Large turn-out of Antiguans and Barbudans for Minister's visit
Over one hundred of Antigua & Barbuda nationals residing in Toronto welcomed the Honourable Asot Michael, Minister of Tourism, Economic Development Investment and Energy at a standing room only reception at the Eaton Chelsea in downtown Toronto. This was the first meeting held in Canada by a member of the Gaston Browne administration with members of the Antigua and Barbuda diaspora and Minister Michael was enthusiastically received.
The reception was hosted by the Antigua and Barbuda Consulate General with Consul General Ms. Ann-Marie Layne officiating, beginning with a meet and greet for the Minister to engage with nationals. The Consul General later started the official program by extending a warm welcome to the guests then introduced the Minister and his team, Mr. Rohan Hector, Special Advisor to the Minister and Chairman of the St. Johns Development Corporation and Mr. Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority. By the time the Minister made his way to the podium a hush fell over the room as the gathering waited with great anticipation to hear him.
Minister Michael brought greetings on behalf of the Government and people of Antigua and Barbuda then extended his gratitude for the large numberof nationals in attendance. He told the audience that since his arrival he metwith the Hon. Michael Coteau, Canada's Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sportand that together they agreed many Antiguans and Barbudans living in Toronto helped build the Canadian economy. Both Ministers plan to collaborate on mutually beneficial opportunities to promote tourism and sport.
The Minister then spoke of the pride he takes in the confidence the people placed in the Labour Party and Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne's administration as they chart Antigua and Barbuda's road to recovery. Referring to the Labour party campaign manifesto, 'The People's Rescue Plan', the Minister reminded the gathering that Prime Minister Browne pledged to the people of Antigua and Barbuda that his administration would bring tangible investments to generate much needed economic growth. He said the Prime Minister was determined to make Antigua and Barbuda the economic powerhouse of the Caribbean, citing the Singapore model as example.
The Minister re-committed to the pursuit of every single undertaking in the campaign manifesto. He used the opportunity to check offtasksrecorded in the manifesto that have been accomplishedsince the Browne administration took office some nine weeks ago.
Highlights include a cornerstone of the general election campaign, the provision of 500 homes in 500 days of affordable housing. He assured the audience that the promised construction of these homes are on track with a pledge of US$2 million dollars to move the project alongand that to date hundreds of local contractors and construction workers had applied for jobs on the development. He also spoke of thesuccess of the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) 'Utility Relief' initiative and the elimination of delays in the issuance of birth certificates to mother's with outstanding arrears at at the Mount St. John's Medical Centre.
The Minister expressed his confidence in the economic boom the Browne administration expects to be realized by the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP). He said in the few weeks since the program started the government has seen results that will improve Antigua and Barbuda's future financial prospects.
With tourism as the main engine of growth for the Antigua and Barbuda economy, the Prime Minister already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the YIDA Group for a US$2 Billion investment including a resort development of Guiana Island and its surrounding acreage. This development will have construction of five-star hotels, a golf course, 1,300 residential units, shopping facilities, a modern conference center and a casino.
In recent weeks the government also signed a MOU with Sandals Resorts International for the construction of a Beaches Antigua Resort. He told the gatheringThe Royal Antiguan would be returned to full occupancy shortly, that there are plans to refurbishThe Hodges Bay Club and The Half Moon Bay Hotelis attracting the attention of potential investors. Simultaneously, the new V.C. Bird International Airport, the largest and most modern in the Eastern Caribbean, is scheduled to open in March, 2015.
Minister Michael also divulged that plans for Antigua's future tourism expansion and a more modern infrastructure will include a new Economic Development Zone at the iconic Nelson's Dockyard. Inspired by the successful yacht and boat basin development around the island of Sardinia, the newly legislated zone will consist of high-end, low-density winter housing that will complement the island's luxury yachting product.
St. Johns Harbour is also slated for transformation. The audience was told that preparations are being made to make the seafront more picturesque and economically vibrant by the construction of a boardwalk with shops and restaurants and anchored by a five star business hotel. For the immediate there would be an upgrade to modernize the facilities. Traffic congestion and parking issues were being addressed while roadworks already began.
In the no-nonsense question and answer session that followed, the Minister was asked about the government's plan to move the economy forward without increasing taxes. He shared that the Browne administration would stimulate domestic investments through incentives; attract more foreign direct investment; increase trade by bringing in more tourists and strengthen the governance framework to stamp out corruption.
He was also asked to address the government's position regarding their relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Minister Michael's explanation that the relationship with the IMF was untenable hence Prime Minister Browne's decision to settle the outstanding debt in short order and move Antigua and Barbuda from obligation to the IMF was met with applause.
Concern was raised about water shortages and the Minister advised that consideration was being given to import water from Dominica as had been done in the past. Another member of the audience asked about electricity outages and was told that only one of five generators that had been acquired by the previous administration was in working condition and to resolve the problem, this government would be re-negotiating the agreement with the supplier. Other questions included housing development infrastructure, acquisition of building permits. The Minister addressed these issues to the satisfaction of the audience.
As the question and answer session came to an end representatives from Barbuda aggressively questioned the Minister about development for the island. He was able to give them the assurance that Barbuda had the Prime Minister's full attention. Minister Michael told the Barbudans there were plans to make it a 'green' island and a duty free port. He also shared that investors expressed interest inacquiring existing hotel properties and for new construction. Concern was also voiced about poor air access to Barbuda. He let known that a joint venture was being pursued by the government in conjunction Caribbean Helicopters to obtain aircraft for daily service from Antigua to Barbuda.
In closing Minister Michael said he wanted Antiguans and Barbudans to be proud of their countryhence the government's determined to transform the economic and social lives of the people. He invited the nationals to invest in their homeland and suggested they consider forming cooperatives to ensure they owned a piece of their native soil. He said God blessed Antigua and Barbuda with many attributes and promised that under Prime Minister Browne's leadership they would rebuild the nation.The session ended with rousing applause and guests lingered to socialize long after the scheduled finishing time. Media Contact: