By Carlena Knight
Despite recent backlash over the establishment of another Special Economic Zone, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel Max Hurst has come to the defense of the government for this latest decision.
Last week, Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced that more investment will be streamlined into Antigua and Barbuda in the form of the Western Imperial Special Economic Zone (WISEZ).
But the question for many has been what sort of benefits this new zone will bring, as the country has yet to realise benefits from the Antigua and Barbuda Special Economic Zone (ABSEZ) under Yida Zhang.
However, Hurst revealed that Antigua and Barbuda has already begun to see benefits with the opening of the new medical school.
He further outlined a number of other expected benefits.
“It is a Special Economic Zone that is intended to attract a large number of investors, both for building residences and offshore businesses, as well as, a school, a medical university and all other kinds of entrepreneurial undertakings like financial institutions and so on. So, we anticipate that they will have a better platform in which to commence their entrepreneurial enterprise than say Mr Yida may have had because of the controls that exist in the Chinese economy at the moment,” Hurst said.
He admitted that the YIDA project has yet to reach its peak in terms of benefitting the country, but stood firm in his stance that it has contributed to the economy in some way since its establishment and will do so in the near future.
“It may not have benefitted as much as it could if there were not impediments, but clearly YIDA has benefited Antigua and Barbuda tremendously. Not only purchase the land for over US $65 million, just the interest alone over the past seven years we would have collected more than $49 million in interest and thus far he hasn’t collected a penny in profits,” Hurst explained.
“It hasn’t reached the apex. It hasn’t yet arrived at the point in which you can begin to measure the impact on the Antigua and Barbuda economy in a significant way. We will agree to that but that does not mean that in the future it won’t, and this is where we have faith, that Yida has a commitment to Antigua and Barbuda,” he added.
Hurst also responded to recent comments made by the leader of the main opposition party, Harold Lovell, who claimed that the current government has no “real economic plan” in place as to the reason why this new Special Economic Zone has been implemented.
“I get very suspicious when these things surface just before an election because it makes me believe that they are selling the country out because they are looking some kind of support, but this is bad news for Antigua and Barbuda. This is just another way in which they are showing that they have no economic plan. They do not know where they going. They do not know what they are doing so what they do is allow anybody to come here and get access to all this land; 500-plus acres of land,” Lovell said.
But Hurst fired back by accusing Lovell and the United Progressive Party (UPP) of playing politics.
“They try to assail every project. Find an error, a mistake, something wrong with everything that is done by the incumbent government, in an effort to undermine faith in that government. They trying their very best to derail it because they think that if we create lots of jobs and economic opportunities, they stand a better chance at being elected than if the misery in Antigua and Barbuda continues to increase. So, they want the misery to increase and so they will say anything to increase their chances of getting elected,” Hurst stated.
This Special Economic Zone will be facilitated by CEO of Western Imperial Capital Limited, Vijender Singh, and managed by Charit Mathur, Director of Western Capital Limited.
Mathur told the media that this development is a separate undertaking from the YIDA SEZ, as an MoU was signed by Yida Zhang and Virjender Singh to establish the development about six months ago.
Approved operations include an International Educational Hub, International Healthcare Zone, International Free Trade Zone for trading, manufacturing and wholesale, International Financial Services District, International Crypto Services Zone, International Entertainment and Tourism Hub and a residential area.
Like the ABSEZ, the WISEZ will be free of all taxes levied in the country. The shareholders of corporations, the residents and foreign employees in the WISEZ will also be exempt from all corporate and personal taxes.
Other waivers include all import and export duties and taxes for commercial activities and for personal purposes, waiver of value added taxes, sales taxes and capital gain taxes, as well as waiver of all sales and operations and development taxes and duties.
In addition to the previously stated benefits, there is no restriction on commercial activities for any companies; entities approved to operate in the Zone do not require project proposals, working administrative examinations or approvals to commence development.
The Zone Management Committee will grant permission to hire a foreign workforce. There are no visa restrictions which enable work permit applications of up to five years to be approved within 14 days for employees in the Zone.
This will be facilitated by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda where the employment of foreigners or non-residents including supervisory, technical and advisory positions, in any field of business within the Zone, and shall facilitate the fast- track processing of work permit applications of up to five years for employees within the zone within 14 days.
WISEZ is considered to be a Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) project and is authorised to act as a marketing representative for the CIP product. Any investments and acquisitions of lands, or shares or other real estates, regardless of form and category, in the Zone — ie, for every US $200K (0.2 million invested) shall qualify as ClP product.
The applications into the Zone for families of four will be processed (including processing fees and due diligence fees) at US $45,000 for the entire family and transfer taxes and stamp duties shall be waived.
Any commercial and industrial entity is allowed to sell products, services and machines to the domestic market. Sales to the domestic market from the Zone will be considered as imports into Antigua and Barbuda. As a result, the Zone shall be equipped with its own import and export customs, according to the document.
The lands designated to WISEZ include 245 acres in Jennings and 410 acres in Five Islands which make up a total of 549 acres in Antigua and Barbuda.
Hurst said the acreage in question were not owned by the government, but belonged to private land owners.