By Orville Williams
Despite scrutiny from the opposition and other critics, one government official is maintaining that a new project to be constructed within the Yida development at Coconut Hall will stand to benefit the island in the long run.
Last week’s post-Cabinet report disclosed that 100 acres of the land being developed by Yida will be used to build a new medical school and a hotel – this, following a sale agreement between Yida Zhang and a group of investors, led by a “Mr Singh”.
The report further states that the purchaser has been interested to invest in Antigua for several years and the project will cost more than $100 million to complete.
That announcement was quickly followed by the criticism that tends to go hand-in-hand, with some questioning the need for yet another medical school and whether the project would be of significant benefit to the country.
Speaking on Observer AM yesterday, the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel Hurst, sought to rebuff the scrutiny of the project and talked up its potential to strengthen the Antiguan economy.
“The idea that you don’t need another medical school is just so silly that it ought not be repeated in public.
“If you have more medical schools here, you’re likely to have more students [and] their parents coming here, more airplane space as a consequence [and] more accommodation will be required for the students as well as their parents when they visit. They rent cars, they go out to dinner and so on; all these things are part of a medical school,” Hurst explained.
The Chief of Staff referenced the situation in Barbados, where there are currently “six or seven universities that offer medical training”, suggesting that countries tend to welcome these investments due to the financial benefit.
“In Antigua’s case, for example, the [American University of Antigua] is about 5% of the Antiguan economy; it’s more than agriculture. AUA – with its 600+ students – surpasses all the wealth created by agriculture [which is only 3% of the economy] in Antigua.”
Hurst could not confirm whether the medical school and the hotel would function under one ‘umbrella’, but said the developers would be creating a living space for students that would likely not be at the level of a hotel.
He added that “a lot of construction will take place within the next two years; in the meantime, they’ll begin to market their medical school and so on.”
Currently, three medical schools are operating in Antigua, in the American University of Antigua (AUA), the Metropolitan University College of Medicine and the University of Health Sciences Antigua (UHSA).