Prime Minister Gaston Browne has criticized the President of the Antigua and Barbuda Cruise Tourism Association over comments he made on OBSERVER AM yesterday.
During an interview on the show, Nathan Dundas expressed his belief that the Prime Minister was poorly advised regarding the recently signed Global Ports Holdings LLC Agreement.
Dundas said that as a major cruise stakeholder the association has serious concerns about what he termed the threat to the job security of direct and indirect local employees.
“We have hundreds of taxi drivers in Antigua and Barbuda; stakeholders in Heritage Quay; we have single mothers who depend on the cruise tourism business and it is really something that affects us considerably and we really believe that it wasn’t handled in the way it should have been handled,” he said.
He said news of the Global Ports agreement had caused one major cruise line to deploy its vessels and services elsewhere.
However, PM Browne was quick to respond and told OBSERVER media that Dundas had been aware of the negotiations with Global Ports during the past seven months, and should also be fully aware that Antigua has the worst service quality and visitor experience in the region, and one of the lowest cruise tourism return on capital in the region.
Based on the fiscal constraints facing the country and the poor service quality, private management and capital is required to transform our mediocre cruise product into a globally competitive one, Browne added.
“If Mr. Dundas has a better and more viable funding/investment option to develop the cruise facilities, I would have been happy to explore that option before execution of the GPH deal,” he said.
The prime minister pointed out that, as an agent for the cruise lines, Dundas would have been in a conflict of interest situation if he had been allowed to participate in the negotiations with Global Ports Holdings.
Meantime, during his earlier interview on OBSERVER AM, and in response to government’s claims that cruise lines were not making any significant contribution to the local economy, Dundas pointed out that the total cruise expenditure for Antigua and Barbuda was one of the highest in the Caribbean, which includes port charges, tours and head tax.
“Total expenditure by the cruise lines for the last year was for [British Virgin Islands] $2 million; St. Lucia was $5 million; St. Kitts and Nevis was $7 million; Martinique was $6 million; Grenada was $1.2 million; Guadeloupe – because they do homeporting with Barbados – was $10 million; St. Vincent was $3 million; and Antigua and Barbuda’s figure was $23 million,” he said
“This is what Global Port saw; they saw services,” he added.
Dundas is also of the view that resources and money were wasted over the years by both the current and previous administrations in dredging.
“We recall that Prime Minister [Browne] had to pay $4 million for the lack of dredging by the previous administration. This current administration where, in speaking to the port authority, they hired a Trinidadian company that never did major dredging in the Caribbean before,” he said.