The Cabinet meeting began with prayers, delivered by a priest from the Methodist Church who encouraged all members to foster a personal relationship with God—a necessary position that helps in the managing of the complexity of the work undertaken by Ministers of government.
1. The Cabinet began its meeting with a discussion about the auctioning of the mega yacht Alfa Nero. The amendment to the Port Authority Act, passed by both the Lower House and the Senate, provides the clear direction which the administration requires in order to ensure that the vessel, after ten days of advertising, will by law become the property of the state. It will then cease being the property of a sanctioned person; nor will the vessel be sanctioned property. Under those conditions, a sale of the Alfa Nero will cause the resources realized to become the property of the state. The law directs that the money realized be placed in the Consolidated Fund. Antigua and Barbuda has already given assurances to the several creditors of the Alfa Nero that it will reimburse them from the sale proceeds. The new purchaser, not yet known, would justifiably desire to own the vessel free of all liabilities; and, the Government wishes to ensure that its ownership under the law will be free of any liabilities also. In a few days, the ten-day period would have run and the process of bidding will be complete.
2. The Cabinet also held a discussion on the future of LIAT. The old LIAT (1974) Ltd. has been virtually collapsed, and its former workers and other creditors are owed sums of money. However, the LIAT (1974) Ltd. is without assets to satisfy the debts it owes; hence, the governments who owned LIAT (1974) Ltd. would be liable to the extent of their shareholding, since LIAT (1974) Ltd. is a limited liability company. Antigua and Barbuda’s share was 32%, Barbados’ share was 54%, Dominica and St. Vincent owned nearly 10% together. The position of Antigua and Barbuda is that any negotiations for payment of monies to LIAT staff shall now be with all shareholders, and that no longer will the Antigua and Barbuda Government conduct bilateral negotiations with the LIAT bargaining agent in Antigua.
The 50% compassionate offer which the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has made to the LIAT former workers has been rejected by the bargaining agent, whose leaders are insisting on 100% payment. The Cabinet reinforced the decision to engage all former shareholder governments. Barbados recently announced a payment of $75,000 maximum to Barbadian citizens who were formerly employed by LIAT, resulting in a 10% payment and not a 54% payment to match its ownership share. Antigua and Barbuda’s 50% promise exceeds its 32% shareholding in LIAT. Additionally, Antigua and Barbuda has ensured that LIAT continues to fly daily; one of its three-aircraft-fleet is grounded until nearly US$3 million dollars are spent to bring that aircraft back into airworthy status. That will be done, the Cabinet agreed. (See attached addendum by P.M. Browne)
3. The Cabinet was informed by the Prime Minister that he had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a group from Malta whose aim is to strengthen Antigua and Barbuda’s flagship business, operated by the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Maritime Services (ADOMS). The registration of vessels by the ADOMS was limited primarily to Germany and German vessels.
A great shift in the market has taken place reducing the profitability of the sector; hence, other markets and other vessels are being sought in order to increase the revenue flows to the ADOMS. The signing of the MOU with the group from Malta is one of many that will be forthcoming.
4. The Cabinet held discussions with the General Manager of APUA by way of telephone on the challenges posed by production and distribution of potable water. Rough seas have significantly reduced production capability from 11 million gallons daily. Demand however, has remained at approximately 13 million gallons daily. Consequently, water rationing has become very important in order to ensure that the highly-valued and necessary substance is supplied in an equitable manner during this period of turbid seas. The General Manager has assured the Cabinet that as the Easter/Spring season approaches, the seas will be calmer and the reverse osmosis plants can function near 100% capacity. There is also an alternative in the use of super filters that can be attached to the intake pipe to reduce significantly the intake of sand, shells, pebbles and vegetation that severely harm the membranes that separate the salt from the water. Another desalination plant is scheduled to be constructed near the Village of Bethesda; it will produce 3.5 million gallons daily, thereby meeting and exceeding the current supply and demand for water.
5. The Cabinet has extended an invitation to the United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to investigate the situation of migrants in Antigua and Barbuda, specifically the West Africans who arrived here three months ago. Their investigation will likely reveal who wants to return and who prefers to stay. The UNHCR and the IOM will make recommendations to the Government following their investigation.
6. The Minister of Labour informed the Cabinet that all regulations and amendments are in place to activate the waiver of work permit fees for CARICOM nationals and for nationals of the Dominican Republic. The effective date of the implementation will be May 1st, 2023. The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) made a promise to eliminate work permit fees for these two groups during the election campaign. The Government has now acted to make good on its promise.
7. The Cabinet learned that 74 properties are leased or rented by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda—many before 2014. The list of properties and the amounts paid in rent were shared by the Minister of Works following an investigation. The Minister of Works also revealed that 1,170 vehicles are registered to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and they are regularly provided maintenance and gasoline by the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board (ABTB). It is the intention of the Government to reduce that number significantly by asking those who are not entitled to return those vehicles. That order will come in writing.
8. The Cabinet has learned that Mr. Clarence Crump former Boundaries Commissioner and former member of the Labour Board has died. Cabinet expresses its condolences to his family, friends and former trade union colleagues.