Cabinet commenced its meeting with a prayer by a priest from the Methodist Church at about 10:30 am; he addressed the issue of wisdom in governance and asked God to provide an ample supply to the Ministers of the Government and those in leadership positions. The meeting concluded at approximately 7:30 pm or nine hours later.
1. The Cabinet invited the Commissioner of Police, the Chief of Defence Staff of the ABDF, the Director of the ONDCP (Organization of National Drug Control Policy and Money Laundering), the Chief Immigration Officer and support staff, and the Superintendent of His Majesty’s Prison for a briefing on the subject of the unlawful and tragic attempt to smuggle a group of West Africans out of the state and into another Caribbean country. It was agreed by all that since the West Africans entered the country on their own volition as tourists, were processed by Immigration Authorities upon landing, and were not seeking to evade law enforcement, then they were not “trafficked migrants”, as some have wrongfully claimed. In fact, over the three-month period of the migrants’ stay, attempts were made to integrate these hapless West Africans into the Antigua and Barbuda social fabric. The invitation to the UNHCR and the IOM by the Government are clear signals of the willingness on the administration’s part to seek an amicable settlement of the issue.
Furthermore, for more than five years, the CARICOM had agreed to attempt the establishment of an air bridge between Africa and the Caribbean. An agreement with Air Peace was close to completion except for the AOC (Air Operator’s Certificate) which was not issued, compelling Air Peace to fly first to Jamaica last year, rather than to Antigua.
The Cabinet agreed that when the migrants undertook to depart Antigua secretly, and boarded a vessel after making a payment allegedly to someone connected to the vessel, they were participants in migrant smuggling, transforming themselves from economic migrants. Several of the West African migrants reported that there was expressed hostility towards them by angry people who signaled that they wished them to leave their country. This hostility, the Cabinet agreed, was not the custom in Antigua whose immigrant population is significant in size.
During the period of campaigning, leading up to the January 2023 general elections, the migrants learned that they had been wrongly accused of being impostor voters, and other objectionable accusations had been hurled at them.
The officials invited to Cabinet provided additional information regarding the vessel and its sinking. The vessel is registered in Guadeloupe; it was captained to Antigua by a sailor who is now assisting the Police in the investigation. Another person captained the vessel from Antigua until it sank; that person is now held by the Royal Police Force of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. The French Coast Guard, out of Guadeloupe, have remained in the area of the ocean where the vessel sank. The likelihood that passengers went under in the capsized vessel would mean that bodies would float up to the surface after 48 hours. Sixteen persons are presumed dead since they are missing. Attempts are being made to identify the cadavers taken to St. Kitts, by way of photos to other members of the group of migrants. The investigation continues.
2. The Cabinet invited the Commissioner of the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) and three of his IRD colleagues to determine how best to impose the property tax to be imposed on homes valued at EC$3 million and more. The IRD Commissioner informed that the tax year commences in November each year; consequently, the expanded tax would come into effect in November 2023 and collections would then begin in 2024. An assessment of the value of the properties that would be impacted by the tax will require a register of those properties, and a Notice would then be served on the homeowners in keeping with the property tax law.
3. The Cabinet invited a CIP agent, a law enforcement expert, and two experts by Zoom to address members on the planned Residency Program under the CIP. The cost is likely to be $75,000 fee per year for each resident; the amount to be paid over two years would exceed the NDF contribution for citizenship.
4. Two young entrepreneur/farmers have shown an interest in turning land in the Bolans area into useful farms. The two young farmers appealed to the Minister of Public Utilities to assist them with wells that have been dug on the farmland but have been unused for a long time. The Cabinet was told that as many as ten other young males are interested in engaging in farming, except that they will need assistance to plow the land and to ensure that water becomes available.
The Minister of Public Utilities promised to revamp the wells and the Cabinet reminded the entrepreneurs that farmers get a 25% discount on water bills from the APUA. One of the farmers is also a past cricketer of outstanding abilities. He played cricket with Alzarie Joseph, Rakeem Cornwall and others from the West Indies Team. He is of the view that many young, talented cricketers could be brought onto a cricket team sanctioned by the Caribbean Premiere League (CPL). The Cabinet informed that the franchise is costly and prohibits entry by an Antiguan Team at this point. He also proposed the creation of a female team for CPL to which Cabinet will give some thought.
5. Cabinet invited the youngest Senator now on the floor to appear before Cabinet in order to applaud him for his intervention in the Budget Debate. He was viciously attacked by a UPP supporter following his intervention. The Cabinet explained that the political institution which appointed him to the Senate had three separate generational levels. Youth are provided opportunities to show leadership in preparation for greater roles, as they mature. The young senator’s selection was also matched by the appointment of five females of varying ages to the Senate. The object is to capture talent early and to strengthen gender equality.
6. The Minister of Works reported that the quarries are producing twice as much aggregates as they normally would and they are installing dust suppression systems at Burma and Bendals in the first instance, in order to reduce the difficulty which residents are subjected to, in adjoining villages.
ii.The Cabinet promised to provide the resources to the Ministry of Works to build a ten-foot high fence on the eastern perimeter of the Prison Wall to prevent individuals from throwing items over that wall into the prison compound.
iii. The Minister of Works reported that Lablahlie Road has been completed, allowing residents to park their vehicles thereon and for traffic to move freely on the repaved road. It is estimated that the road in the Crabbe Hill area will take approximately six more weeks to complete. The road leading to Fort James, whose surface has been partially destroyed in order to plant new pipes, will be resurfaced by the end of April 2023.
7. The Prime Minister reported that the sovereign island-country of Vanuatu, in the Pacific, was successful in getting the issue of liability for climate change onto the docket of the International Court of Justice. In a parallel attempt to bring the issue of climate change and reparations for loss and damage to the Law of the Sea Tribunal, Antigua and Barbuda has succeeded in having several countries to join it in this effort.
8. Cabinet is giving thought to providing 32% of severance liability to former LIAT (1974 Ltd) staff members in an effort to settle its moral obligation to the former staff members. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda owned a 32% share in LIAT (1974 Ltd) and cannot reasonably be expected to bear a bigger share of the burden than it may be legally required to contribute, had the airline owned assets sufficient to meet its debts obligations. It is estimated it will cost about ECD10 million.