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By Carlena Knight

Prime Minister Gaston Browne is continuing to defend the government’s purchase of the Deluxe Cinema building to turn it into a creative arts centre.

The issue was raised by Barbuda MP Trevor Walker on Tuesday during a parliamentary sitting. Walker questioned why no progress had been made – and if it was even a beneficial purchase.

But PM Browne rebutted Walker’s statements explaining that the size and location of the building is “the most appropriate” for such a centre.

“At least 60 percent of the country’s population lives in St John’s. Government does not own any property with the size available for the development of a creative arts programme within St John’s; that is the most appropriate property,” Browne said.

He also sought to address why there has been no work done to the building as yet.

“Unfortunately, the creation of that facility and the various programmes would have been delayed because of the Covid situation but it is a very, very important property for us to have in public ownership and to be utilised for public purpose,” he explained.

The controversial purchase was confirmed by the Cabinet in late December 2018, with the government promising that the Ministry of Culture would take occupancy of the premises from January 1 2019.

Many members of the public, along with the main opposition, the United Progressive Party, scrutinised this move, insinuating that it was a bailout for Cabinet member Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez who was at the time a shareholder in Deluxe Cinema Ltd, which had suffered financial difficulties.

These claims were denied by the government who said Fernandez was only a minority shareholder and that talks over acquiring the building took place with Antigua Commercial Bank (ACB) and not the Fernandez family.

Browne, who was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, also underscored the importance of the development of creative arts in Antigua and Barbuda.

“We believe that our focus going forward has to be on the creative arts, to develop the creative arts so that we can nurture the talent of our people and to create an avenue for our people to enjoy the fine arts,” he said.

“That is how civilisations grow in their sophistication. So, it’s not just exclusively the issues of economics and the social aspects; we have to broaden our governance of the country and to develop the fine arts. We all know that for those who engage in the fine arts it also helps them academically,” Browne added.