The Cabinet convened at about 11:00 am since several members chose to attend the funeral of a highly regarded citizen, Miss Gene Thomas. The weekly meeting ended at 5:30 pm or six hour later. Nine members chose to attend face-to-face, while the others attended virtually.
1. The Cabinet held a discussion around the inclusion of former Minister Michael Browne who was declared “not guilty” by a High Court Judge on Monday past. The Prime Minister had already indicated that the youthful Mr. Browne is to be brought back into Cabinet; that decision stands, and the portfolio to be assigned will be announced on New Year’s Day 2022 when the Head of Government will share his decision with the Antigua and Barbuda people.
2. The Cabinet invited to its meeting the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and her Deputy, the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, the Chief Health Inspector and the Commissioner of Police and his Deputy to discuss the removal of the State of Emergency and the curfew and other Covid-related matters.
i. The Minister of Health indicated that there are twenty seven (27) active cases in Antigua and Barbuda, nineteen (19) of which are locals and eight (8) imported; transmission of the virus is predominantly by locals. The real risk lies with the behaviour of the local population. Fetes are a threat to our continued success in managing the Covid-19 pandemic. The science governing Omicron is not yet complete and reliable data will still have to be accumulated before the scientists can draw useful conclusions. Following intense discussions by the Cabinet the following decisions were made:
a). The Cabinet having given careful consideration to the presentation made the previous week by the Group of Persons representing the Promoters, and in consideration of the ongoing threat posed by the Omicron Variant has decided to maintain an upper limit of 300 for approved Fetes with a further restriction that only one event will be permitted on any given day subject to all of the other safety protocols inclusive of the rapid test pre-screening.
b). Private parties are limited to 25 persons (other than those held in bio-secure spaces).
ii). Cabinet reserves the right to review every seven days the efficacy of the restrictions that are imposed, in order to determine whether those restrictions are achieving the desired outcome.
iii). More than 26, 000 COVID-19 vaccination identification cards have been issued; they will be required to enter into fetes, bars, clubs and other public events; only the vaccinated may enter into those venues.
iv). 10,000 test kits are to be made available immediately to those who operate restaurants, clubs, bars even churches in order to encourage self-regulation. It is anticipated that those who get positive results from the rapid tests are to present themselves to the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre for PCR test immediately thereafter.
v). The Police and the CBH enforcement officers to visit the social spaces with regularity in order to ensure that the operators are abiding by the rules. The regulations will be amended to restrict the absolute number of persons attending any bar or place of entertainment outside of approved Fetes to 150 during the period December 24th 2021 to January 7th 2022.
The regulations will be further strengthened to mandate that Owners and Operators of Bars, Restaurants and Clubs would have to satisfy the CBH Officials that they have sufficient mechanisms in place to limit the persons frequenting their establishments are fully vaccinated and that they present the approved proof of vaccination.
vi). The CMO pointed out that approximately 58,000 residents are fully vaccinated and 4,000 partially vaccinated, and that no-one is currently hospitalized with Covid; the authorities will continue to send SARS CoV 2 positive samples to CARPHA for genomic sequencing in order to detect the omicron variant should it be present. To date, Antigua and Barbuda has NOT recorded a single case of this variant, although it is only a matter of time before it will reach the shores of many Caribbean countries. In the past week visitors have come from more than 77 countries all carrying ID cards showing that they are fully vaccinated; yet, a small number has been identified as infected. The population must, therefore, be prepared to live with Covid; and, many will have to take a booster shot to protect against possible infection. The Cabinet encourages everyone who is eligible to take the Covid-19 Vaccine.
3. The Commissioner of Police addressed the issue of enforcement. During the Yuletide season there will be many public events; it is better to check those who are entering than to attempt to check after hundreds would have assembled, he explained.
4. The Cabinet held a discussion on LIAT and the offer made to meet 50% of the severance cost of all LIAT workers. The unions have yet to accept the legal position regarding the Government’s obligations and are still seeking to engage the Government with the aim of having further negotiations.
The Cabinet has re-iterated its position and will not be involved in any further discussions regarding any possibility of negotiations of the issue of its compassionate offer.
The Cabinet continues to ask the administrator to accelerate the sale and buy-back of LIAT’s chattel assets. The object is to ensure that LIAT’s former workers could have had some funds over the Christmas holidays. The Cabinet agrees that it will be unconscionable to use tax payers money to pay LIAT’s staff 100% of the monies owed to them, even when the governments liability was no more than 34% of the value of LIAT’s ownership. The offer of a compassionate payment is the result of a clear understanding that the share value is $0.00 and the government has no legal obligation to pay.
5. The Prime Minister indicated that he had engaged Bishop Charlesworth Browne to help address the issue of conflict resolution especially in schools and within families. It is a position to which he will be returning in Government after years of separation. He is expected to draw upon the experience of the Kingdom Leaders, a group which he chairs.
6. The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda took a decision to offer to the family of Franklyn “King Frank-I” Francis an Official Funeral. He was appointed the country’s Ambassador to Ethiopia in 2014, had a history of involvement in the Rastafarian movement for decades, and was an outstanding sportscaster for many years. If the offer is accepted, it would be the very first time in the history of the Caribbean that a Rastafarian brethren has been accorded an Official Funeral.
i). The Cabinet is giving consideration to a replacement Ambassador to Ethiopia from the Rastafarian Community.
7. The Barbuda Council is reminded that it is not authorized to issue leases to anyone. The Cabinet has learned that it has become a common practice to issue leases to relatives and friends, purportedly giving control of land contiguous to projects that are under development with the expectation that those leases will subsequently be sold for very high prices to the principals of the development. Those leases will not be honoured.
8. The Minister responsible for APUA announced that the reverse osmosis plant at Ffryes is to be commissioned commencing on Monday, 17th January; that plant will deliver 1,000,000 gallons of fresh water daily.
9. The Minister of Health reported that the Global Climate Facility (GCF) will provide a grant of US$32,000,000.00 in February to improve climate resilience in Antigua and Barbuda. Several projects have already been identified for funding.
10. The Minister of Housing reported that 307 parcels of land were distributed by CHAPA during the 2021 year. New homes have been built in Lightfoot, Liberta, Table Hill Gordon, Seatons (where 110 parcels have been identified for distribution), Comfort Hall and Signs.
11. Cabinet for the very last time for 2021 convened today and will not meet again until the second week of January 2022. When the Parliament convenes on Thursday, 16th December, the Prime Minister will announce the decision regarding the State of Emergency and the curfew.
- The Cabinet encourages everyone to continue to adhere to the Covid-19 protocols and wishes a healthy and prosperous New Year to all.