Editorial: A further glance

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When we ended our first glance through the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) manifesto, “Vision 2023 and Beyond …” we were discussing the proposed Entrepreneurial Development Programme which will be funded with approximately $3 million annually via “a telecommunications Tax of five cents per minute charge on incoming calls that will be paid by the external source.”  
In this installment, we move on to the next topic … land.  The ABLP promises “land sales at low prices to include the continuation of the development rate of $3.00 per square foot.”  There is also a promise of lands being made available for residential and commercial development at Friar’s Hill at $6 per square foot and more residential land at Royals at the same rate.  We are especially keen to see how many non-comrades get access to the valuable Friar’s Hill land because there are strong rumours that a good portion, if not all, has been allocated. (We are mindful that Antigua’s rumour industry is extremely productive.)
No surprise, the land-for -youth programme has been recycled, again, as well as a reward for squatters who will get title for just $1 per square foot (up to one quarter acre).  The condition is that you would have squatted for 10 years or more. Darn! If only we had known!
From land, the manifesto moves to private sector investments with boasts of projects on the ground and in the pipeline, including a notable mention of the YIDA investment which is described as “$324 million invested thus far on land acquisition, land development, infrastructure, a concrete plant, a steel fabrication factory, equipment, staff housing and amenities.”  The flagship investment project seems to have lost its lustre. None will forget the grand announcement of the YIDA agreement which was signed one day after ABLP took office in 2014. We were told that the Chinese developer, Yida Zhang, was all set to begin the U.S. $2-billion-dollar project which would have seen an agreed investment of U.S. $200 million annually over a 10-year period.  Agreements were signed, laws were passed and land was cleared but so far, the investment has not even met the first year’s commitment.
Another notable mention relates to the two large Barbuda investment projects. The Paradise Found project spearheaded by actor Robert DeNiro and the Peace Love and Happiness project backed by John Paul DeJoria.  Both DeNiro and DeJoria have given their commitment to continuing their projects in Barbuda but according to the rumour mill, financing for the Paradise Found is yet to be finalized and both projects may be feeling the effects of the lasting impacts of Hurricane Irma in the areas of risk management for investments and increasing costs in necessities like insurance. Time will tell, but we certainly can understand if there is some concern about plunking down a combined $1.2 billion (plus) on an island that has already felt the brunt of climate change.
From private to public, the manifesto moves into the investments made and to be made by the government including the much needed St. John’s Port Modernization project and a fifth Tourism Berth at Point Wharf.  The latter has been tied to attracting the Oasis class ships for the 2018/2019 cruise tourism season. Of course, the government is keen to highlight the National Assets Management Company Limited (NAMCO) and its ownership of the West Indies Oil Company Ltd. (WIOC). One day within the next 18 months, or so the Government said, it will divest of its shares in NAMCO on the Eastern Caribbean Stock Exchange, but until that time it will continue to grow in a variety of areas including, investing further in WIOC, buying into amphibious “Hippo” tour vehicles and “the development of a $30 million project at Fort James.”  Rumours are rife about land acquisition deals regarding this last project (and the port) so we will be watching the projects keenly.
Within the public sector investment section was the only direct reference to the country’s lone track and field facility that is in need of a complete refurbishment, in the worst way.  According to the ABLP manifesto, improvement of the YASCO track will be completed with the assistance of the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), which will invest $4.8 million in this project.  This complements the recent comments of the minister of sports, E. P. ‘Chet’ Greene, but leads us to ask, what about the rest of YASCO? What about the infield? What about the drainage? What about spectator facilities?  And the list goes on. A single, short comment about the YASCO fiasco in 66 pages seems to be a bit of a snub to the track and field community and other users of the facility.
Another interesting policy and economic decision surrounds what appears to be the government’s full embrace of Air Bed and Breakfast (ABnB) accommodations, to the point where it “will sell land at concessionary rates to locals for the specific purpose of constructing and operating Air BnB accommodation”.  It is certainly a bold step considering that around the world, ABnB is a controversial topic. Some cities have clamped down on the industry citing a variety of concerns including the largely unregulated manner in which the accommodations are facilitated. Generally, hoteliers are not fans of the business model as they claim it leads to an uneven playing field and there is no way of maintaining standards in the short term rental market.  We really do not have enough information to support or criticize, but it is definitely an interesting move.
That’s it for now.  In the future, we will have to make a concerted effort to condense our comments if we are going to get through the document in time.  Until next time, please take the time to read the document and come to your own conclusions.

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