Summary of the Meeting of the Cabinet
Held on Wednesday 18th October 2023
- Cabinet convened at 10:00 with prayers by a minister of religion.
Congratulations to Attorney General Hon. Steadroy C. Benjamin
- The Cabinet began by offering heartiest congratulations to Attorney General Hon. Steadroy Cutie Benjamin on the decision of the National Honours Committee to bestow a knighthood on him during the upcoming Independence celebrations. This knighthood recognizes his immense and impactful contribution to the nation in the fields of law, politics, sports, and culture. As a lawyer, Minister of Justice, and Attorney General, Min. Benjamin has had a profound influence on the nation’s jurisprudence and has seen the passing and implementation of important pieces of legislation that positively impact on the country’s development. Moreover, as Minister of Labour, he has been a champion of workers’ rights and for just and fair compensation. To this end, he has presided over increases in the minimum wage, making Antigua and Barbuda among the nations in the Caribbean with the highest minimum wage. His contribution to the sporting fraternity spans many disciplines, having also served as president of the Antigua and Barbuda Athletics Association (ABAA). For a number of years, he has been the sponsor of sports teams in basketball, football, and cricket thus ensuring that the youths can pursue endeavours that contribute to their personal growth and development. Min. Benjamin has also been an avid supporter of the calypso and steelband movements. The knighthood is therefore justly deserved, and the Cabinet commends his constituents in St. John’s City South for recommending him to the National Honours Committee for consideration.
- Attorney General Benjamin has served in the Parliament for nearly forty years. It is to be noted that only two people, namely the late Father of the Nation, Sir V.C. Bird, and Hon. Sir Robin Yearwood, have served longer terms in the Parliament than Attorney General Benjamin.
United Nations 4th International Conference on SIDS
- The United Nations (UN) 4th International Conference on Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) is slated to be held in Antigua and Barbuda during the period 27th to 30th May 2024 and will bring about 2,500 attendees to our shores. The conference is expected to provide a boost to the economy and will offer many opportunities for service providers to be engaged. The Cabinet therefore encourages service providers of all types, including owners of properties for short term rental, caterers, transportation providers, concierge services among others, to be in a state of readiness to provide services to attendees. In the coming weeks, the government will engage in consultations with the various service providers with the aim encouraging participation. In addition, the Cabinet has put together a high-level committee comprising Prime Minister Browne, Min. Charles Fernandez, and Ambassador Aubrey Webson to explore further opportunities for Antigua and Barbuda to host major conferences.
Provision of Air Conditioning Units to Schools and Other Essential Workers
- The Gaston Browne government has recognized that the effects of climate change are tangible and have had a noticeable impact on the increase in temperatures worldwide. The government has therefore made the decision to provide as many educational institutions as possible with air conditioning units to ensure students can learn in an environment that is comfortable and conducive to learning. Consequently, the installation of units has been completed at the Urlings and Newfield primary schools and the installation of units is to immediately begin at the Cedar Grove and the Golden Grove primary schools. There are some schools that require preparatory work before A/C units can be installed and this is to be undertaken as well.
- Moreover, departments that provide essential services to the nation will be provided with A/C units in order to improve conditions at work. Preparations will therefore soon commence on several police stations in this regard.
Vector Control of Mosquitoes
- The Cabinet notes that there has been an increase in the mosquito population because of recent rainfall. This is of particular concern since mosquitoes are carriers of several diseases that affect humans. The Vector Control Unit will therefore be provided with the necessary funding to enable them to increase control activities across the country. The fogging of mosquitoes has proven to be an effective vector control method, and this activity is to be increased in the coming days.
2024 Budget Preparations
- Cabinet engaged in extensive and fruitful discussions with a team of technical staff from the Ministry of Finance, led by the Financial Secretary, on preparations for the 2024 Budget Presentation. Foremost in the discussions was an examination of the government’s fiscal situation. At present, the country maintains a tax to GDP ratio of about 16%, but the Caribbean Development Bank recommends that the ratio should be 25%. There is therefore a need to bring the ratio to about 20%. It is to be emphasized that this will be achieved through a number of methods, inclusive of greater fiscal discipline through the reduction of discretionary tax waivers, more robust collection of taxes, and stricter control of government spending. Also, there is a need to ensure social programmes are targeted to those most in need.
- One of the largest chunks of government expenditure is wages, salaries, and personal emoluments, which is approximately $38.6 million monthly. There is therefore a need to ensure wage adjustments are kept in line with the rate of inflation since exceeding this rate can imperil government’s ability to meet its monthly obligations.
- It is to be emphasized that the government will not be introducing any new taxes, particularly Personal Income Tax (PIT). All efforts are to be placed into more robust collection of existing taxes.
- The 2024 Budget Presentation will take place on Tuesday 5th December 2023.
Adjustment to the Composition of the National Honours Committee
- The Cabinet considered and accepted a recommendation to make an adjustment to the composition of the National Honours Committee. By law, the Committee is comprised of seven members as follows: four members appointed by the government, two members appointed by the opposition, and one member appointed by the Governor General. In order to bring more balance to the composition of the Honours Committee, legislation will be taken to the Parliament to reduce the number of members appointed by the government from four to three. Civil society will then be given the right to nominate a member of the Honours Committee. The amended law will therefore prescribe the following composition: three appointees from the government, two from the opposition, one from the Governor General, and one from Civil Society.
Commendations from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
- Recent discussions held between the government and officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia revealed that Antigua and Barbuda is seen as one of the Kingdom’s strongest partners. Indeed, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia credits and commends the Gaston Browne administration for its role in advancing the relationship between that country and the rest of the Caribbean. It is a testament to the leadership of the government of government of Antigua and Barbuda, and of Prime Minister Browne in particular.
- The Saudi Fund for Development has recently partnered with the government of Antigua and Barbuda for the expansion of The University of the West Indies, Five Islands Campus.
Preparations during the Hurricane Season
- The Cabinet continues to encourage the nation to remain vigilant during the present hurricane season. Of immediate interest in the impending weather system, identified as AL 94, which could become a strong tropical storm by the time it reaches Antigua and Barbuda over the coming weekend, if the current track continues. Various agencies, including the CBH, NSWMA, NODS, and APUA will continue with the cleaning of drains and pruning of trees to minimize any potential damage from the storm. Homeowners are also encouraged to play their part and not simply wait on these agencies. The pruning of overgrown trees, the proper disposal of garbage, and the clearing of drains should be a priority at this time. Furthermore, it is imperative that you listen to the news and follow the advice of the competent agencies such as NODS and the Meteorological Services.
Repairs to the National Archives of Antigua and Barbuda
- The Cabinet agreed that immediate repairs are to be done to the roof of the National Archives of Antigua and Barbuda. The recent passage of Tropical Storm Philippe caused flooding of a section that building. Accordingly, an estimate of the work to be done is to be prepared and submitted to the Cabinet. The National Archives of Antigua and Barbuda houses several unique historical documents, including the Codrington Papers and Slave Registers. These records are considered to be national treasures that must be preserved and protected.
Update on Sundry Projects by the Ministry of Works
- Work is continuing apace on several projects being managed by the Ministry of Works. Preparatory work on the approach road for the bridge at Cades Bay has started and will be completed soon. APUA has already reinstalled service lines along the stretch.
- Work on the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority’s headquarters is also well advanced and will be completed next week.
- Preparation for the relocation of the Ministry of Works is also well advanced, with the new building on Friars Hill Road being nearly ready.
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