Senate passes amendment to Special Economic Zone Bill

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By Carlena Knight

[email protected]

The Special Economic Zone Amendment Bill of 2021 was passed in the Senate yesterday.

The bill reduces the current acreage of land required to qualify an area as a special economic zone.

Originally, that land specification was 1,235 acres but it has now been changed so that applicants can only receive up to a capacity of 500 acres.

The bill was met with support from both sides of the divide, however, Opposition Senator Shawn Nicholas highlighted that other areas of the Special Economic Zone Act of 2015 need to be addressed to ensure that there will not be any reoccurrences of the mistakes that had been made with the YIDA group.

“We cannot talk and say and pretend that there is no YIDA; there is YIDA so there has to be a reference point. We gave YIDA over 1,200 acres, they promised two billion dollars in 10 years, and seven years later, where are we?” she asked.

“It did not work, so we are now saying ‘how can we effect change to make sure that mistake is not made again going forward?’ We hope we will be back in this house for further amendments because the bill of 2015, there’s some other things that we would want to see because as it is now we are yet to see how those economic benefits are coming back into the economy.

“So, there are things for example that we are talking about, things like the tax concessions, the workers in these special economic zones — are they contributing to our statutory bodies in terms of Medical Benefits, Social Security and Education Levy — are they paying work payments?’ These are some of the things that we need to look at,” she added.

Her sentiments were echoed by her colleagues and fellow Opposition Senators, Damani Tabor and Richard Lewis.

Tabor questioned whether there will be additional parameters put in place for investors while Richards, the Minority Leader, spoke on the importance of local investors being able to benefit greatly as well.

Meanwhile, Senator Osbert Frederick called on the Opposition senators to stop trying to deter the minds of the people of Antigua and Barbuda and focus on the amendment in hand as it will benefit the country on a whole.

“All we are here to do today is to make a slight amendment to a bill, simply changing a figure from 1235.525 acres or five square kilometers to 500 acres; a simple amendment. The YIDA thing came up and we anticipated it. The framers of this law or this bill originally when they gave that 1235 acres, were looking for macro-industries.

“Let us accept the fact that maybe the model didn’t work and so we are reducing it to 500 acres to attract smaller industries to give the same people that you are talking about who want a piece of the pie a chance,” Frederick said.

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