The Cabinet convened its meeting at approximately 10:30 with a prayer, and with all but one member present. The Meeting was chaired by Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin since the regular chairperson, P.M. Browne, is out of state until December 7, 2021.
1. The Covid-19 pandemic dominated the discussion and decision-making in the Cabinet. The Minister of Health advised that there are only six (6) active COVID-19 cases in Antigua and Barbuda at this time.
i. Nonetheless, the OMICRON Variant is causing some concern since it may become necessary to reverse the Cabinet’s earlier decisions. The Cabinet determined that visitors and returning nationals may not utilize Rapid Antigen tests to enter. Beginning December 8th 2021, only PCR tests, no more than 3 days old, can be utilized for entry into Antigua and Barbuda.
ii. The organizers of fetes have indicated that they are capable of testing 300 patrons at the door of the event. The Cabinet accepted that offer, so that patrons to fetes do not have to be tested on the day prior to the event. However, the requirement that all patrons be fully vaccinated, show their vaccination ID card before entry, and also take the rapid antigen test before entering, still holds. The policy is based on the likelihood of high transmissibility of the COVID-19 virus.
iii. Up to 100 government workers returning to work today, December 1st 2021, can be tested; hence, should the number returning exceed 100, those workers will have to undergo the COVID-19 test on another day. However, they cannot return to their workplace until such time as they have been tested. The public is reminded that all un-vaccinated government workers are required to undergo COVID-19 testing every 14 days. Only 100 workers can be tested per day. Testing is conducted at the Villa Polyclinic.
iv. The Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda has contracted to purchase 25,000 test kits from India that will be used widely. They will add to the stock of test kits already in the arsenal of Covid-19 supplies.
v. More than 22,000 vaccine ID cards have been printed. The hardworking team producing the cards is capable of printing as many as 1,000 cards per day. Emails and in-person submissions constitute a significant number of the backlog being addressed by the hard-working team. Card production entails a series of due diligence checks in order to ensure the absence of fraud, before production and distribution.
2. The Cabinet concluded that the provision of water to households and businesses in this drought period is a challenge for the APUA; 95% of all water reaching households and businesses come from the APUA’s Reverse Osmosis plants; the other sources are exhausted. Hence, the Cabinet invited the APUA General Manager, the APUA Water Manager, and the APUA Telephone Manager to address the issue of supply.
The representatives from three (3) constituencies reported that homes in their constituencies were not receiving water based on the schedule prepared and submitted publicly by APUA. At the moment, APUA produces more than six million gallons of potable water daily; demand is currently at 7 million gallons of water per day. In 2014 APUA produced 3.5 million gallons of water per day. The APUA Water Manager pointed out that when the new plant at Bethesda is placed online, APUA will produce more than 10 million gallons of water daily. The plant is ready and waiting to be commissioned by the Japanese who provided it as a gift to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda (and not to any one individual).
A new plant is to be constructed at Fort James to produce 500,000 gallons of water per day. There are several communities that receive un-interrupted water supply daily; those communities are very close to the desalination plants. Consequently, plants are being constructed in communities that are close to the ocean where the supply of water is located, with pumps to aid in distribution of the potable water. By the summer of 2022, it is estimated that APUA will be able to provide water to every single community in Antigua and Barbuda 24 hours per day.
i. The APUA has long adopted a policy of cut-off of water-supply to customers after a 90-day account default; on electricity, the APUA Customer is given 60 days before disconnection is ordered. The Cabinet decided that there will be a halt of all disconnections from December 1st to December 30th 2021.
ii. The interruption of water at the Multipurpose Center on this day because of a malfunctioning pump was brought to the attention of Cabinet. Action was taken immediately to have the water pump replaced or repaired. The Manager of the Center reports that the repaired pump will be ready on Thursday morning for installation.
3. Bishop Charlesworth Browne of the Kingdom Leaders also presented himself to Cabinet, as one of the Kingdom Leaders who sought an audience with Cabinet. The Bishop explained that three other members of this new organization were to have joined him, but they are unvaccinated and are unable to enter the Prime Minister’s office (based on the COVID-19 vaccine policy) where the Cabinet Secretariat is housed. The Bishop applauded the newest Covid-19 policies of the Cabinet.
Nevertheless, two cases demonstrated an anomaly in the application of the policy, he argued. The first is of a policeman who went on leave before the mandatory vaccination policy was in place; yet, his salary has not been paid. He was asked while on leave to prove that he had taken the vaccine. The policy then in operation allowed him to remain unvaccinated until the September 30th deadline, though his leave was still active in October. The Cabinet accepted that this approach did not comport with the policy that was initiated and gave the assurance that the matter will be investigated and the policeman will be paid what is rightfully his.
The second case involved a lady at an insurance company who sought a religious exemption. The Bishop was told by the Chairman of Cabinet that the private sector is free to determine which rules govern on their premises. The lady is to seek an exemption from the private employer. The regulations published do not narrowly point to Rastafarians as the only religious group that can enjoy exemptions. However, the exemptions ought not to be granted on the basis of personal belief but on the announced theological basis of the religious sect.
4. Three representatives of the Antigua and Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra (ABYSO) were invited to Cabinet in order to share their findings on the transformation of the former KFC High-Street/Deluxe property that has been granted to them. A technical team, which includes an engineer and an architect, hopes to start the redevelopment of the property to fit their use. When complete, the space is intended for practice as well as storage of the instruments they now own, and the very valuable additions that are being sourced in the United Kingdom from generous donors.
In the meantime, the instruments which are in their possessions are being stored with 24hr security. However the youth musicians require a much larger space in which to practice.
They require the government to provide:
1.a gutted building at the High Street property
2.a lease governing possession and use
3.assurances (to be provided to government) on the financial capability of ABYSO to complete the refurbishment of the building.
5. i. The Cabinet determined that the 109 temporary teachers employed for three (3) months will likely become permanent teachers in the next budget cycle.
ii. The Ministry of Works will complete the renovations of Edward Ward at the old Holberton Hospital to accommodate the transfer of the Dialysis Unit form the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre. The Dialysis Center is in need of more space and more machines in order to meet increasing demands for dialysis treatment.
A Cardiac Unit will occupy the space at the SLBMC where the Dialysis Unit has been since its inception. An outstanding medical institution will collaborate with the Ministry of Health to provide the human resource expertise required and to identify the additional experts and equipment that will also be needed to make the new Cardiac Unit meet the highest standards possible.
iii. ABS is moving to improve the effective coverage on the sister isle of Barbuda. A satellite studio, outfitted in Barbuda, will report regularly on the goings-on in the sister isle.
iv. The ambition of instituting a National Health Insurance Policy will soon become a reality, in 2022. The UWI presented a policy framework document that could result in acceptance of a National Health Insurance Plan, next year. In 2019, the MBS and the Cabinet spent $6 million dollars to send citizens abroad for medical treatments not available in Antigua. The object is to build capacity here, rather than spend taxpayers’ scarce resources abroad.
v. The Cabinet agreed to grant assistance to Aldo McCoy in the amount of US$10,000 to aid in offsetting medical expenses.
vi. The Cabinet congratulated Barbados at becoming a Republic and reiterated the applause which Prime Minister Gaston Browne conveyed to Prime Minister Mia Mottley.