The Cabinet has moved from hybrid meetings to face-to-face Wednesday meetings only. Two Ministers were absent.
1. The Cabinet held a discussion on relaxing Covid-19 restrictions as pertain to a number of nationals of Antigua and Barbuda who wish to return home but are not vaccinated; the discussions on relaxing the restrictions for visiting tourists will continue. The Cabinet consulted with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Health Inspector, inviting both to address the Executive on the plans to ease the restrictions for returning nationals. Following intense discussions, with safety and security serving as underlying concerns, the Cabinet agreed to allow unvaccinated nationals to return to their homeland, provided:
i. The national is to be required to take either a PCR Test or a Rapid Antiguan test, within four days of departure to Antigua;
ii. The national, upon arrival in Antigua, will agree to spend 7 to 10 days in quarantine with a tracking bracelet and will take another test prior to joining his/her family and friends.
2. Antigua and Barbuda is transitioning into a new norm while the fight against Omicron is not over, the Cabinet agreed. Vaccination of those who have not yet submitted to the jabs is still required; the vaccination is being carried out at Glanvilles and Villa Polyclinics and the Multipurpose, Cultural and Exhibition Centre. The data show that the number of persons contracting Covid-19 has fallen to nine persons per week. The objective is to keep the number of persons contracting Covid extremely low.
3. The Cabinet held a discussion on the subject of Amnesty, focused especially on the fees which would have been incurred and may yet remain unpaid by members in the immigrant community. The Cabinet has determined that many will not be able to access the amnesty if all outstanding fees are to be paid in full. Consideration is being given to waive the fees that are in arears, and to provide a rebate on the $1800 that they would normally be required to meet the administrative cost of citizenship.
4. i. The Minister responsible for the Electoral Commission, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, shared with the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda a note received from Mr. Paddy James Esq., Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC), that he has just about reached the retirement age as stipulated by law. The Cabinet thanked Mr. James for his sterling service to ABEC and for the leadership which he brought to the post. His replacement has been identified by the Cabinet but has not yet been informed. Acceptance of the post will be announced next week, following Cabinet meeting.
ii. The Cabinet has decided to transfer to Sir Mc Lean Emmanuel in fee simple land he has occupied at Halcyon Beach for almost fifty years. He will have title to a valuable plot of land from which he has been operating Shorty’s Beach Bar and Restaurant and entertainment centre for decades.
iii. The Minister of Public Utilities announced that the reverse osmosis plant at Ffryes Beach is to be turned on Thursday 17th February; and, water will go online beginning Friday 18th February. 350,000 gallons per day will be added to the supply.
5.i. The Minister of Finance, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, invited four Government Officials—the Comptroller of Customs, Mr. Raju Baddu; the Director of Audit, Mr. Dean Evanson; the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, Mr. Ralph Warner; the Accountant General (Ag.), Mr. Ickford Roberts. They addressed the Cabinet on an issue raised in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, February 15th, by the Representative of Barbuda. An error in the accounting procedures allowed for revenue which was destined for one collecting body to be credited to another collecting body and, thereby, created some discrepancies. The Officials indicated that the challenge is easily overcome by consultations and more frequent submissions. A new system of reconciliation will also be put in place.
ii. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) has published a letter indicating that the estimated GDP Growth of the Antiguan and Barbudan Economy stands at 5.3% in 2021. This is precisely the percentage growth published at year end by the ECCB. The Representative of Barbuda in the Parliament, made reference to a lower estimated growth rate published in June of 2021.
6. The Minister of Health stressed the importance of attention being paid to Non Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) among members of the Antiguan and Barbudan population. Primarily among the illnesses suffered by the adult Antiguan and Barbudan population are diabetes, hypertension and stroke. They are as a result of a sedentary lifestyle, an over-consumption of sugars and salt, and the need to consume more green and leafy vegetables. The failure on the part of both youth and adults to follow a more vigorous and exercise-filled lifestyle leads to harmful accumulations that can eventually lead to clogging of the arteries, organ failure, the loss of limbs and death. Cabinet agreed that a Public Relations Campaign will be intensified in the months ahead.
7.i. A scaled-down Carnival lasting seven days is likely to take place in 2022. The Minister of Creative Industries, Hon. Michael Browne, has assured the Cabinet that there will be no super-spreader events. He anticipates that T-shirt mas and City Blocks filled with Cultural Exhibits of one sort or another will mark Carnival 2022.
ii. The Cabinet agreed to assist Calypsonians, Soca Artistes and others who require the need of a studio, in order to advance their cultural art form. An arrangement is to be made with the owners of recording studios to reduce electricity cost, so long as they pass on to the artistes the savings in electricity that will be realized by them.
8. The Parliament will re-convene for the final three speakers to join the Budget debate and for the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, to wrap up and to respond to the questions asked and the findings expressed by the previous speakers. The debate begins at 9:30 am.