By Orville Williams
In response to concerns about the viability of the National Asset Management Company (NAMCO), the government has insisted that progress is being made and the expected success will be apparent in a matter of time.
NAMCO was established in 2017 by the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration, as a vehicle “to pursue worthwhile projects and investments that will bring significant economic returns to our people”, according to Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
During yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing, Information Minister Melford Nicholas said that the company has since taken control of the government’s interest in the State Insurance Company – which could soon be expanded into the wider OECS region – acquired a stake in dredging company Blue Ocean Marine, and is gearing up to take control of the government’s shares in the West Indies Oil Company (WIOC).
These investments, the minister asserted, form part of NAMCO’s operational objectives which will be reached in the near future, and he urged patience from those concerned, pointing out the long-term nature of said objectives.
“[NAMCO] is certainly moving to fulfil [its] purpose. I think [that will be evident] at the end of the day when it is able to fully consolidate all of its operations to show that it has that large amount of capital under management, provided that [the investments] are performing profitably.
“And there’s every good reason to believe that the three [projects] that I’ve outlined will continue to do that and, as we bring further investments on board, that is going to be the case.
“We must have a long-term view with some of these things; this is not a ‘flash in the pan,” Nicholas asserted.
Along with the aforementioned investments, there is one more that NAMCO has under its belt that has possibly led to many of the public concerns being voiced.
Nicholas acknowledged that reality and sought to explain the reason for what some may consider very slow progress.
“What I think has caused the majority of the concern would be the fact that, back in 2016 I believe, NAMCO would have purchased the remnants of the dilapidated or the failed Sunshine Hub Car Park.
“We would have acquired it for US$6 million, which would have been at a distress price, and we have sought over the ensuing period to get the necessary engineering and evaluation to be able to resume the construction.
“We have now completed that process and [more progress would have been made], but for some funds that we would have diverted to facilitate the development of the port of St John’s,” he explained.
During his 2018 budget presentation, Prime Minister Gaston Browne revealed that NAMCO would also invest in the “development of a $30 million project at Fort James that will broaden the range of leisure and entertainment products [Antigua and Barbuda] offers as a destination”, as part of “a revitalised Fort James area”.