Thursday, 17 May 2012 02:30
By Alex Holder
Antigua St john's - Concerns about the recently announced extension to the list of professionals expected to be able to work under the CSME initiative, the underpayment of skilled tradesmen, and locals' inability to find proper jobs or contracts in the current economic climate, as well as the the proposed curfew to curb delinquency and violence in schools, were raised as the United Progressive Party (UPP) made good on the staging of its first townhall meeting in many years.
The event at the Princess Margaret Secondary School saw a comfortable attendance of scores of UPP supporters as well as a number of opposition ALP supporters.
Concerns were also raised about the proposed development at Long Bay, “in the absence of information there is speculation,” and the most recent controversy involving the Antigua Public Utility Authority (APUA) and the abrupt disconnection of electricity from playing fields.
While government officials, including the ministers of Education, Finance, and National Security addressed the affairs in their usual diplomatic manner, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer openly condemned the manner in which APUA Chairman Clarvis Joseph handled the utility company’s most recent controversy.
Falling short of calling for his resignation, the PM labelled Joseph as “out of order".
“The way this was done was unacceptable as far as I am concerned," he said. "I was not on island, but I understand that it was a case in the middle of a match that they cut off the lights. It is not what you do, it's how you do it. I agree that it was totally insensitive…”
Maintaining his direct approach that set the tone for the evening’s proceedings, the PM told the gathering that his recent receipt of another honourary doctorate from a recognised university for his contribution to the social and political landscape in Antigua and Barbuda comes as another sign that outside forces seem to understand his mission with better clarity, while the people in the territory fail to see and appreciate the light.
Spencer said the achievement was merely a reflection of the successes of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and by extension the country of Antigua and Barbuda, and he accepted the honour on behalf of everyone but himself.
“The people (of Antigua and Barbuda) seem not to have recognised and appreciate what the UPP has done,” the PM said.
He reiterated earlier statements that despite the challenges before the country, his government continues to weather the storm and keep the ship of state sailing, and whatever the administration does, is in the best interest of the people.
Further, the PM stressed that it seems to take outside forces to recognise the advancements made in Antigua, both politically and socially, since 2004, while the people seem to fall short in recognising the changes before them.
“Whatever it is, I give it to you the people of Antigua & Barbuda,” the PM said.
Spencer also spoke of the issue of economic citizenship, and the fact that the government is seriously looking into it to attract investment to the benefit of the country while making sure that the necessary checks and balances are in place to ensure that the integrity of the country remains in tact.
He said the government would be meeting with the electorate in the coming weeks where to outline its mission on the subject and sensitize the public on how it intends to go forward. The move is intended to cushion the losses being experienced in the financial services industry, the PM explained.
“Time is not with us we need to get to that position as quickly as possible. We believe that if properly organised and put in place it can be a positive tool for economic development in Antigua and Barbuda.”
He urged the electorate to “keep the faith” and understand the mission of the government in the “difficult, trying and challenging times”.
In the meantime the proposed town hall meeting started out much like a political rally, with the barrage of information that squirted from the mouths of government officials at the scores in attendance.
Speakers include Hilston Baptiste, Dr Errol Cort, Deputy Political Leader Harold Lovell, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, Dr Edmond Mansoor, and Winston Williams, who chaired the proceedings. Minister Wilmoth Daniel was again absent, and his absence did not go ignored by the gathered supporters.
Dr Quinn-Leandro spoke of inter-ministerial initiatives that have streamlined the aspects of security and education among the nation’s youth. This collaboration, she said, is one that needs to be taken seriously if Antigua is to move forward with a hassle free and gang free educational environment.
“We want to strengthen the legislation to sanction parents,” she said, adding that further details of the movement forward in this regard would be announce at a later date.
Meanwhile, Dr Errol Cort said that of the 1,473 firearms registered in Antigua, only 717 are licensed, which leaves more than half in question. “We have many, many, many illegal firearms in the streets of Antigua and that is very vexing," he said. "We must take this situation under control. It takes the entire community working hand in hand to bring this situation under control.”
The national security minister called for community involvement in curbing the issue and stressed the government’s need to beef up national efforts around the shoreline and within the country.
He spoke further of the introduction of legislation to curb the abuse of the “cash for gold” and the shady copper sale industries to ensure that proper records are kept and the items tendered are properly identified and described.
The penalties for engaging in illegal activities in these regards would be considerably stiff under the new legislation in order to negatively affect the level of the crime locally.
On the subject of labour, Dr Cort said he would continue to make strides in the ongoing labour dilemmas in the territory, especially considering the recent news of the over 150 more people will be without a job at the end of July.