Honourable Asot Michael Minister of Tourism, Economic Development & Energy Government of Antigua and Barbuda Antigua & Barbuda Diaspora Remarks
Good evening ladies and gentlemen... Thank you for coming to meet me. I am very grateful and very pleased to see you all.
I bring you greetings from home where we are embarked upon a transformational process to rebuild the economy and return prosperity to our country. .
This is my first visit to Canada as Minister.
I could not let the opportunity pass without meeting you all.
This afternoon I metmy Canadian counterpart, the Hon Michael CoteauMinister of Tourism.
We agreed that,over the decades,the people of Canada and the people of Antigua and Barbuda have enjoyed a mutually rewarding relationship. Indeed, there are many Antiguans and Barbudans living in Canadawho helped build the Canadian economy - - while supporting family members at home.
All of you in this room are part of that number.
We thank you and commend you for the loyalty you have shown to your native land even as you rightly contribute to your new homeland.
My friends, a fresh wind is blowing across our home country.
The vast majority of the people hasplaced confidence in the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party and our Prime Minister the Honourable Gaston Browne as he tackles the demanding task of charting Antigua and Barbuda's road to recovery.
In turn, he is keen to reciprocate the people's confidence by putting in the hours of work, the intellectual rigour, and creative thinking that are required by a leader determined to deliver a better life for his people.
It is no exaggeration to say that Prime Minister Browne is the first person at work in the morning, and the last person to leave at night.
Even then, his work is his constant travelling companion and his duty to the people of Antigua and Barbuda his first obligation.
We thank God for his youthfulness, energy and drive, particularly because the situation we have inherited as the government is not good.
With each passing day we have discovered the severity of the country's fiscal shortfall; the extent of a huge debt burden from over-borrowing; and the loss of revenues through poor policies.
Indeed, we found a Treasury that was basically empty.
But, we do not intend to linger in the past; our resolve is to move forward; to fix the problems that beset our nation and to return it to viability.
One of the ways that we are doing this is by attracting new investment – both foreign and local.
More investment, means more jobs, more jobs means more spending in the economy, and the creation of even more jobs.
Putting the people back in to work, particularly our young people between the ages of 18 and 35 is a top priority.
Prime Minister Browne pledged to the people of Antigua and Barbuda that his administration when elected would bring tangible investments that will generate much needed economic growth.
He is determined to make our country an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean and we are committed to the pursuit of every single undertaking in our campaign manifesto, 'The People's Rescue Plan'.
Economic Development and foreign investment is a key part of my own portfolio and it has my full attention.
Already, we have embarked upon a number of initiatives to increase the number of hotel rooms; to establish new facilities; and to increase the marketing of our islands in many countries including Canada.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested by the Government in enlarging capacity, ensuring a more modern infrastructure, and improving the visitor experience.
Several new hotels will be built, enlarging the number of available rooms and beds; and several existing properties will be refurbished and placed back into the stream of commerce. The Royal Antiguan will be sold shortly, and an additional hotel constructed on the property. The Hodges Bay Club will also be resuscitated. The Half Moon Bay Hotel has attracted new interests with a great likelihood of it being resurrected.
The St. John's Harbour and the lands encasing the inland sea will be transformed. A boardwalk, shops, restaurants, and a hotel are to be constructed on the seafront making the area far more picturesque and economically vibrant.
At Nelson's Dockyard, my Government intends to create a New Economic Development Zone.
That newly-legislated Zone will encourage very low-density winter housing, not unlike the successful yacht and boat basin, witnessed by members of my Government, around the island of Sardinia, close to the Italian mainland.
We have signed a memorandum of understanding with China's Yida International Investment Antigua for a US$2 Billion resort development that includes the construction of five-star hotels, a golf course, 1,300 residential units, shopping facilities, a modern conference center and a casino.
We will also early in the new-year break ground for a 400 room “Beaches” Resort as part of our expansion with the Sandals Resorts International group.
This means more jobs and more opportunity for our people.
In the general election campaign, we undertook to provide 500 houses in 500 days. What we did not know at the time was that the previous government had committed all government-owned lands to a single foreign operator in a deal that we are reviewing at the moment.
This reality has set back our plans for 500 homes in 500 days, but it has not stopped us.
Already we have raised $25 million to purchase such lands as are required to get the housing projects started until the deal signed by the previous government is fully examined and resolved.
It was our intention – and it remains our intention – that local contractors should be the principal beneficiaries of the contracts awarded for the construction of the 500 homes.
It is also our intention that the prices at which these houses are sold must be beneficial to our people, not to transient investors who will syphon off profits abroad.
This is not to suggest in any way that investors – foreign or local – are not entitled to profits.
They are, and my government will uphold their right to transfer profits legitimately made.
But where a significant part of any project is government resources, especially land, we expect the benefits to accrue first to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
Tourism is our main engine of growth and as the Minister with the responsibility for the Tourism portfolio, I am charged with ensuring that tourism increases employment for our nationals, earns more foreign exchange, provides revenue for our government and raises the national income.
It is hard work but my team and I have hit the ground running.
I have already had discussions with airlines and cruise ships in the Florida area to increase the number of airplane landings and Crusie Ship calls.
While I am in Canada, I am also talking with Air Canada and WestJet in the context of both the number of calls in to Antigua and cost of doing so.
I am also pleased to tell you that we will be opening a brand new Airport terminal, which will be the largest in the Eastern Caribbean by March of 2015.
The Airport will be equipped with Jet Bridges and high-end duty free shops.
The terminal will greatly improve the visitor experience, with the potential for us to double the current capacity of visitors that pass through our international Airport.
My friends, Antigua and Barbuda has always been a second home to Canadians escaping the unbearable winters that often beset Canada.
We will continue to open our doors to all Canadians – including Antiguans and Barbudans who now live here.
And, we open the doors not only to tourists but to investors.
Among such investors is the Antigua and Barbuda community throughout Canada.
You have an advantage over other Canadians wishing to invest in Antigua and Barbuda because you will be investing at home.
For instance, I invite groups of you to form yourselves into a company that can purchase land and build retirement or holiday homes in Antigua and Barbuda.
Acting collectively, you can acquire land to build gated, residential communities with all the facilities you enjoy in Canada but with year-round sunshine, easy access to delightful beaches, and if you have a mind to – a good shot of Cavalier rum. Should you wish to pursue that option, the government would be happy to facilitate it.
The only thing I am happy to tell you that we cannot guarantee is snow!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are determined to transform the economic and social lives of our people, and in fulfillment of that noble task we are well and truly launched. Investment is the key component, and while tourism is our main industry, and the industry which now attracts our priority attention, it is not the only area of our focus.
We also want to take advantage of our natural resource – the Sun – to reduce our dependence on oil, and to develop renewable energy such as solar.
We must reduce the cost of oil and disel – even for our road transport vehicles that account for as much as 60% of our costly oil consumption.
We have been in office now for only two months, but despite the setbacks and crises that we found, we have marched on... determined to deliver; resolved to rebuild our economy and restore our nation's place of pride in the world.
In delivering the goods and services to which our people are rightfully entitled, we also want to restore the values of our traditional Antigua and Barbuda society, including respect for our elders; regard for our national symbols and institutions; discipline among our youth; community spirit and involvement; and pride in ourselves.
So even as we rebuild our economy, we know that we must also rebuild our society.
In this regard, education, social development and giving a helping hand to the less well-off are all part of the duty of care we have, as a government, to all our people.
My friends, I have been delighted to share with you some of the maps we have drawn and the roads that we have started to build toward the restoration of our country; its economy and its social fabric.
I feel a deep sense of privilege to be part of the rebuilding team, and I encourage you, as brothers and sisters, to join the team in any way that you think you can.