By Shermain Bique-Charles
Admitting that his request will be viewed as controversial, former tourism minister, Asot Michael, wants private sector and civil society organisations to create a $50 million-fund to assist Antigua and Barbuda’s fight against Covid-19.
Michael, MP for St Peter, said at a special sitting of Parliament on Tuesday, that the country’s wealthy citizens, profitable companies and progressive society organisations must all step up to the plate.
“All those wealthy homeowners at Jumby Bay, Mill Reef, Galley Bay, and Jolly Harbour, who have enjoyed millions of dollars in tax concessions and relief over the years; all those business persons who have enjoyed very lucrative government contracts, and in some instances, monopolistic and exclusive government contracts, need now more than ever to step up to the plate and be good corporate citizens,” he said.
Michael said after Hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda in September 2017, he and Prime Minister Gaston Browne donated personal money to the relief effort.
“My family gave $540,000 to the Barbuda Relief Fund, but the truth is, others much wealthier — and they know who they are — they gave very little. Some gave absolutely nothing,” he said.
He said the time has come for residents to share resources with the state.
“That is why the private sector and civil society organisations must come to the assistance of the government of Antigua and Barbuda that is exhausting public funds on the priority of fighting Covid-19 at a time when the same pandemic has brought national income from the vital tourism industry and other sectors to a standstill,” he added.
Michael also asked the government to help ease pressure on small businesses.
“I am very pleased that we have gone the way of Grenada, BVI, Turks and Caicos and some others and declared a 24/7 shutdown of the country. But the reality is shutdowns will wipe out some small and micro businesses, many of which have no cushion to see them through periods of no business,” he said.
He believes employers and business owners should not have to bear the full brunt of ordered closures.
“The employee should be forced to take his vacation leave during periods of shutdown of the business before the employer is forced to pay pandemic leave,” he added.
Michael is still a member of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party even though he was fired as a minister in October 2018 amid allegations that he demanded money from property tycoon, British investor, Peter Virdee.