The Cabinet meeting commenced at about 10:30 am and continued through until 6:30 pm. For about an hour, the Cabinet discussed matters related to the new parliamentary sessions, including the required parliamentary committees. The Leader of the Opposition leads the Public Accounts Committee.
The Cabinet also discussed the spate of new investments that have been triggered by the re-election of the administration.
1. The Cabinet invited managers of the ABAA (Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority), the Immigration Department, and the I.T. specialists that manage the systems which allow for a smooth flow of passengers arriving and departing V.C. Bird International Airport. The ability of the Immigration Department to deliver the full panoply of electronic services is not yet complete. The Minister responsible for Aviation and the Minister responsible for Information/Technology have been collaborating to produce a system to ensure the successes of the e-system. They have agreed to address:
a. Completing the Electronic E.D. card (that will remove the need for the passenger to fill in the data which appear on the printed version of the card).
b. Removing the face-to-face contact now required during the entry exercise.
c. Placing kiosks in the arrival lounge to satisfy inbound passengers.
d. Speeding-up the slower existing system for arriving and departing passengers, using the upgraded electronic system.
2. The Cabinet invited “the Special Adviser to the Cabinet on Agriculture” to share his vision of the future of agriculture, given the various limitations which exist: Drought, Water, Roaming Animals, Praedial Theft. His knowledge of plants, plant life, and the ability to utilize an e-system to measure and predict growth and yield, is considered remarkable. He is also able to provide large consumers, like hotels, with produce that is grown locally. He is of the view that the Central Marketing Corporation (CMC) ought to intensify its collaboration with farmers, despite the practice of farmers selling their best produce to the hotels and the supermarkets, and then farmers wishing to sell the less-attractive remainder of their crop yield to the CMC. The Cabinet, led by the Minister of Agriculture and Trade, plans to exhort farmers to change their marketing practices in order to maximize the returns, including possible export. The Minister continues to hold sessions with farmers. The upgrade of tractors remains an important element in the transformation that is to take place.
3. The Cabinet acknowledges that many more students during these past months are applying for resources to fund their tertiary education, utilizing the Prime Minister’s Scholarship Program. Consequently, limitations are to be immediately imposed on new students making application for the scarce funds; while those to whom the pledges have been made in the past will continue under the same terms. It was agreed that double-dipping is also to be disallowed. Seeking both a Scholarship and Study Leave will not be allowed, except under exceptional circumstances. The Cabinet also gave consideration to bonding students, so that they return to Antigua to work for a fixed period, in repayment of the taxpayer funding which was freely given towards their training.
4. The Cabinet invited the Medical Director of the Sir Lester Bird Medical Center (SLBMC) to address it, on the growing needs of the hospital. The central air conditioning system has stopped working, causing none but emergency operations to be conducted at the SLBMC. The Cabinet pledged the resources of the National Development Fund (of the CIP) to be deployed for payment of a new system. A temporary fix will be installed in the operating rooms in order to ensure operability of the hospital’s most critical system.
The Cabinet also learned that the specially-created floor cover of the SLBMC has deteriorated over time with use. Several contractors are being invited to bid on the upgrade, utilizing the system relied upon by hospitals.
The Cabinet also learned that Sonja Henry, the young woman who fell from a truck six weeks ago, has reached a recovery stage that will enable her to be sent abroad for further surgeries and treatment. The Director received the assurance from the Cabinet that her travel and treatment costs will be met by the Government.
5.i. The Development Control Authority is being moved from its current location at the Transport Board Building because of a troubling and unhealthy situation with sections of the spaces it now occupies. Arrangements are being made to rent or lease another property during the interim until the ceiling and walls of the building are repaired.
5.ii. The building usually occupied completely by the ECCAA is still undergoing repairs and is therefore not yet ready for occupancy.
5.iii. The CMC complains of the vagrants who occupy the building’s cover for sleeping at night. Several large glass windows have been broken, and the disheveled front of the building acts as a deterrent to doing business within. Finding housing for the homeless men has been assigned to the Minister of Health.
6. The Minister of Health and the Environment reported that a cash deposit is to be attached to certain plastic water bottles, to be refunded upon return of the bottle. Plastics continue to create a hazard to the cleanliness of waterways, and to blockage of gutters and drains. The object is to remove them from being throw-away items, to collecting them for alternative use and disposal.
7. i. A variant of Covid-19 has been found in an infected person in Antigua. However, no-one is hospitalized as a result.
ii. Additional spare parts for two off-line units at the Ffryes Reverse Osmosis plant have arrived. The two units will cause the plant to process more potable water next week and alleviate the shortages being experienced by the southern parts of Antigua.
iii. The Cabinet expressed its applause to Khan Cordice for his remarkable show of expertise by being the arranger for the Trinidad Exodus Steelband that earned second place in that country’s Panorama competition.