Thank you, Mr. Master of Ceremony, CEO Colin James.
Our host, Mr. Christopher Forbes
Honorable Gaston Brown, Prime Minister Antigua and Barbuda
His Excellency Ambassador Aubrey Webson
His Excellency Ambassador Gilbert Boustany
His Excellency Dr. Joseph John
Mr. Robert De Niro, Special Economic Envoy
Mr. Robert De Niro, Special Economic Envoy
Mrs. Grace Hightower DeNiro?
[c=black]CEO of ABTA, Colin C. James
[c=black]Ms. Shirlene Nibbs, Tourism Consultant in the MOT
[c=black]Ms. Marie Walker, VP of Sales and Marketing for North America
Distinguished guests Ladies and Gentlemen... good afternoon. Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedules to join us for lunch today.
Thank you Mr. Christopher Forbes for hosting us as the venerable Knickerbocker Club.
As a new government, we inherited a country in dire straits, which remains fragile in terms of finances and economic fundamentals. The priority was to fix the economy, put people back to work and ensure an improvement in living standards. To achieve that, we had to attract new investments. Before coming to office, we had been networking globally. By the time we came to government, we were able to execute a memorandum of agreement with the YIDA International Investment Group to build a megaresort, spanning 10 years at a cost of $2 billion. Other investments followed, and in total we have had a $3 billion in investment pledges during our first 6 months.
The change of government brought increased confidence in the population and investment community – almost spontaneously. The country's economy was teetering – on the verge of bankruptcy. 25% of the population was unemployed, and the country is used to full employment. In tandem, we had to stabilize the economy and save the country from collapse. So far, that's the single largest contribution we have made. It's not a situation we can fix overnight, but we have been able to grow revenues and address several outstanding issues. But with the visionary leadership of our Prime Minister, the change has begun.
But before I introduce the Prime Minister, I'd like to thank our Special Economic Envoy, Mr. Robert De Niro - - - for joining us here this afternoon. Ours is a relationship which - - - because of Bob's outstanding record of achievements - - - brings countless advantages to our country.
The truth is, speaking about a person that is a legend in his own time is a daunting task and Mr. Robert De Niro - - considered one of the greatest American actors of all time - - is truly a legend.
In doing my research to prepare these remarks, I found that he reportedly said:
“The hardest thing about being famous is that people are always nice to you. You're in a conversation and everybody's agreeing with what you're saying -- even if you say something totally crazy. You need people who can tell you what you don't want to hear”.
May I suggest Sir, that it could be that nobody wants to disagree with a taxi driver named Travis Bickle or a godfather named Vito Corleone.
So – after much deliberation – and at a loss to find the language that would capture the essence of this icon – and moreover, saying them in his very presence – I decided to play it safe and 'borrow' the words of another legend – Sir Winston Churchill – who said,
“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.”
And I therefore take this opportunity to thank the extraordinary Mrs. Grace Hightower De Niro for joining us this afternoon – and for sharing her husband with us.
Thank you Grace.
Mr. DeNiro's appointment is of critical importance to building our nation's economy and to further enhance and broaden the investment portfolio in Antigua and Barbuda - - - thank you Bob.
We ambitiously have investment opportunities in Renewable Energy - - - to include Solar, Wind, and Geothermal.
The new administration has pursued a multi-pronged approach to energy aimed at fulfilling its election mandate to modernize and transform the energy sector so as to provide more affordable energy to consumers to promote the adoption of Antigua and Barbuda's considerable renewable energy resources, while meeting the country's international obligations for global greenhouse gas reduction.
The Ministry of Energy is committed to seeing Antigua and Barbuda become a leader in the application of renewable energy in the eastern Caribbean. This forms part of our thrust towards establishing Antigua and Barbuda as a regional economic powerhouse.
A number of initiatives have been pursued in this regard. Among the first of these has been the enactment of the Renewable Energy Act, a landmark piece of legislation aimed at transforming the regulatory landscape for energy in Antigua and Barbuda and representing the first major change in energy legislation in Antigua and Barbuda since the early 1970s.
A major initiative on renewable energy has been the government's partnering with two international energy companies, PV Energy and MEEECO, for the installation of 10MW of solar photovoltaic energy to be interconnected to the grid and to be placed at various government facilities and installations throughout Antigua and Barbuda.
The first phase will involve 3MW of solar PV installed at the VC Bird International Airport. This will support the new airport terminal, which is expected to be a major electricity consumer. Barbuda is presently slated to receive 1MW of solar power. Additional target sites include hospitals and schools.
Investment opportunities also exists, in the Financial sector - - - including Offshore Banking, Registration of Ships and Yachts, Private Air Line Registry, International Business Corporations and Internet Gaming.
We have gone even further and created a Free Trade Economic Zone - - - to facilitate light manufacturing industries - - - and really - - - any other project that may be of interest to an investor.
As the Minister charged with the portfolio responsibilities for Antigua and Barbuda's Tourism,
Economic Development, Investment & Energy let me assure you that we have adopted a number of new programs that have resulted in unmatched success in this, our first year of government.
We are truly proud of the many new developments that are too many to speak of in detail this afternoon but suffice it to say that our aggressive policy of new property developments will add another 2,500 rooms to our room inventory in two years.
We are also in the final stage of completion of a new Airport Terminal that will open in September, that will give us the capacity of accommodating up to 2 million passengers a year, with multiple VIP rooms, 3 first class departure lounges, genuine duty free shopping and 4 air bridges for ease and speed of boarding and disembarking flights - - - this will be the most modern airport in the Caribbean - - -and with that, we are welcoming increased airlift from all over the world.
To this end, our government has delivered on a major promise to its cruise line partners by signing a $200 million agreement to modernize our St. John's port and harbor. A total transformation of the port facilities and downtown St. John's will include modern marina, world-class casinos, cafes and restaurants, hotels, condominiums, and high-end designer shops. The government is open to negotiations to facilitate these designs and development plans with our cruise line partners or potential partners, who are well respected in the industry with significant ties to the cruise sector.
The Prime Minister is also aggressively promoting our twin island nation as the world's most attractive option for acquiring a second citizenship by foreign direct investment in our country.
Our Citizenship by Investment Program.
And with influentials such as yourselves here with us this afternoon - - - I would be remiss if I did not make mention that our Citizenship by Investment Program is not only internationally respected for its high integrity - - - we amended the legislation to be in compliance with the highest international security standards - - - and, at the same time maintained the program's competitiveness.
These reforms are being widely commended - - - in fact, that our Citizenship by Investment Program is now often recognized as the best and most attractive of its kind globally.
The Citizenship by Investment Unit has been developed to manage the process whereby individuals who make substantial investment in Antigua and Barbuda, can secure a path to obtaining Citizenship in the country once requirements have been met. The process of meeting these requirements will be carefully managed by a team of professionals who understand the importance of the program and the potential economic impact it has for Antigua and Barbuda.
Investors not only benefit from Antigua's advantageous fiscal regime, but also get a 5 year passport that confers visa-free entry to over 130 nations worldwide, including Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK, and the European Union's Schengen Area.
But to the matter at hand - - - introducing our Prime Minister.
Ladies and gentlemen, this afternoon is a good one.
Yes - - - it is a good afternoon because we are honored to be here with you.
It is a good afternoon because we are celebrating the anniversary of our first year in office.
It is a good afternoon because we are delighted to share with you that under Gaston Browne's leadership our first year in office has been a landmark for Antigua and Barbuda's economy - - - evident by extraordinary accomplishments in tourism, economic development investment and energy.
So, as I introduce him, allow me to share with you a few words about the PM himself.
When the Honourable Gaston Browne was born 48 years ago, Antigua and Barbuda was emerging from colonial rule and a mono-crop economy based on growing sugarcane.
For more than 300 years, Antigua and Barbuda produced sugar and sea-island cotton for export to Great Britain.
Antigua and Barbuda's foray into tourism was started by the father of the nation, V C Bird, who had the vision to provide lucrative concessions to the American aristocracy such as Mellons and Kennedys to establish vacation homes and the Mill Reef Club after the second World War.
This vision by the our Father of the Nation resulted in new wealth for our country. New wealth enabled schools to be built. Our current Prime Minister Gaston Browne was a direct beneficiary of this vision - - - Despite the challenges he faced - - - he has always pursued academic excellence, making the very best use of his intellect. That is why Prime Minister is so keen on establishing the reality of the University of Antigua and Barbuda in the next 3 years.
He has always been very gifted - - - very smart - - - he was very good at math, the basis of excellent cognitive thinking and intelligent decision-making.
Nonetheless, Gaston's life as a teenager was extremely tough.
Born and reared under humble beginnings, he had to face many challenging hardships.
As a result, he is familiar with the struggles of the poor and vulnerable - - - but he will tell you that he believes there were some benefits for him starting off in humble beginnings.
It has motivated him to prepare himself - - - physically and academically - - - to acquire the skills that would be of service not only for his own survival and advantage - - - but more importantly - - - to uplift and empower all the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
His is a true success story - - - one whose intelligence and resilience has propelled and equipped him to lead.
A student at the City Banking College in the United Kingdom - - - he gained a first degree in banking and later pursued studies at the University of Manchester - - - earning an MBA in Finance.
A banker by vocation, he managed a banking group comprising a domestic bank, an offshore bank and a trust company - - - and owns and operate a number of successful private businesses - - - while also serving on the board of several private and publicly owned corporations.
A strident and unrelenting fighter for the rights of the people - - - despite his persuasive activism and successes - - - he remains humble and accessible to all - - - serving continuously as a legislator for the past 15 years - - - five of which he served as our country's Minister of Planning and Trade.
He is well-grounded in the realities and the priorities of his country, as was demonstrated on the morning following his swearing-in as Prime Minister - - - June 13, 2014 - - - when he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the huge Chinese conglomerate I spoke of earlier, the YIDA Investment Group.
That act defined his strategy as Prime Minister.
He has set out to attract foreign direct investment to Antigua and Barbuda, in large quantities.
He knows that the solution to joblessness and unemployment in Antigua and Barbuda lay in imported capital.
The notion that you sit and wait for investors to come to the country is not realistic. All the islands in the Caribbean are beautiful, and the only way we can differentiate ourselves is through the service we provide. We are far more embracing of foreign investors than any other country in the Caribbean. We have a legal system based on British jurisprudence and investor-protection agreements with nations including Germany and the UK and our concessions rank among the best in the world. Antigua and Barbuda understands we cannot grow and develop rapidly without foreign direct investment.
They are investing because they are assured that everything will be done to ensure an extremely favorable tax environment with a package of attractive concessions and incentives for potential investors. You can be assured of a helpful government and a proactive Prime Minister who will do all that is necessary to bring success.
Antigua and Barbuda is very fortunate to have this youthful, energetic, highly intelligent, deeply-caring man as its Prime Minister.
Ladies and Gentlemen - - - it is both an honor and a privilege for me to introduce the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda.
Ladies and gentlemen - - - I give to you, Prime Minister, the Honorable Gaston Browne whose vision it is to transform Antigua and Barbuda into the economic powerhouse of the Eastern Caribbean akin to the Singapore model.