Hurst Reports on Cabinet of Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Hurst Reports on Cabinet of Wednesday, July 22, 2020
24 Jul 2020

The Cabinet met both face-to-face and by virtual means, all members attending.

1. As is the custom of the Gaston Browne administration, experts are invited to Cabinet with regularity in order to assist members in enhancing decision-making:

i. Two experts from the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) were asked to provide options to the Cabinet members that would allow the residency program that is contemplated to be engineered in order to serve the country’s need. The idea that is being transformed into policy would allow high-net-worth individuals and high-income-earners who can work from any place in the world, to decide on residing in Antigua for a period of up to two years. The presenters provided several recommendations for Cabinet that would satisfy the expectations of the lawmakers. The Cabinet was informed that similar programs have been adopted by Portugal, Ireland, Netherlands, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The CIU is targeting 1,000 of the various types that would be attracted to the program. Thus far, 2,700 persons have acquired Antigua and Barbuda citizenship by the CIP, during the seven years from 2013 to the present.

ii. The Cabinet invited an expert computer programmer to make a pitch for utilizing his national firm for the writing of an app that would assist with tracking and contact-tracing of visitors to Antigua, and of nationals returning home from abroad. The expert informed the Cabinet of the utility of certain functions, and the best applications which the Ministry of Health could incorporate into an app programming, in order to make the app as useful as possible.

The idea of using a telephone loaded with an app in order to track the movement of a visitor to Antigua is not highly regarded by the expert. Without local roaming, the system does not work unless Wi-Fi is available. Additionally, the visitor would be required to keep his/her cellphone on his /her person at all times. This has proven to be very difficult and even impractical. He advised against this approach. The idea of a bracelet that contains tracking technology was deemed superior.

The expert also demonstrated the wisdom of placing in a single hub all the publications, laws and other regulations governing the Covid-19 crisis, the protocols that have been established. The expert explained that the hub differs from a website because all the information will be found under a single space, rather than requiring skipping from one website to another to learn of the various publications. He advanced a cost and a monthly maintenance fee which it was agreed could be negotiated.

2. The Cabinet spent one hour discussing the developments in the global pandemic and its impact upon Antigua. The Prime Minister spoke of the fake certificates that visitors to other countries were presenting, and the change in policy which Antigua will have to take in order to combat the higher risk presented by this particular circumstance; he also addressed the efficacy of the 7-day negative antigen test required of all persons boarding flights to Antigua. The notion of an OECS/Barbados and CARICOM Bubble has been scuttled after a single police officer, visiting St. Vincent from Antigua, was tested and found to be positive. This single officer, the Minister of Health informed, has caused the members of the Police Band to be quarantined; the crew of the RSS aircraft to be tested and quarantined; and, for those with whom he may have been in contact to be sought out and quarantined. One infected person, he emphasized, has had an impact on scores of people.

Since the government is unable to carry-out all the testing, the Cabinet considered the possibility of having several identified private practitioners provide testing as well. The Ministry of Health would provide the test kits and the doctors would reimburse the government. This approach is to be examined by the CMO.

The PAHO has been authorized to secure Covid-19 vaccines for Antigua and Barbuda and other Caribbean countries, when the supply becomes available. That may be early next year. The USA has already ordered one billion vaccines for its population.

3. The Cabinet also discussed the reports that private parties are being held in homes and elsewhere, and that attendees remove their masks and disregard social distancing rules. The Cabinet reminds that there is no relaxation of rules and regulations, and that only churches are allowed to have 25 or more persons gather in any one place.

The Cabinet also addressed the tendency of landlords to successfully seek out eviction orders from the Courts, expelling tenants who are in arrears from their rented properties. Consideration is being given to changing the rules governing non-payment of rent so that single mothers, especially, are not made vulnerable by evictions. Families and friends and churches are called upon to assist, and the amended law ought to be helpful.

4. The Cabinet discussed the developments in pursuit of keeping LIAT flying, including the meetings which the Prime Minister held with the Prime Ministers of St. Vincent and of Dominica, and the substitute Attorney General of Barbados, sitting-in for PM Mia Mottley. The Cabinet expressed its thankfulness to the team of Antigua and Barbuda officials, led by Prime Minister Browne, for making an unassailable case which resulted in acceptable compromises. The Cabinet dismissed the empty words of those who found the approach taken to be wrong. The difficult task now begins for restructuring and recapitalizing LIAT and for identifying suitable and willing investors to participate in the endeavour.

5. The Cabinet decided that:

a. No new work permits will be issued. However, those seeking to renew work permits will be welcome.
b. Hurricane shelters are likely to be inadequate for social distancing, requiring that more buildings be placed on the list in order to reduce crowding in the event of a hurricane and vulnerable households may have to turn to shelters.
c. Removal of Sargassum from many of the beaches facing the Atlantic will begin shortly. A local owner of a harvesting machine is soon to send his estimate. Two machines are likely to be dispatched from Guadeloupe in order to assist in the process. The cost has not yet been determined. Meanwhile, the Government of Japan has promised more than $2,000,000 in assistance with machines and other supplies to harvest the seaweed that has struck our shores.