By Caribbean News Global contributor
ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Entrench in prime minister and minister for finance, corporate governance and public-private partnerships, Gaston Browne, 2022 budget statement “Setting the Stage for Economic Rejuvenation” delivered Thursday, February 3rd, 2022, prioritised a path to economic diversification, inclusive of respective ministries, and salary increases to public servants.
The government is encouraging the diversification of the economy, the first is Medicinal Cannabis.
Members will recall that a Medicinal Cannabis Authority was established in 2019 and tasked with facilitating the development and regulation of this industry. To date, the Authority has issued thirteen provisional licenses and one substantive license to eight different companies.
The licensing process involves rigorous due diligence of the companies and their principals to ensure the medicinal cannabis industry in Antigua and Barbuda is developed, as one of the most robust, sustainable and well-regulated cannabis industries in the world.
In 2022, the Authority will launch initiatives to increase participation of local entrepreneurs in this new and potentially lucrative industry. Based on the licenses that have already been issued, it is projected that the Authority will generate over $6 million in revenues in the first half of 2022.
As the medicinal cannabis industry develops over the next few years, it is expected that direct revenues to government will exceed $23 million. We have an opportunity, with the controls and regulations necessary, to produce for the world a much-needed medical component, while earning foreign exchange, creating opportunities for ownership, and increasing employment.
The Blue Economy
The second activity with real potential for Antigua and Barbuda is the Blue Economy. With the assistance of the British High Commission, we have launched the official Maritime Economy Plan, which will guide our interventions in this area.
Authoritative international agencies estimate that the worldwide ocean economy is valued at US$1.5 trillion annually providing jobs for hundreds of millions globally.
Activities that fall under the blue economy include traditional industries such as fisheries, tourism, and maritime transport, all of which currently contribute to the local economy.
Other aspects of the blue economy encompass aquaculture and mariculture, marine biotechnology and bioprospecting, offshore renewable energy, and extraction and use of marine resources.
In May of this year, we will embark on a collaborative partnership with Odyssey Marine Exploration – a US-based company which specializes in deep-sea explorations. The intention is to undertake sustainable mining of our ocean resources and minerals.
Medical and Wellness Tourism
The third area for diversification, ripe with potential, is Medical and Wellness Tourism. We already provide medical services whereby doctors and surgeons can travel to Antigua and Barbuda to perform transplant and specialized surgeries.
With the establishment of the additional health infrastructure, we will be able to provide a wide array of health and wellness services to an increasing number of persons, who are willing to travel for individualized treatment and care in a sunny, peaceful and idyllic setting.
An exciting aspect of our strategy to enhance medical tourism in Antigua and Barbuda is the establishment of stem cell treatment centres. Stem cell therapy or regenerative medicine, uses stem cells to treat varying diseases and injuries including heart disease, cancer, stroke, burns, Alzheimer’s disease, and spinal cord injuries.
The government will partner with reputable providers to provide stem cell treatments locally. Also, two facilities will be established in Antigua to manufacture stem cells. Both the treatment and manufacturing processes to be pursued will be done in accordance with internationally accepted standards and ethical practice.
Antigua and Barbuda’s medical and wellness tourism industry will offer the health traveller a menu of options, that ranges from highly specialized surgeries to cosmetic and anti-aging treatments.
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Our government recognizes the growing place of blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies and other financial technology solutions in the world of modern-day global transactions.
That is why we enacted legislation and created the enabling environment that has positioned our nation as a leader in the Caribbean. The intention is to participate in the global revolution in financial services, and to benefit from so doing. Myriad opportunities for our citizens and residents to utilize FinTech solution and applications for educational, fundraising, financial management, cash transfers, and microfinance and retail credit, emerged during the pandemic.
So, we already know that there are benefits and we will position our citizens and residents to exploit these opportunities.
Building Climate Resilience
Climate Change is a threat hanging over the entire world, but it is most perilous for small island states, such as ours.
We took a lead role as the Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and I was invited to represent both the Alliance and CARICOM at the global Summit on Climate Change, organized by US president Joe Biden.
At COP26 in Glasgow last November, we led the negotiations on compensation for loss and damage to which we are entitled, given the considerable devastation and destruction that we have continuously suffered over the last five decades. We also launched an initiative with two other small island states – Tuvalu and Palau in the Pacific and Indian Ocean – to seek a legal opinion, concerning redress in the international legal system.
Apart from our strong and sustained advocacy in global fora, we have to take action at home to protect ourselves as best we can.
These are as follows:
We will build resilience in domestic and residential buildings, primarily through access to the Sustainable Island Resource Framework (SIRF) Fund. To date, loans valued at $16 million have been issued to 192 applicants seeking to make their homes more climate-resilient.
Citizens and residents can access financing under the SIRF Fund to reinforce roofs, strengthen windows and doors, improve water storage and septic systems, and install renewable energy systems.
We will also increase resilience in roads, waterways and gutters to ensure that every extreme weather event does not become a disaster. We will build resilient clinics, hospitals, police and fire stations.
This year, my government will begin implementation of the GCF Build Project, which is a $124 million project approved by the Board of the Green Climate Fund in August 2021.
It will be implemented over the next six years, ensuring the installation of climate proofing in critical public service buildings – ministries, schools, clinics, fire stations and police stations across Antigua and Barbuda.
In the agricultural sector, new technologies will be introduced to help combat high heat, water scarcity and hurricane damage and, also, to make insurance accessible to farmers.
Funding is already being provided to churches and community centres to become more resilient and to provide hurricane and water shelters to the community moving away from the practice of using schools as hurricane shelters.
We will also intensify our efforts to secure the promised donor funding.
Priorities in 2022 for these ministries include:
- Executing the population census which was postponed due to COVID-19.
- Reforming the national procurement system for improved contract management.
- Upgrading revenue management systems and optimizing revenue collections through enhanced application of IT solutions.
- Installing non-intrusive detection systems (scanners) at the Air Cargo and Baggage Sections at the airport.
- Completing the 2022-2026 Medium Term Development Strategy.
- Implementing the Sail Clear System for advance clearance of yachts and small craft.
- Ensuring timely submission of government financials to the director of audit.
Prime minister Browne announced: “The government’s wage negotiation team will complete its work this year. The negotiations with bargaining agents for public sector employees were overtaken by the imperatives of protecting the population from the coronavirus and preserving public sector employment.” Moreover, “Once the negotiations are complete, a further increase will be paid to public servants.”
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