at 9:30 am. Several important papers and reports are scheduled to be tabled, as well as second and third readings of important bills.