The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda commenced its sitting at approximately 10:30 am and concluded at 3:30 pm. All members were present.
- A discussion about the new minimum wage, scheduled to be implemented on January 1, 2023, was the very first item addressed by the executive body. Cabinet agreed that a balance was sought in order to ensure that no employee would be terminated because the >10% increase of the minimum wage (from $8.20 to $9.00 per hour) would not burden any employer. There would be no loss of jobs given the reasonable movement of the increase, the Cabinet believed. At the same time, the delicately-negotiated outcome, which took into account the interests of all parties—the Union, the Employers, the Government, the Business community—was the wisest decision on which the Cabinet could agree. The proposal will go before parliament next week.
- i. The Cabinet invited the Director of the Department of the Environment (DoE) to present her report on the outcomes of COP27 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) held in Egypt over a two-week period. Antigua and Barbuda established its leadership globally on this issue of global climate change. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Environment made proposals to the COP27 which were hailed as the important successes of the meeting, the Director reported. “Loss and Damage” is a three-decade old proposal that seemingly would not ever be accepted. However, following the statement by the Prime Minister and the follow-up negotiations by the Minister of the Environment, the developed countries yielded and have agreed to fund the “loss and damage” proposal. It will be a source of funding-recovery from extreme weather, in vulnerable states, triggered by hurricanes, droughts, floods and other climate-change events.
ii. The Department of the Environment developed a cadre of technical experts to such an extent that three of its staff members have been recruited to work in International Organizations; none of them applied for the jobs. These Antiguan and Barbudan experts are being scooped-up because of their training, knowledge and their competence in matters pertaining to the global environment / climate issues. The Cabinet congratulated the three experts.
- i. The Cabinet received a report that several building projects throughout Antigua and Barbuda are unable to move forward as rapidly as they would like because of the scarcity of cement, steel and some aggregates. It was reported that as soon as the vessel bearing its cargo of cement discharges the material at the Crabbes Plant, the firms that sell premixed concrete regularly scoop-up all the cement until the vessel returns one week later; then, the same series of events recur. There is a construction boom taking place in Antigua and Barbuda that was deliberately engineered by the Gaston Browne Administration; when it became evident that the Covid-19 pandemic would disrupt our tourism traffic; the administration moved to incentivize construction.
ii. Several hotel and other building projects are scheduled to begin within weeks; they will add to the demand for cement, steel and aggregates.
- The Cabinet was visited by a team from the Department of the Environment (DOE) with responsibility for promoting Arbor Month. Thursday 24 November, 2022, has been declared Arbor Day in our region. Forty plants were presented to the Cabinet members, made up primarily of fruit trees to be nurtured and planted. The Cabinet reminded the Arbor Day team that a decision to plant 1 million trees per year still controls. And, that as many nurseries as are needed for the saplings will be constructed in order to achieve this objective.
- i. The Cabinet engaged an official from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) known as a “transformational specialist”. This UN Official explained that the UNDP is working on the assumption that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is on its way, and the use of ICTs (Information Communications and Technology Systems) to achieve competitive advantage will define civilization going forward. In order for nations to succeed, she said, good digital foundations are needed to drive the new systems. Antigua and Barbuda has been busily working to ensure that those foundations have been constructed so that the country is ready for take-off, and to create the Economic Powerhouse as envisioned by the Prime Minister.
ii. The Minister of Information shared with the Cabinet an event which occurred one day last week when one of the offshore enterprises, operating in Antigua, was deliberately DDOS (attack); the ploy ensured that the company’s computer systems could not function normally. The action had some impact on other businesses in Antigua and Barbuda that use the same carriers for their Internet traffic. The challenge has been successfully met and the operation is restored.
- The Minister of Health reported that no case of rheumatic fever was discovered in schools, following vigorous testing of students. However, utilizing the resources provided by the WHO, five hundred women have been tested for HPV, 25% of whom have tested positive. Sufficient resources are remaining to test an additional 1,000 women and these tests will continue to be carried out until the resources are exhausted. One of the outcomes of HPV is cervical cancer; this cancer can be eliminated by treatment if caught early. A robust program of testing and treatment will be carried out by the Ministry of Health.
- The Glanville’s Polyclinic will soon be reopened—its water-storage problem having been solved. The Villa Polyclinic will begin offering pediatric treatment and EKG tests within a short time. The Clinics are intended to ease the burden on the lone MSJMC E/R services.
- The Minister of Education addressed the issue of gangs in the schools, and reported that retaliatory actions by gang members has spawned a series of attacks against students. The Minister indicated that while the Police have been called-in, the behaviours are triggered by students from dysfunctional families. However, the Cabinet directed the Ministry of Social Transformation to have its social workers and others trained in this field to provide a paper that addresses solutions, to the Cabinet, as soon as possible.