Editorial: Taking a glance, part 3

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 We will continue with our glance at the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party’s Manifesto, “Vision 2023 and beyond …” and pick up where we left off.  We have received criticism that we are not being critical enough of the document, but were we to do that, it would be construed as interfering and we do not want to do that.  Where we have obvious questions, we will raise them and where we see potential, we will highlight that.
Speaking of potential, the next item presented was AGRICULTURE.  The usual promises were made but we did notice that “… the People’s Republic of China will invest $8 million to help to expand our capacity to utilize smart greenhouse and open-field production methods to increase agricultural output.”  That is something that we can get behind.  We have for some time been advocating for the deployment of more technology in agriculture so this is welcomed news.   There was also an ambitious promise by the ABLP that in the first three years it would “ensure that at least 40% of our national chicken consumption is locally produced at competitive prices.”  We used the word ‘ambitious’ but it is better than if they said ‘50% in 500 days.’
Up next … ELECTRICITY.  One of our pet peeves.   The thrust of the promise is “reducing the cost to businesses and homes” however there is no mention of reviewing the current APUA interconnect policies which have removed most of the incentives for private individuals and businesses to make the investment in renewable energies like solar and wind.  Instead, the ABLP is going down the same road and talking about reducing consumption in the public sector and implementing green energy production techniques. With the government controlling production, the economic benefits that should gush to consumers may, at best, be a trickle.  This is supposed to be a vision for 2023 and beyond, so it is time to get with the times and incentivise green energy so that the people can invest and benefit.  
If there is an item that could prove transformational for the economy then it is the next one in the manifesto (even though it only ranks a single page) … marijuana, or to be more specific, “Marijuana for medical purposes.”  We chuckled a bit when we read the introduction regaling the benefits of medical marijuana before the writer transitions to the economic benefits, only to return to the medical benefits as the reason why we should venture into the industry.  We can dance around the optics of legalized ‘herb’ all we want, but when the dust settles, it is all about the money.  How can we get a bit of that global, multi-billion dollar pie?  And we really do not have a problem with that.  We already predict that the biggest problem will be the hypocrisy of the ‘developed’ nations, but if they can do it, then why can’t we?
We move on to TELECOMMUNICATIONS, which is one of our favourite topics, as you know.  The section begins with an acknowledgement that “no country can become an economic powerhouse without modern high-speed data and voice communication and internet services.” We then get the usual e-government speech and the need to “open-up the world.”  All this talk of APUA’s fibre optic cable and proposed 5G network are good, but we still have not passed a modern telecommunication act necessary to propel us into the future.   We are still living with a telecommunications bill from the 1950s!  We are spinning tops in mud if we cannot get the basics right! 
Before we get all worked up, let’s move on to the CITIZENSHIP BY INVESTMENT (CIP).  Not much to report here other than that the ABLP commits to “ensuring that the CIP continues to flourish.” An interesting choice of words because how does something continue to flourish if it is not flourishing?  There is an interesting pie chart depicting the share of each country that had CIP applications.  No surprise, China holds first place by a wide margin.  Not even close.
We must admit, the section on WHOLESALE BANKING was thought-provoking.  We are under pressure to bring our offshore tax rates in line with our local tax rates and the ABLP plans to lower the corporate tax rate to 20 percent.  We can certainly understand that move but we wonder if we lower it further, maybe we could get some companies interested in making Antigua and Barbuda their corporate headquarters.  We do not know enough about the potential market but you have to know that five percent of a multi-billion dollar number is much more than 20 percent of a multi-million dollar number.   If we are going to be bullied into a lower rate, let’s use those lemons to make lemonade. 
We are going to sign-off today with one of the most interesting proposals in the manifesto.  It is only a paragraph long, but can have huge implications.  In a section entitled TAX BREAKS AND ENHANCING PROPERTIES IN ST. JOHN’S, the ABLP proposes the introduction of “arrangements by which 25 percent of a verifiable sum of $50,000 or more, spent over a 12-month period can be claimed against payable taxes. In other words, the ABLP Government will participate financially with property owners to upgrade their buildings and, at the same time, enhance the appearance of St. John’s.”  We need to know a lot more about this plan because this could be costly and benefit only a few (that may not need taxpayers’ money).  We are big supporters of a refurbished St. John’s, as we have said many times before, but this proposal raises more questions than it answers.  First and foremost, what is the master plan for St. John’s?
That is all for now.  We will try to conclude our glance at the ABLP manifesto in the next session.  Until then, give it a read and be an informed voter. 

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