BUDGET DEBATE CONTRIBUTION BY THE HONORABLE ASOT MICHAEL
BUDGET DEBATE CONTRIBUTION BY THE HONORABLE ASOT MICHAEL MINISTER OF TOURISM, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, INVESTMENT AND ENERGY ON TUESDAY 21ST JANUARY, 2015.
A NEW AWAKENING ,A CALL FOR ACTION PERFORMANCE AND EXCELLENCE
Mr. Speaker, Members of this Honourable House, Citizens and Residents of Antigua and Barbuda… I begin by wishing each and everyone a prosperous and blessed 2015 and congratulating the Honourable Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and his team for his sterling Budget Presentation. It was indeed one of the finest ever delivered in this house for many years. It was frank and substantiated with facts.
I am again honoured to have the opportunity to represent the people of St Peters who elected me to this Honourable House, and to stand in defense of all Antiguans and Barbudans at this most challenging time.
Mr. Speaker, I want to at the very beginning of my budget contribution to re- confirm my undying love for this country, my love for my fellow Antiguans and Barbudans and my commitment to work, to make Antigua and Barbuda a country which we all can be proud of and where we can all live in peace and prosperity.
Mr. Speaker, prior to June 12th 2014 the dreams and aspirations of our people were fast fading. Opportunities for our people to live a life of hope, a life of happiness, a life of accomplishments, a life of prosperity, were fast disappearing.
Mr. Speaker, this budget must be the people’s first stand, it must be the point where we make the necessary decisions by which the future of our people and the future of this country are restored.
Unlike the UPP Government, The Gaston Browne’s Administration understands that the people did not elect us to destroy this country; the people did not elect us to make them jobless, our people did not elect us to make them poorer, to bankrupt their businesses or to sit in tears as the banks sell their homes and repossess their cars, buses and trucks.
Mr. Speaker, the ABLP Government got a mandate to make this country better, and it should be painfully obvious to us all, that under the previous UPP Government evidence shows beyond a shadow of doubt that this country did not improve, but rather life became brutish, broke, bankrupt, jobless and, hungry.
Mr. Speaker, economic conditions had deteriorated to the point where our people could not take it anymore; they had no credible and practical plans to bring back prosperity to the land. The Government was having a party with the people’s money buying buildings of friends, hiring friends at exorbitant salaries, people were left to die at Mount St. John’s as outstanding contracts or fees were paid, $ 67 million for the fences, over a $100 million for jellybean sidewalks.
Mr. Speaker, I am here to make the case that economic and social conditions over the last 10 years had reached rock bottom and disaster was fast spreading over Antigua and Barbuda, our people were suffering and that is why it was time for a new mandate, it was time for a new team. I am confident that the Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne will stand up and make the tough decisions, to forge the political, economic and social solution needed to save this country.
MARCH 2004- JUNE 2013
These were dark days in our nation’s history… dark days of hopelessness and despair visited upon us by the men and women of the United Progressive Party whose presence in Government was not the natural consequence of the rule of law but rather the corrupt result of a manipulation of the rule of law.
These were the dark days indeed Mr. Speaker… dark days of government consumed by acts of trickery and deception relentlessly engaged to frustrate and eventually bury the public desire for fair, transparent governance and the rule of law. They even fired you unfairly Mr. Speaker for adhering to the rule of law and standing for justice. They went on to strip the Supervisor of Elections of all her powers.
Mr. Speaker and Members of the House, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the year when the rebuilding exercise, promised to the people of Antigua and Barbuda, gallops gracefully forward. Having battled for the hearts and minds of the Antigua and Barbuda electorate, the time when the people will reasonably begin to experience the measure of excellence of our performance is quickly approaching. A term is 60 months; only seven have passed, 53 more to go. More excellence to come!
Mr. Speaker, this Budget is intended to provide a new awakening. The new administration—of which I am an integral part—is preparing to awaken the creative juices, the concealed passions, the embrace of excellence, of the Antiguan and Barbudan people. Our drive is intended to excite the passion; dredge-up the knowledge; bring forward the creativity, while relying upon the competence, the boldness, the integrity, the honesty, the strength, of the Antiguan and Barbudan people.
This Budget is intended to ignite the dynamism and the quest for dominance, displayed by our heroes; to express the ambition for excellence, inherent in our culture; to propel our leaders forward, on the journey towards solutions; and, to create an economic powerhouse, an idyllic paradise, a place of peace and tranquility that will wipe from our memories the dark decade of leadership-failure which the Antigua and Barbuda people ended seven months ago.
It is a call for action, performance, and excellence. It is a new beginning, a new chapter in the history of our country. It is a new awakening!
Mr. Speaker, I intend to use my allotted time to lay out my Ministry’s agenda, to explain why growth will follow, to tell how the transformation will proceed, to indicate the path, which this journey will take, and to explain how we will guide our nation towards becoming an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean.
Mr. Speaker, I will be focused on deliverables, as this is not a time for talk this is a time for action.
Mr. Speaker, we will achieve our goals despite inheriting an economy destroyed by the disaster called the UPP. The past managers left the nation’s finances in shambles; destroyed the swagger of the people by three consecutive years of negative growth; high unemployment, especially among the youth; mounting taxes, an ever-escalating high cost of living. Their shockingly poor governance included corrupt practices, a consuming sea of indebtedness and bankruptcy plaguing government, families and small businesses. What a disaster!
Mr. Speaker, we will succeed in changing the circumstances because of superior intellect, greater capacity, genuine concern for the betterment of people, a willingness to work hard, and by providing inspiration to the employees of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda.
Mr. Speaker, the world is what the world is, the size of our country is what the size is, our small size is not a limitation. They are both simply realities for us to deal with, to face each and every challenge and winning each and every battle. The size of the world has not changed since June 12, 2014. The size of our country has not been altered since June 12, 2014. The size of our ambition has been greatly enlarged since June 12, 2014. We say “small is beautiful,” graceful and ambitious.
Small is nimble, small is manageable. Antigua and Barbuda is small and beautiful. The new, seven-month old government is ready for the rebuilding challenge. We are ready to keep Antigua and Barbuda beautiful by rebuilding this magnificent place that we all love.
Mr. Speaker, for it is not just about sun and sand and beaches Mr. Speaker its about a “New Brand” Its about Transforming and revolutionizing the Tourism Industry, and creating a niche that distinguishes us as the “Best”.
No excuses! The tougher the battle, the sweeter the victory. For Great Leaders are made through the struggle, the conquest of facing down great odds, rising to every challenge and building a new dispensation.
Mr. Speaker, we shall build a new Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Product, We will transform the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy.
Mr. Speaker, we will shock the World as Sir Viv. Richards did, as V.C Bird did, as Bob Marley and Mandela did, as Sir. Lester Bryant Bird did, by their sheer brilliance, in the face of massive adversity. This is the history of the ABLP, this is the legacy we inherited and this is the responsibility we pledge to fulfill.
With the election of the new ABLP government, the class of 2014, under Gaston Browne the New Prime Minister’s Leadership, a brilliant, visionary, and, exuberant leader with intellect has emerged as the nation’s fourth Prime Minister. I say to the people of Antigua and Barbuda, rise up, stand up, let us all together rise up in a new awakening, a new dawn is coming, a new era “The Dawn of a new day”. An Awakening that fuels the Antiguan and Barbudan pride, that fuels a call for that action, a call for performance, a call for excellence, in a mighty movement that will be transformational, that will transform The Ministry of Tourism and in particular the Tourism Product into the economic powerhouse of the Caribbean.
Mr. Speaker, in this new awakening, it is performance that matters and excellence is the only acceptable standard. I have called all my technicians, all my Advisors every single stakeholder within the Ministry of tourism, the hoteliers, the tour operators, the taxi drivers. I have called them together and I have told them. In this new class of 2014, we say failure is not an option!
Mr. Speaker, gone are the days when you run the Ministry of tourism by remote from an Ipad or on an airplane. The spirit of our fore fathers and the great heights they achieved and kept, provide us with a superior platform for accomplishing our generational responsibilities of building a new Antigua and Barbuda, making ourselves and our country into a place greater than we met.
Mr. Speaker, we stand on the shoulders of giants; gigantic deeds and accomplishments that are expected from us; For my predecessors the Honourable Lester Bryant Bird the first Minister of Tourism and Economic Development and Energy Governor General Dr. Rodney Williams, Ambassador Bernard Sebastian Percival, Honourable Molwyn Montgomery Joseph I shall not fail them, I shall surely not fail Prime Minister Gaston Browne and the people of this country. Mr. Speaker we will deliver.
Mr. Speaker, Tourism continues to be the driving force of our economy. Most of the Nation’s commercial activities and growth in GDP is driven by the industry. Antigua and Barbuda will be implementing a strategic plan for an action agenda based on sustainability, community, and heritage tourism all delivered with an authentic Antiguan and Barbudan experience.
Mr. Speaker, some of the departments within the Ministry of Tourism have not been functioning effectively for the past 10 years.
Even the Ministry Headquarters was allowed to fall into such a poor state of maintenance that the staff was working only half-day for several years with very little productivity.
There were serious health and safety issues pertaining to missing roof tiles, bathrooms with poor ventilation, and poor air quality. At times only 2 of the 6 AC units were operable. This contributed to the growth of mold and harmful bacteria that may have resulted in the many reports of building related illnesses among the staff.
We have since taken steps to address and rectify these poor working conditions at the Ministry.
STATE OF THE PRODUCT
Mr. Speaker, improved service delivery, Offering quality service and value for money will be hallmarks of the new brand. A strong focus on human resource management with having the right people in the right roles.
Mr. Speaker, safety and security will be paramount. There will be greater emphasis on the development of standards, their implementation and monitoring of hotels, tour operators and transportation. Development of new Events, Clean-up of the environment and beautification of the country Enhancement of our national heritage sites; Appropriate Signage are all on the action agenda.
Mr. Speaker, incorporating a focus on clean energy with all tourism investments with special emphasis for Barbuda. Raising national awareness; improving education, training and development for the sector.
Mr. Speaker, at this juncture we inherited a product that has deteriorated to a level that has taken Antigua and Barbuda back significantly compared to our regional competitors; and that Mr. Speaker will be the recurring theme throughout my contribution. Currently we are given figures of 3,000 rooms which including villas. However if we were to use a strict approach based on the rooms that are sellable, we have just over 2,000 rooms for the entire destination.
Mr. Speaker, if you contrast this with destinations such as St Lucia and St Kitts who commenced their foray into the Tourism industry well after Antigua and Barbuda and now have over 6,000 and 2,000 rooms respectively you can see how far behind we have fallen. That is why my Government has been aggressively pursuing a strategy of new hotel investment since assuming office.
NEW TOURISM INVESTMENTS
Mr. Speaker, since coming to office in June of 2014 the Gaston Browne’s Government has signed a series of memoranda on new hotel projects and investments in the region of two billion dollars. These projects will create thousands of Jobs and new hotel rooms, plus a significant contribution to Government’s revenue for further sustainable economic growth.
This means more disposable income for our citizens and taxes for the Government, which will improve the standard of living for all our people.
Mr. Speaker, the Sunny Hill Group has announced this year a $200 Million Dollar investment for Antigua and Barbuda. The 400-unit project will be located on a 100-acre site in the Falmouth and Bethesda areas of Antigua, land owned by CO Williams Property Development Company Limited.
Sunny Hill Group is a new company founded by Caribbean Trust Immigration Services, a promoter of the country’s Citizenship by Investment Programme based in Dubai, in a joint venture with Canada-based Stuart Investment Management.
This project will create over one thousand new jobs for Antiguans and Barbudans with five hundred in the construction sector and over five hundred in operation and management positions.
The new USD$150M Beaches Resort by Sandals Resorts International at Long Bay will provide up to 400 rooms, 1,000 construction jobs and 850 permanent hotel positions when completed.
Mr. Speaker, Hodges Bay Club renamed “The Resort at Hodges Bay” will be fully open in 2015. The economic impact of this USD $50 million new 79-suite resort will have a significant impact on our local economy during construction. This new resort facility will provide meaningful employment to as many as 150 persons at any given time and upwards of 200 when all phases of the development are completed.
Mr. Speaker, The Morris Bay Project an MOA was signed last July with His Excellency Sheik Tariq Faisal Alqassemi of Dubai, for a 5 star luxury hotel project valued at US $120M This project will include a Public National Park for residents.
Mr. Speaker, we now come to the Sunwing Group but before I go into the details with Sunwing group, I want to address comments by the Honourable Member for St John’s Rural West the former Prime Minister, said that “Oh we were already in discussions with Sunwing and they already started these negotiations and it was not done under the Gaston Brown Administration” Mr. Speaker I want to provide this Honourable House with the tangible facts. I have in my hand a letter that the then Minister of Tourism the Hon. John Maginley wrote to Mr. Hunter the CEO of the Sunwing group…..
Sunwing Group- the Government has signed an agreement for $ 150 Million with the Sunwing Group out of Canada to build an additional five-star hotel on adjacent property to the Royal Antiguan. The project will be built in two phases. The $75M investment in the first phase will see the construction of a “Royalton” hotel complex with 300 rooms, multiple restaurants, a casino, disco, full service spa, tennis courts and theatres. Phase two will include the $50M construction of 200 mixed-use condominiums.
This joint venture between the Government of Antigua and Barbuda will see Sunwing contributing 85.4% with the remaining 14.6% from the Government whose equity will be in the form of the lands.
Sunwing is collaborating with the TUI Travel group, the World’s leading integrated travel company with 30 million customers. As partners in the new Dieppe Bay Project TUI flights will operate from the UK, US and Canada once the project is completed.
The appointment of Robert Deniro as an Economic Envoy for Antigua and Barbuda has started the process for the sale and upgrade of the former K-Club in Barbuda. A new $250 million resort will shortly begin in Barbuda. This announcement has been well received and publicised in the international media and has positively raised our country’s profile and reputation around the world.
GUIANA ISLAND RESORTS
Mr. Speaker, this is in addition to the $1.2 Billion project for the Guiana Island Property with Chinese investment firm Yida within days of its election victory. The group has acquired the Stanford Guiana Island property at a cost of US$70M and will break ground this year.
Mr. Speaker, these are the types of investments that the Gaston Browne Government has attracted so far.
Contrast this Mr. Speaker with an example of the dolly house budgets which were presented here, in the past 10 years in this Parliament, the former Ministers of Finance should have put up their Armani and Hugo Boss suits and put on the frills and pinks of a dolly house tea party. Mr. Speaker, do you remember the big announcement of a government farm, six million and training for young people?
Mr. Speaker back then, I searched and searched and I could not find a single dollar for that programme in the 2011 budget. It was not mentioned any where it was just something made up in the dolly house tea party. Perhaps the Minister was hallucinating or simply just high on good bush tea.
Mr. Speaker, the 20 million US dollar chicken farm that they had given out land for; The proposed investor could not pay his two bedroom house rent, could not pay to brush cut an acre of land and used to be an extension officer at extension. Mr. Speaker when cocks have teeth we would have seen this investment or maybe after donkeys turn green or when pigs take flight.
Mr. Speaker, a new Investment climate has dawned upon this beautiful country of ours. To this end my Ministry will be working with a proven and well-qualified team of experts to create a guide to investment in Antigua and Barbuda. This manual will be a detailed document intended to create a tailor-made solution complete with brand building strategies focusing on business development, strategic alliances and global market penetration. Our team of experts will develop a comprehensive plan to advance the countries investment mission and objectives, in order to promote Antigua and Barbuda’s range of business services and investment opportunities.
Mr. Speaker, these opportunities include Tourism, CIP (including legislation for incentives and concessions), Maritime Ship Registry, Yachting, a new registry of private jets, manufacturing, the free trade zone, trademarks and patents, Intellectual Property, Cooperatives and financial services (inclusive of off shore banking, gaming and IBC’s).
Mr. Speaker, the document will serve as an in-depth guide complete with listings of Banks and Financial Services, Lawyers, Accountants, Telecommunication services, Estate Agents, Insurance Brokers, Restaurants, entertainment, Healthcare Providers just to name a few.
Mr. Speaker, to accompany the handbook will be a fully integrated website that will provide links directly to our various partners and business related services. It is important to note that a similar document existed some 25 years ago under the leadership of the Hon Lester Bryant Bird.
This is where linkages to our rich history and prosperous future will be forged. For a country that fails to learn from its past is doomed in the present and future.
Mr. Speaker, due to lack of adequate and saleable room stock Antigua and Barbuda has not been able to aggressively grow the airlift as much as would have been possible had this not been the case. While the current airlift from our major source markets in the USA, UK, Europe and Canada is adequate for the number of rooms, my Ministry has undertaken a series of successful negotiations with multiple airlines to ensure that there is increased air access capacity into the destination for the anticipated increase in demand. This will lead to an increase in visitor arrivals in 2015 and will support the expansion with new hotel room stock.
Mr. Speaker, direct daily flights BA from London will continue all year round. This represents an increase from 6 flights a week in summer to daily service. 3 of these flights will be Antigua turn around only and not shared with any other destination.
Virgin Atlantic will operate 4 Flights with 3 of these dedicated as Antigua turn around flights only. The new configured Virgin Aircraft will have more premium upper class seats that are the ideal fit to the high end product that Antigua and Barbuda has to offer.
Once weekly Thomas Cook flight from Manchester which started earlier in November as well as
Once Weekly Condor Flight from Frankfurt will continue during the winter season.
Mr. Speaker, direct daily flights from JFK New York on American Airlines along with direct daily flights from MIA will continue on American Airlines.
United Airlines: The destination will be served with up to 10 direct flights per week from Newark.
Delta and US Airways: Other US gateways such as Atlanta and Charlotte will be served by once weekly direct from Delta and US Airways respectively.
Mr. Speaker, Air Canada will be adding an additional flight for this winter season each Tuesday. This represents a total of 5 flights (4 from Toronto and 1 from Montreal)
WestJet will now be adding a larger Aircraft of 179 seats, which represents a 15% increase in seats from our second Canadian carrier.
The destination will also be concluding negotiations for additional Airlift from new carriers such as COPA Airlines, Avianca and other carriers to allow us to take advantage of the anticipated growth and demand for the destination with the New Airport terminal and the host of new tourism investment projects.
Mr. Speaker, I will be attending the Routes Americas Airline Conference in Denver next month where I will be meeting 16 airlines to attract new airlift to the destination in anticipation of the new terminal and new hotel projects that are coming on stream.
Mr. Speaker, similar to the Ships Registry the Government is looking to establish an airline Jet registry which would be separate and distinct from commercial Aircraft Operators holding an Air Operators Certificate (AOC).
This registry is similar to those established in the Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man which has generated millions of dollars in revenue for the government in those jurisdictions over the past 5 years.
This service caters to aircrafts owned by High Net Worth individuals who would also be potential CIP clients. These aircrafts will also provide Antigua and Barbuda with immense marketing value by virtue of the flag being engraved on the tails of these carriers. This is the creative and innovative thinking of Gaston Browne and his Government in finding new ways to generate revenue for our country.
STAYOVER AIR ARRIVALS
The number of air arrivals to Antigua and Barbuda at the end of December 2014 was 249,316 a growth of just 2.5% on the previous year. The destination has not yet recovered from the arrival numbers of 265,841 stay over visitors in 2008. These figures are expected to increase significantly with the additional airlift and renewed marketing and focus on tourism for 2015.
While my Government will be aggressively pursing foreign direct investment, we will encourage the participation of local entrepreneurs in meaningful activities to support the economic development of the nation.
Mr. Speaker, we inherited a situation where the destination had lost over 144,000 passengers a year with the loss of a major cruise line which called weekly following the Brooklyn six incident. This is a clear indication of the lack of management of the cruise sector as other destinations have experienced incidences, but with the right crisis management and personnel to communicate effectively the fallout could have been averted.
We have held initial meetings with our cruise line partners to get an assessment of the issues and in our subsequent follow ups were told in clear terms that the perception of us by the senior decision makers and executives is very poor. In fact we were told that we were the first officials at a senior Government level that they had seen in over 10 years. The last person that they had seen in an official capacity in their Corporate offices was the Hon member from St. Mary’s North the Honourable Molwyn Joseph.
A Senior cruise ship executive indicated that unlike Antigua and Barbuda they see the Minister of Tourism From St Kitts the Hon Ricky Skerritt every 3 months, which explains their significant growth in cruise ship calls which has now surpassed Antigua and Barbuda. Their feedback was “Antigua and Barbuda does not understand, appreciate or care about their business”. These meetings are critical to our negotiations with key decision makers to increase our cruise ship calls. This has become our top priority on our critical path to growing the cruise tourism sector.
ST JOHN’S DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
Mr. Speaker, we inherited a Corporation, which was run as a personal fiefdom. No audited financial statements have been produced since 2007.
Over ECD$5M dollars were taken in loans from Norman Wexelman to assist in the development of the Airport, which has absolutely nothing to do with St. Johns Development Corporation. When this loan could not be serviced, Mr. Wexelman received a garnishee order on the Airport Authority, which was applied to all revenues that would normally come to SJDC from NewPort Antigua Ltd. Newport is a joint venture company between Mr. Wexelman and SJDC. There is absolutely NO documentation on this loan anywhere at SJDC.
Mr. Speaker, another example of the type of gross mismanagement of such a vital organization is the callous nature in which the corporation was allowed to enter into agreements.
In November 2010 the then Chairman of the Corporation entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Caribinvest Holding Company Ltd. to undertake the development of specified areas in Heritage Quay, with the intention to erect more duty free shopping buildings. The Developer would then own a whopping 75% shares in the Company and the SJDC would own 25% shares in the company.
It was such a disastrous agreement the subsequent Chairman Sylvester Brown launched and investigation and subsequently sought a legal opinion on the matter.
Mr. Speaker, I quote now from this legal opinion….“While a memorandum of understanding (MOU) is document usually intended to only express a common line of action between parties and often not used to express a legal commitment. In this instance it is the only document, apart from Downtown incorporation documents evidencing the intention of SJDC and Caribinvest to create legal relations and should clearly and definitively in the absence of such other documentation reflect that fact. It is indeed regrettable that for a transaction which holds such serious legal ramifications the terms evidencing the development have not been set out in a more substantive and acceptable fashion.” And if that wasn’t bad enough it goes on.
“I am of the considered view that this project to date has been undertaken with haste evidenced by certain errors of some import….the authorities will be well advised to re-examine this entire undertaking to ensure that the interests of the State are properly protected.
“The lease agreements purportedly executed are incomplete and therefore cannot be registered. The payment of rent is central to a lease agreement; rent must be certain or capable of being calculated with certainty, and the provisions in the said agreements related to the payment of rent do not provide a definite figure nor do they provide a means by which a definite figure can be ascertained.”
“With a shaky MOU, two incomplete leases and the construction thus far, the bargaining position of the SJDC is greatly enhanced, and it is very unlikely that the Developer would bring an action for breach of the agreement, were SJDC to seek more favourable terms in this undertaking. The willingness of the principal of Caribinvest to reconsider the rental terms for building #4, coupled with the foregoing circumstances as outlined seems to me a clear indicator that the present Chairman can insist on more favourable terms for SJDC, and by extension the State.”
Shame Mr. Speaker…..Shame!!!!
Mr. Speaker, I wish to bring your attention to another troubling discovery at the St John’s Development Corporation. As I previously disclosed the gross mismanagement that plagued the company was the callous nature in which large sums of its finances were dispersed without any record or supporting documentation left on file. In other words, there is evidence of a transaction but no evidence as to its purpose or proper authorization for such a large disbursement.
Once again I quote
“04th December 2008
ABI Bank Ltd.
I am co-signatory to Newport Antigua Ltd. account numbers 272621 and 272601. This is your authority to transfer EC $5,200,000.00 to Caribbean Union bank. WIOC account number 100-002-50 and $300,000.00 to Antigua Commercial Bank, SJDC City Account # 0918635723. Mr. Norman Wexelman, another signatory on the accounts will also provide counterpart authority.
Your cooperation would be appreciated.
Sen. Lenworth Johnson
Cc: Sen. Anthony Stuart, Executive Director, SJDC”
Yet except for one paltry effort to do minimal maintenance sweeping of the Harbour, no significant work has been done on the port of St Johns for the past 10 years.
To ensure that our port facilities remain up to par this type of maintenance must be done every 2-3 years. Only last year we had an incident where we lost a cruise ship call when the captain refused to dock on the South Side of the Nevis Street Pier, due to lack of adequate water depth.
Mr. Speaker, we inherited Heritage Quay in an unsightly condition as the area had been allowed to run down due to lack of maintenance and poor management. The St Johns Development Corporation seemed to have been reduced to just being a landlord rather than a key partner in the Cruise industry. This is a sad state of affairs as the Heritage Quay area is the first impression that passengers get when they disembark, which underscores the assessment made by the Senior Cruise Executive that “We do not understand, appreciate, or care about the Cruise industry”!
We inherited a St. Johns that was run down for the last ten years with unsanitary health conditions, open sewage flowing into the gutters, foul smell with broken sidewalks, with a UPP administration that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on building jelly bean sidewalks.
Mr. Speaker, Cruise Tourism will be given special attention with the sweeping of the St Johns Harbour and major modernization to St Johns as a cruise and commercial port. This will return our destination to its marquee position as a premier Caribbean cruise port. To further enhance the attractiveness of the destination to the cruise industry, a special incentive package is being created that will feature fuel bunkering facilities for the cruise ships. This will lower the cruise lines operating cost, and at the same time provide a revenue stream to the Government.
I would like to contrast this with the incentives offered in the past that focused on reducing the head tax, which negatively impacted government’s revenue. This has effectively driven the Antigua Pier Group into a state of virtual bankruptcy. The company continues to run a cash deficit which has resulted in its inability to service the bondholders and address basic operational issues such as pier maintenance and payment to service providers.
Mr. Speaker, significant work will be made to upgrade our cruise facilities to improve the quality of product and service that we offer our cruise guests. The planned infrastructure upgrades will allow us to sweep and dredge the harbour to position the destination to take advantage of the larger ships that are now being deployed by the cruise lines.
Mr. Speaker, Antigua and Barbuda will see an increase of Cruise ship calls for 2014/15 season by approximately +15% in comparison to last season. Last season we recorded 253 ships and this season we will have 297 ship calls.
Mr. Speaker, there will also be an approximate +20% increase in passenger count over last season. Last year we received 551,000 passengers and this year we are looking at approximately 700,000 passengers for a bumper cruise season.
Mr. Speaker, after an absence of several years, Barbuda is expected to receive up to 10 cruise ship calls this season.
Cruise Tourism will continue to bring benefits to our stakeholders, All local stakeholders such as Taxi Drivers, Vendors, Store owners, and Tour Operators, will see this industry grow even stronger as we work with all of our partners and the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association.
Mr. Speaker, we inherited a situation where we were in danger of losing a significant number of our yachts that operate out of the Nelson’s Dockyard for the winter season, due to the lack of a commodity as basic as water. I am pleased that a temporary relief has been found with the repairs of blocked mains that had contributed to the problem over the years. With plans to overhaul and look at the entire water distribution in this area this type of problem will become a thing of the past. My colleague the Honourable Member of St. Phillips North has assured the National Parks Authority that by the 1st quarter of this year APUA will install a permanent reverse Osmosis Plant at Pigeon Pt. to service the Falmouth and English Harbour area.
To better cater to the needs of the yachting industry the Government has allowed for the expansion of fuel services to provide the low-sulphur diesel, which is critical to the efficient operation of the luxury yachts.
This will reverse the chronic problem experienced in the past where many luxury yachts were forced to travel to neighbouring islands just to purchase the type of fuel that they needed. This will mean more business opportunities for local companies and more revenue for the Government in the taxes collected on fuel.
Mr. Speaker, the yachting sector has been identified as a key sector for major growth, which will ensure our status as the mecca of Caribbean yachting. This includes improved customs and immigration processes, creating a duty free enclave with improved services for the yachting sector, while ensuring the safety and security of our visitors.
Mr. Speaker, the Government has abolished the duty on the importation of yachts to our country to help ensure that more yachts will be based here during the winter season.
Antigua and Barbuda has developed a tourism action agenda centered on three new destination stewardship initiatives. These projects were developed and agreed to collaboratively by more than 50 local stakeholders.
This includes the development of a sustainable tourism strategy and new community-based cultural tourism products as well as mapping cultural heritage sites in order to improve interpretation materials for tourists. We believe that responsible tourism can play a role in fostering sustainability. As a country, which derives 80% of its GDP from Tourism we must ensure that the industry is developed in a sustainable way to ensure its long-term viability.
(ABHTI) ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA HOSPITALITY AND TRAINING INSTITUTE
Mr. Speaker, since appointing the new Board there has been several alarming findings at the Antigua and Barbuda Hospitality Training Institute. These were its poor fiscal management, the abuse of resources, human resource deficiencies, poor academic performance and weak partnerships with the industry that it should be serving.
We have now implemented proper polices and procedures to eliminate poor practices. A recruitment drive is in an advanced stage to fill three critical tutor positions that have been vacant for the past 2 years. We have also started to mend relationships with key scholarship providers, to ensure we meet the expectations of our partners and provide the level of service that is expected from a key learning institution. This is absolutely critical to the sustainability of the industry.
MARKETING- WEB SITE
Mr. Speaker, we inherited a situation where the previous administration had hinged the bulk of the destination marketing on an “integrated website strategy”. The exhorbitant sum of over GBP 849K or a whopping ECD$3,650,700 which was expended to a UK based company OJT Holdings Ltd. for an integrated web site that has delivered absolutely no value!
Specific deliverables which were laid out in the contract and which we have paid for such as the booking engine, multiple languages etc. have never ever been completed.
Mr. Speaker, the developers have taken months to respond to simple requests such as changing an incorrect date or making basic modifications to keep the web site current. The navigation issues and slow loading of the pages was a turn off for people visiting the site.
The Ministry has been attempting to regain control of our domain name and website since August of last year, and have been stymied by the developers. The Ministry of Legal affairs have now become involved and we have written to the developers with an ultimatum that should they fail to release the materials for the operation of the website and respond to us by January 26th, we will be left with no choice but to commence legal proceedings against them to recover the intellectual property of Antigua and Barbuda and competently manage our website ourselves.
In fact in numerous correspondences with the developer Mr. Turnbull he indicated that he could not finish the work that he was contracted to do since he was commandeered to create the UPP website. He spent weeks in Antigua at the UPP command center during the last 3 month of the election campaign running their social media campaign, and promoting CIP which had absolutely nothing to do with his Contractual arrangements with the Government.
Mr. Speaker, the introduction of the 2% Marketing fund, which was intended for destination marketing, should still have been supplemented by Government’s subvention for marketing to The Tourism Authority. Although some $11million was allocated in the budget each year, since July of 2012 not a single dollar has been disbursed from the consolidated fund to The Tourism Authority for marketing. This seriously impacted the effectiveness of efforts to market the destination. We inherited a debt situation at the Tourism Authority at the end of November 2014 in the amount of ECD$ 3.8M dollars. This was reduced from ECD$ 5.9M which was the debt at the end of 2013. The bulk of this was indebtedness to Virgin Holidays which at one point was in excess of USD$1M and has now been reduced to USD$496,527.
In fact Mr. Speaker we inherited a debt at the Tourism Authority of nearly EC$6M dollars.
Mr. Speaker, we are now seeing a turnaround and have embarked upon an aggressive marketing campaign in our major source markets, using all marketing channels to further create demand for the destination. For example some of the exciting new initiatives include.
Times Square BIG SCREEN: Outside TV 60 second Destination advertising each hour for next 90 days reaching millions of potential viewers. The 1500 Broadway Spectacular has a total of 1624 square feet of viewing space is strategically positioned in the heart of the Times Square Plaza was secured in addition to the 42nd street screen for an addition 520 square feet viewing space at no extra cost. Through skillful negotiations we were able to get this valuable placement that was originally US $420,000. For $US 60,000.
The NY Times Square campaign has the potential to reach in excess of 1.5 million persons daily. This is in keeping with our Prime Minister’s mandate of ensuring we get the greatest value for monies spent.
BA in flight Video: We commissioned a destination and investment video that featured the Honourable Prime Minister laying out his vision and the attractiveness of the destination for potential investors and visitors. This 10 minutes video is being shown on all BA long Haul flights worldwide for entire month of January. This is an impressive integrated presentation of the destination to potential visitors as well as investors. I would crave your indulgence Mr. Speaker at the end of my presentation to show a clip of this video to the Parliament and the country.
Mr. Speaker, we will be revamping the entire content of the local Tourism Channel, which has not been updated for the past 7 years!! We believe in putting the right focus and right strategy in place.
Mr. Speaker, our allocation for Marketing is 9 million dollars. The government subvention is 2.4 Million and the balance of 6.6 million is expectation to be raised from the 2%
Marketing subvention from the Treasury budgeted or requested for the period 2009 to 20014 was $36,475,000, however what was received was only $9,377,441 a total shortfall of $27,097,559 Absolutely nothing was received for Marketing subvention from the consolidated fund since July 2012.
For e.g. in 2009 the budget was $11M only $2.9M was received a shortfall of $8.06M
In 2010 the budget was $9.7M only $2.5M was received a shortfall of $7.1 M
In 2011 the budget was $9M only $2.4M was received a shortfall of $6.6M
In 2012 the budget was $3M only $1.4M was received a shortfall of $1.5M
In 2013 the budget was $3M and nothing was received a shortfall of $3M
On Average the ABTA was receiving approximately $2.5M ECD (US$1M) annually for tourism marketing, while our competitors in Barbados and St. Lucia received budgets of USD$50M and USD$ 40 million for tourism marketing each year.
However Mr. Prime Minister I know that you understand the importance of Tourism, investment and economic development. I have every confidence that you will find creative ways to provide my Ministry with adequate resources in addition to what has been earmarked in these 2015 estimates to effectively carry out the mandate that you have given me. This is only a budget…a road map. It is not etched in stone.
Mr. Speaker, the thrust of our marketing is designed to give the destination as much coverage as possible.
To support the effort of transformation we have engaged the services of two tourism professionals as Vice President of Sales and Marketing, to lead our Tourism Marketing efforts for Antigua and Barbuda in the UK and the European Market and the other in the North American Market.
These professionals have been given clear tangible targets that are tied to their emoluments.
Mr. Speaker, our Government is committed to a far-reaching program of development and reform of the country’s energy sector. This is based on the platform outlined in the ABLPs Manifesto “The People’s Rescue Plan” and is intended to bring tangible benefits to the people of Antigua and Barbuda. To this end, my government has set a target of 20 20 20, that is to achieve a 20% reduction in the use of fossil fuel by the year 2020. To achieve this reduction a number of clearly articulated goals have been set to include:
- Reduced cost of energy, with improvements in the reliability of the electricity supply;
- Harnessing of Antigua and Barbuda’s considerable renewable energy resources in wind and solar energy;
- Establishing Barbuda as a model for sustainable “green energy” development;
Mr. Speaker, in keeping with these goals, almost immediately our Government will enact the Antigua and Barbuda Renewable Energy Act in 2015. This trailblazing legislation will promote the progression towards sustainable energy by allowing consumers utilizing renewable energy – such as wind, solar, or biomass – to interconnect into the APUA grid.
Mr. Speaker, Cabinet’s decision to create a National Energy Council (NEC), in 2015 is an important and significant milestone. The NEC will be a multi-sectoral agency bringing together major energy stakeholders in the public and private sectors to review technical and policy issues and provide advice to the Minister of Energy on energy related developments.
Other measures to achieve the Government’s ambitious energy objectives include the continued removal of all import duties and taxes on bona fide renewable energy and energy efficient products and machinery.
Of particular significance is our continuing partnership with the Government and people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela through PDV Caribe and the Petrocaribe Energy Cooperation agreement.
Mr. Speaker, however to show how irresponsible the former PDV Caribe Board under the UPP Administration was they signed an investment management agreement with a financial institution to invest USD$11,077,842 in bonds. At that time PDV Caribe was included in the portfolio of the former Prime Minister. Up to today the institution is refusing to provide to the new PDV Caribe board as to who or what represents what dollar amount and the identity and address of the issuer of the securities.
RENEWABLE ENERGY INITIATIVES
Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Prime Minister and myself have been invited to meet with Vice President Joe Biden in Washington DC to attend the Caribbean Energy Security Summit next week. This underscores the importance the government has placed on Energy Security for the nation.
SOLAR PV FOR SCHOOLS AND PUBLIC BUILDINGS INITIATIVE
Mr. Speaker, this initiative will involve the procurement, installation, operation and maintenance on 31 Primary Schools, 10 Secondary Schools, the State College and the new Five Islands University Campus. The Ministry of Education will lead the way in distributed renewable generation. Each school will have approximately 60 KiloWatts of solar installed.
GREEN BARBUDA RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECT
Mr. Speaker, the Green Barbuda Renewable Energy Project is proposed by The Government of Antigua & Barbuda as a state of the art environmentally friendly renewable energy project. This, one of the truly “green Island” projects, will be accomplished through the installation of a solar photovoltaic park, energy storage batteries, state of the art energy management software and a smart grid. This is planned to greatly reduce the current fossil fuel based energy generation on the island of Barbuda.
Mr. Speaker, the Ministry and APUA are actively working on the introduction of Smart Meters. This technology has tremendous benefits for consumers, APUA and Government. Smart Meters have already been introduced by the electric utility companies in many of our neighbouring islands, offering a large number of new services and opportunities that conventional meters cannot provide.
- Consumer benefits include…
- No more estimated bills
- More accurate and remote readings of consumption
- APUA no longer need to come onto a customer property to read the meter at all.
- Solar panels. Many Antiguans are considering installing solar panels to save money and help the environment.
- Switching the power off – and on. Smart meters can switch a customer electricity supply on or off remotely, for example when a customer moves house.
Mr. Speaker, early in 2015 Ministry of Energy will coordinate with APUA a Pilot Project with about 500 smart meters to further understand the expected benefits and give hands-on experience to APUA staff.
The full rollout would probably start late 2015 or early 2016 and take about three years to complete.
The importance of Tourism, Investment and Energy to the growth and diversification of the Antigua and Barbuda economy requires this renewed sense of purpose. Furthermore this will be the key for a realignment of all stakeholder activities geared toward the attainment of sustainable growth and success of the business.
Mr. Speaker, to substantiate what I have outlined A key Tourism stakeholder in a letter to me stated “As a major promoter of Antigua and Barbuda, we receive a lot of feedback from the Industry including major airlines, tour operators, travel agencies and tourism professionals. They all say the same thing- That Antigua and Barbuda has essentially fallen off the map in terms of Government led tourism promotions”
Mr. Speaker, in this Parliament one Former Minister of Finance under the UPP regime said boldly vision without money is hallucination. When VC Bird had the vision China was important and would be of benefit in the long run, he according to the Minister was hallucinating; when VC Bird had the vision of a new Antigua he had no money, when he had vision to buy back the lands from the plantocrats he had no money; when a poor child dreams of becoming a doctor, a penny bank dreaming of becoming a big billion dollar bank that according to our previous Minister of finance was hallucination.
That Mr. Speaker is what was wrong with the UPP Government it had no vision; it had no brains; it had no sense.
- PETER’S CONSTITUENCY
Mr. Speaker, I now turn to my constituency who elected me overwhelmingly for the 3rd time. For 10 years under the UPP Government we had Mr. Speaker the continuing political victimization of the People of the St. Peter’s constituency simply because of their choice of a parliamentary representative.
The UPP Government does not like Asot Michael… The former Prime Minister said he should be hounded into submission and so, the people he represents must pay the price.
St Peter’s, Mr. Speaker, has now become the most run down, ramshackle and decrepit constituency in Antigua and Barbuda. With no public assistance, the public infrastructure is in total disrepair and vital community services like health care, education and sports continue to be neglected. Not one red cent of the tax dollars paid by the constituents of St Peter was put back in the area for their benefit over 10 long years.
The football field in Pares is not yet in use. The Parham basketball court had now graduated into the category of forest where farmers tie their hungry goats. The MP spent $1,700 to cut the field every month because the Ministry of Sports refused to cut it… The Ministry of Sports under Winston Williams refused to replace the lights on the basketball and football fields. The 800 thousand dollar fence around the Parham football field had fallen down and those responsible for fixing it were totally unconcerned. CBH did not even clean and disinfect the gutters throughout the constituency. There are roads in, Parham, Pares, Vernons, Weirs Estate, Gunthropes, Fitches Creek, Lightfoot and Paynters that are totally unpassable by vehicles. There is no basic equipment in the health clinics and the Day Care Centre got no assistance from the UPP Government.
In 2004 Mr. Speaker, the constituents of St Peters were the first to be sent home from Public Works, CBH and the Port Authority … They survived by the grace of God.
Mr. Speaker, such crass victimization of a community of people all because of the political preference of the majority of its voters, is uncivilized and had no place in our democracy… We had a Christian duty to stop it immediately.
As I close Mr. Speaker, I again sound the call for unity in the national interest… It is time to walk away from the dark days of politics first and the country last… of one party building and the other tearing down… of witch hunts and personal vendettas… of the privileged few doing well while the masses were condemned to live in the hell of inept governance totally disconnected from their worthwhile dreams and aspirations.
Mr. Speaker, in that regard, I wish to end by speaking of our newly-elected 7 months old esteemed Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne. The Antigua and Barbuda that will be re-constructed, following the June 2014 general elections, will be nurtured by a vision that has been articulated by the new esteemed Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne in his maiden Budget Speech in this house last Monday. It is not an anemic vision. Rather, it is bold and innovative, unambiguous and unequivocal. I have every confidence in our Prime Minister and Political Leader; that he will use his intellectual skill and experience his caring and loving attitude to reinvigorate and rebuild our economy and society for the benefit of all. I am certain that he will live up to his very words: and I quote “If it takes the last breath from my body, with God’s help and guidance, I will dedicate my life to transforming our country.”
That is why I was among one of the first to give him my unconditional and unequivocal support to have him lead this great Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party. I now renew my unequivocal confidence in him as Prime Minister and leader of this great nation.
There is one thing of which I am convinced, and that is that the Honourable Gaston Browne has one fundamental aim in mind. He wants to contribute to the modernization and transformation of Antigua and Barbuda, into making it the economic tiger and powerhouse of the Caribbean and to build a society where everyone, regardless of their persuasion, color, class, religion or circumstances of their birth, can flourish to create not just a society but a just society.
He knows that the essence of leadership is to sacrifice personal desires in the interest of those for whom the Leader has responsibility. It is that principle that he has brought to the Leadership of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party and to the country. Prime Minister Gaston Browne is committed to understanding people, representing their welfare, and has already proven himself in this Parliament both in Opposition and now in Government to be a champion of the people, warring for their rights and fighting for the improvement of their lives.
Mr. Speaker, the road is rough and rugged but I am confident that the good Lord will see us through to that triumphant day when we will proudly say “WE HAVE OVERCOME!”
Today, as I rest my case, I am comforted by the words of Julia Ward Howe:
“Mine eyes had seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword
His Truth is marching on!”
Mr. Speaker, Members of this Honourable House, Citizens and Residents of Antigua and Barbuda in general and my beloved constituents of St Peter in particular… please accept my very best wishes for a bright and prosperous 2015 and beyond, under many more ABLP Administrations.
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