Much ado about nothing?

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The true believers have become non-believers; the faithful have lost faith. And not without cause. Seems, they have become disillusioned by the inordinate delay on the part of this administration in releasing the Economic Recovery Committee’s (ERC) report. If you recall, this ERC was launched amid much fanfare in April of this year. It was comprised of “fifteen of the smartest men and women in Antigua and Barbuda,” with the charge to chart a way forward out of our Covid meltdown. It was a huge undertaking, but with church groups, union representatives, the Chamber of Commerce, the Employers’ Federation, and the like, brainstorming on this critical national cause, Antiguans and Barbudans were hopeful. This ERC was going to lead us out of the wilderness of despair into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.

Of course, there were many among us who were not so sanguine about the ERC. For one thing, seven of its sub-committees were headed by sitting Members of Parliament on the government side, who have yet to distinguish themselves with their erudition. Indeed, schoolchildren have suggested that our Prime Minister (PM), the Honourable Gaston Browne, who named himself as the chairman of the ERC, does the thinking for most of them, and they dutifully say, “Ay!” when asked what is their pleasure. When our PM wants their opinion, he simply gives it to them. For another thing, there were some murmurings from groups that were not invited to the economic confab. For example, youth representatives were snubbed, and they were none too pleased.

Anyway, when the leader of the opposition in Parliament, the Honourable Jamale Pringle declined an invitation to be a part of the ERC, he was criticised in some circles, and our PM chided him and said that it was his Constitutional obligation to be a participant. Pringle cited the dismissive attitude of the administration to worthy suggestions from the United Progressive Party (UPP), and a very real sense, shared by many, that the ERC was nothing but a ‘pappy show,’ as some of the reasons for his non-participation. Remember, Minister Lennox Weston had declared, even before the convening of the first session of the ERC, that the ABLP administration already had a set of economic recovery plans in place. Which beggars the obvious question: Why bother to put together an ERC, if you already have economic recovery plans? The answer is simple: window-dressing. It was a cheap stunt designed to create an illusion of bipartisanship and inclusivity. Think Economic Recovery Charade (ERC).

To be sure, there was much whining and belly-aching among the gullible when MP Pringle cited disrespect on the part of those in high places as another reason for his non-participation in the farce, and the PM disingenuously declared to Pringle, “I apologise, now go do your work!” The thing is that there was no substantive work to be done. Or so it would seem. The Economic Recovery Charade met for all of ten sessions, and apart from the beleaguered Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) project in Barbuda, the genesis of which preceded the ERC, we have not heard of anything else of substance by way of economic recovery plans. As you are aware, our PM has said words to the effect that he will not yield an inch on the PLH project. He has indicated that PLH is one (the only one?) of the grand projects to lift us out of this Covid crisis. Indeed, so vested is this administration in PLH, that the PM has said that he will “fight” the Barbudans to the bitter end, and would “rather resign” than relent.

At the post-Cabinet press briefing two weeks ago, a question was posed to Information Minister Melford Nicholas as to the status of the ERC report. Mind you, that report was to have been delivered to the public over two months ago. We’d been waiting with bated breath for something encouraging. After all, with the grim economic outlook – only 50% hotel room occupancy forecast for this tourist season, and cruise ships are being dismantled and sold for scrap in Turkey, a sure sign that the industry has changed, perhaps forever, we were looking for a glimmer of hope. Remember, many of the ballyhooed construction projects are at a standstill. Actually, the only major on-going construction project in our fair city is the feverish work on the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party headquarters on Nugent Avenue. There is a forest around the Sunshine Hub car park, and the fancy hospital on Nugent Avenue appears to have been abandoned, as has the ADOMS building.

Even the Nomad Digital Residence initiative, designed to allow persons to work remotely from Antigua and Barbuda for up to two years, has not gained traction. At least, as far as we can determine. Contrast that with the Barbados Welcome Stamp visa that provides similar privileges for up to one year. While the Bajan initiative has already had more than 1,350 applications, and earned them a tidy sum, we are still dithering.  Mind you, we raised our hands and announced our own initiative a few days after the Bajans did in June/July. . .  but  . . . Sigh! What can we say?

At the aforementioned post-Cabinet press conference, MP Nicholas gravely intoned that the long-expected ERC report, all of 80 pages, would be made public in a day or two. We waited another two weeks before learning that a first draft of that report is now ready. We certainly trust that it will be worth the 80 pages and the long wait.

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