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ISSUE NO.51 March 2001

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Government Policies outlined in Throne Speech

Government's policies on several key issues were outlined on Monday, 19th March by Governor-General, Sir James B. Carlisle, as Parliament was reopened with the traditional Throne Speech.

Highlights of the policy statement are:

Fiscal Measures
Government plans to tighten its fiscal stance in order to invest in public sector programmes in education, health and infrastructure, and to reduce the rate of debt accumulation.

Accountability
Government intends to table fully-audited accounts in Parliament for the years that are now outstanding. To achieve this objective, technical assistance has been sought from Commonwealth Governments, and a team of accountants will be arriving in the country shortly to finalise the accounts for transmission to the Office of the Director of Audit. This team will set up a system and train personnel in the Accountant-General's office to ensure that, in future, accounts are completed and tabled in Parliament within the prescribed time.

Electoral Reform
Government intends to introduce a Bill dealing with Electoral Reform. This Bill will take full account of the recommendations of the Commonwealth Team that observed the last general elections as well as submissions made by several persons and organisations in the society.

The Prime Minister has provided the Leader of the Opposition with a copy of the draft Bill so that the two political parties represented in the House might reconcile any contentious differences before it is presented to the House.

Appeals to the Privy Council
Appeals to the Privy Council and the creation of the Caribbean Court of Justice have been widely debated in the region. In keeping with our Constitution, Government will put the matter before the people in a referendum at the appropriate time. Government will not advocate one side of the argument or the other; instead it intends to be guided by the wish of the majority of the people in a free vote.

Barbuda
Government has fully accepted the recommendations of a Commonwealth Review Team and a Joint Consultative Committee has been established comprising representatives of the Central Government and the Barbuda Council. The early meetings of the Committee have been very successful and Government looks forward to productive and harmonious work from the Committee in the interest of Barbuda and the nation.

Land for sale
In order to increase its contribution to our economy and to ensure that the constructed buildings have a continuing beneficial effect on the economy, Government proposes to sell 200 acres of land in selected areas of the country for development purposes.

Lands will be offered to nationals of Antigua and Barbuda both at home and abroad, and to foreign investors, for the construction of homes, town houses and apartments either for their own use or for sale to high and middle income persons abroad who wish to establish either retirement or holiday homes on Antigua.

The monies realised from the sale of the land will provide funds to the Government to continue its capital investment programme in health, education and infrastructure as well as employment generating projects.

Offshore Financial Services and Internet Gaming
Notwithstanding the threats posed to these sectors by the member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) under its "harmful tax competition" scheme, Government remains committed to their continued growth and development.

Over the next few months, it is likely that my Government will introduce legislation to convert the entities in these sectors to local companies doing international business, in order to satisfy OECD requirements that they should not be "ring-fenced" from the local economy. Legislation may have to be introduced giving these entities the right to do business domestically as well as internationally, and, in this context, they may be required to contribute to the local economy beyond the licence fees that they now pay.

Measures that my Government may introduce in respect of these two sectors will ensure that they satisfy OECD requirements and are allowed to continue to function without, either they or the country, attracting sanctions from the OECD.

Anti Money Laundering
Government will keep its anti-money laundering legislation and enforcement machinery under constant review. In collaboration with the Financial Action Task Force and the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, we will introduce such measures as may be necessary to continue to keep our jurisdiction free of money laundering and other financial crime.

Furthermore, my Government has used funds, forfeited under our anti-money laundering legislation to build and fully equip a modern facility at Camp Blizzard to house the Financial Investigation Unit and the Drugs Intelligence Unit. The facility will be completed by May.

It is widely known that Antigua and Barbuda passed the 25 criteria set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and our nation was judged to be fully cooperative in the fight against money laundering.

Regulation of Internet Gaming
Both the UK and US Governments have expressed concern about the need to ensure that the internet gaming sector is covered by anti-money laundering legislation and is adequately supervised. My Government considers such legislation and supervision to be as much in the interest of the gaming sector as it for the country itself. Consequently, legislation will be introduced during this year to cover this matter fully.

Telecommunications
Government intends to enter negotiations with Cable & Wireless with a view to reducing their charges for international communications. If these negotiations fail, Government will allow other companies, including the Antigua Public Utilities Authority, to bid to compete against them. This matter of reasonable charges for the conduct of international business is of great urgency, and it will be tackled by the Government as a priority.

Government will enunciate a comprehensive Telecommunications policy to govern the orderly development of the telecommunications industry in a liberalized market. This will include the granting of licences to qualified entities for the setting up of radio and television Stations, and machinery for the establishment of standards and regulation of the industry.

Health Care
Government remains committed to delivering high quality health care for all. It is expected that the New Mount St John's Hospital with approximately 187 beds will be completed late this year. The primary purpose of the new Hospital is the provision of medical attention in a modern, high-quality institution for all people regardless of their economic circumstances.

In addition to the new hospital five clinics at All Saints, Clare Hall, Pigotts, Browne's Avenue and Johnson's Point will be fully staffed and operational by May this year. These clinics will take health care into the communities as a facility for all, particularly for the old and infirm, and mothers with young children.

Education and Training
Government continues to attach the highest importance to education and training. The very large number of computer-literate young people, who are able to work for good wages in the information and technology companies in our country as well as in offices, banks and other commercial organisations that utilise computers, is testimony to Government's success in this area.

The increasingly large number of well-educated persons in our society, including those with a University education, is also ample testimony to the success of Government's programme to develop the human resources of our nation through scholarships.

Government intends to continue its programme of upgrading schools and maintaining them at levels conducive to study. It will also continue to award scholarships for higher education and to train teachers to provide the best possible education for our children.

Government's Teacher training programme has resulted in ninety teachers pursuing full-time training locally and overseas. At the end of their training, the quality of teachers in the school system throughout the country should be better than many other countries of the Caribbean, giving our students a competitive edge.

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Prime Minister introduces streamlined Budget

Prime Minister Lester Bird delivered his maiden Budget Statement as Minister of Finance on Wednesday, 21st March to a packed House of Representatives.

The Budget provided for recurrent revenue for the year 2001 of EC$503.1 million and expenditure of EC$511.8 million leaving a deficit of EC$8.7 million which the Prime Minister said would be financed through the sale of 200 acres of land. He said the lands would be vested in a Government agency that will pay the proceeds into the Consolidated fund. It is expected that the land will be sold at EC$5.50 per square foot to interested nationals at home and abroad in the first instance.

Reduction in payroll expenses
Mr Bird announced measures designed to reduce Government's payroll expenditures by EC$23 million during the financial year. Among the measures are:

  • no further employment apart from exceptional circumstances;
  • the amalgamation and downsizing of government work programmes;
  • retrenchment of non-established workers.

New Revenue measures
The Prime Minister also revealed new revenue measures which included:

  • An increase in the rate of customs service tax from 5% to 10% on all goods except staple food items, medicines and petroleum products.
  • A throughput levy of EC 10 cents to be paid by West Indies Oil Company on each imperial gallon of gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and liquid petroleum gas.
  • A 3% tax on the gross profit of offshore banks, trusts and insurance companies.
  • A 3% tax on the gross handle of Internet gaming, sports books and virtual casinos.
  • A 2% tax on outgoing transactions by Western Union.
  • An increase in postal stamp rates.

Strengthened Tax Collection
Mr Bird stated that the Government's tax collection machinery is being strengthened through computerisation, training and technical assistance from friendly governments. He said that the Government of India has provided three tax experts who will shortly be joined by others.

Priority for Spending
Identifying the priority areas for Government spending, the Prime Minister said that a major allocation of the total expenditure will be devoted to education and training. "The intellectual stock of our people is our greatest resource in competing in the international community", Mr Bird said. He continued, "It is vital that we continue to invest in their development".

Health, infrastructure development, public safety and tourism marketing are other areas that attract large allocations from the expenditure programme.

Standard of living high
In his introduction to the Budget statement, Prime Minister Bird pointed out that Antigua and Barbuda enjoys a high standard of living. He quoted the 2001 report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which said, "Antigua and Barbuda has a standard of living higher than the other independent members countries of the Eastern Caribbean. Its per capita income in 2000 is estimated to be US$9,300 nearly twice the Eastern Caribbean average."

Mr Bird also pointed out that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has listed Antigua and Barbuda at 38th of 173 nations on the Human Development Index. He said, "We share this place with France, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands, our region's former colonial masters and the architects of our colonialism and exploitation". And, he asked, "Is this not cause for satisfaction? Is it not cause for pride? Is it not cause for us to resolve to do what is necessary to remain our own masters, and not to slip into the clutches of economic dependence and quasi colonial exploitation"?

Cost of development also high
The Prime Minister emphasised that the cost of the development that Antiguans and Barbudans have enjoyed has also been high. He said Government had to borrow excessively to repair the country five times after five hurricanes in as many years. In addition, the Government has employed a large number of persons to keep the rate of unemployment down and to maintain social stability including a low crime rate. Despite these costs, the Government has also continued a high investment programme in health and education. At the same time, there has been massive tax avoidance and tax evasion by many persons in the private sector. The result has been a two-tier economic society - a rich private sector and a poor government. The Government has spent heavily to provide the social and physical infrastructure from which the private sector has grown increasingly wealthy, but the same private sector has failed to play its part by paying its taxes, investing in the expansion of the economy and providing increased employment.

"It is against this background that the Budget must be viewed", the Prime Minister said. "We have arrived at the point where if we are to continue to determine our own destiny, we have to rely upon ourselves. As a people we have to be prepared to make sacrifices, work harder, be more disciplined and contribute meaningfully to the cost of the development we have so obviously enjoyed".

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Sanders speaks to Chamber of Commerce

Antigua and Barbuda Chief Foreign Affairs Representative and High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Sir Ronald Sanders, was the guest Speaker at a luncheon seminar hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday, 27th March.

The Chamber invited Sir Ronald to speak on the subject of the OECD's "harmful tax competition" scheme and its implications for Antigua and Barbuda.

Sir Ronald has been Antigua and Barbuda's leading representative on this issue and he is a member of a Joint Working Group comprising OECD and non-OECD countries and organisations that has been trying to negotiate a solution to the matter that threatens the economic livelihood of 41 jurisdictions targeted by the OECD.

The Chamber's event attracted a record 165 persons including leading lawyers and the captains of industry and commerce in the country.

In a speech, described by Everette Christian, the Chamber's Vice President, as "important, significant and informative", Sir Ronald laid out the background to the OECD scheme and the efforts that have been made by non-OECD countries to resolve the issue in a mutually beneficial way.

He explained that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD) is not an international or ganisation and has no legal authority to speak for the world or to establish rules, norms or standards for any State except its own members. Nonetheless, it is now dictating terms on what, in short, could be described as cross border tax matters.

Sir Ronald said, "If targeted jurisdictions do not submit to the OECD's terms, damaging sanctions will be imposed against them". He described the scheme as "a form of neocolonialism in which the OECD is attempting to dictate the tax economic systems and structures of other nations for the benefit of the OECD's member states".

The High Commissioner was at pains to point out that the OECD scheme is not about money laundering and financial crime. He explained that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), along with the UN Commission on money laundering, are the entities concerned with money laundering.

Sir Ronald emphasised that Antigua and Barbuda was judged by the FATF against 25 stringent criteria and found to be fully cooperative in the fight against money laundering. He said that the OECD does not want competition in taxation because their countries are the highest taxed in the world.

"Their objection derives from the fact that, in a globalized world, the mobility of financial and other services, such as shipping and Internet gambling, provided an opportunity for States like ours and posed a threat to them. Our low tax or no tax regimes coupled with our literacy in English and good telecommunications gave us an advantage with which many OECD countries could not compete", Sir Ronald said.

The Antigua and Barbuda representative added, "Instead of trying to vie with us by lowering their own taxes, the OECD responded by demanding that we change our tax systems and structures or face damaging sanctions."

"These demands", he said, "are included in a Memorandum of Understanding that the OECD has drafted and require all the targeted jurisdictions to sign and implement. If the jurisdictions were to sign the Memorandum of Understanding, it would be a virtual unconditional surrender to the OECD, especially as none of them would see the implementation plan until after they have signed."

Sir Ronald pointed out that there are several OECD countries that are in breach of the "harmful tax competition" scheme, and yet the OECD has not documented them, nor required the countries to commit to change them.

The obvious OECD countries whose practices breach the "harmful tax" requirements are Switzerland and Luxembourg. But, they are not the only ones.

In its June 2000 report, the OECD lists eleven sanctions that its member states intend to impose on the targeted jurisdictions unless they submit to OECD demands by 31st July this year. In addition, the report states quite clearly that OECD governments should determine whether to direct non-essential economic assistance to the jurisdictions and explore what other defensive measures can be taken, including non-tax measures.

Sir Ronald revealed that discussions of a Joint Working Group of non-OECD and OECD countries in the Joint Working Group have reached a stalemate.

"The non-OECD members offered to sign a commitment letter to the OECD agreeing to an implementation plan by 31st July next year with completion by the end of 2005, provided we are admitted as equal members of the OECD's Global Tax Forum where we would contribute to a mutually acceptable definition of the three of principles of non-discrimination, transparency and effective exchange of information. We also wanted the right to be part of a team to monitor the implementation plans in all countries, including OECD States. The OECD members refused to allow us to participate in the definition of the three principles and they rejected our participation in monitoring all jurisdictions, including theirs, for compliance, " he said.

High Commissioner Sanders told the attentive Chamber of Commerce audience, "We responded through a letter signed by Prime Minister Arthur as Co-Chair of the Group. It stresses our willingness to participate in further meetings of the Group to settle the matters of equality of treatment and the right to be involved in monitoring compliance of all countries including member states of the OECD. We will now await their further response".

Speaking directly to the national audience, Sir Ronald said that while the government will continue to work with the international community on the issue, "here at home, we should draw on the creative and intellectual strength of all to devise ways in which we can ensure that we overcome the challenge of the OECD. This why I have met twice with the Leader of the Opposition and members of his party to brief them. This is not a partisan issue; it is a national one and it requires a national response. The Chamber of Commerce and all its members have a constructive role to play in this process, and I urge you to play it to the fullest".

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Senator Michael says Finance Ministers meeting very beneficial

Antigua and Barbuda's junior Finance Minister, Senator Asot Michael, has said that a meeting of Finance Ministers of the Western Hemisphere held in Toronto on the 3 and 4 April was "very beneficial".

Senator Michael said that the most important aspect of the Conference was the opportunity to talk directly with the new US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil.

Mr Michael disclosed that both Barbados' Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, and Antigua and Barbuda's Senior Ambassador, Sir Ronald Sanders, presented strong arguments countering a scheme by the OECD claiming harmful tax competition from small states.

The Minister said that the new US Treasury Secretary listened carefully leaving Caribbean jurisdictions some hope that the new US Government may not support the OECD scheme as fully as the last administration. Senator Michael also revealed that he and Sir Ronald had the opportunity to talk to Mr O'Neil in the margins of the meeting about the issue. He said they were both impressed by the thoughtful way in which the US Treasury Secretary received their comments.

The Finance Ministers of the Western Hemisphere gathered in Toronto in part to prepare for the Summit of the Americas to be held in Quebec City later this month.

Commenting on this aspect of the meeting, Senator Michael said that his delegation to the meeting stressed the importance of financial resources for the implementation of the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement.

Mr Michael said, "countries in the Caribbean will find it difficult to make the adjustments to their revenue-raising systems unless machinery is put in place to compensate them for the loss of revenue from lower tariffs and duties."

The Minister said, "My delegation made the point that while a Free Trade area will benefit all the countries of the Americas, the larger countries will benefit first with some dislocation in the smaller ones. In this connection, compensatory machinery must be put in place."

Mr Michael said he felt that both Ministers from the larger countries as well as the financial Institutions, such as the InterAmerican Development Bank and the World Bank, were alert to the point that unless "aspirations were backed by resources, dreams would fail."

The Antigua and Barbuda delegation, led by Senator Michael, included Senior Ambassador with Ministerial Rank, Sir Ronald Sanders, and Financial Secretary, Alphonse Derrick.

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Caribbean prepares for Americas Summit

Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) Government leaders go to this month's Summit of the Americas in Canada with a plan of action which they hope will be funded by international financial institutions.

Finance Ministers from the Caribbean and other Western Hemisphere states, set the agenda for the April 20 to 22 summit during a preparatory meeting which ended in Toronto on Wednesday 4 April.

Antigua and Barbuda's point man on financial services, Sir Ronald Sanders, who attended that meeting, told CANA the ministers looked at money laundering, regulation and supervision of the financial sector, and the promotion of integration in the region, as well as the mechanisms by which that can be achieved.

Sir Ronald said all these issues are tied into a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), with which the coming summit will deal. "... I think finance ministers recognise that it's going to be very important for the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to put in place mechanisms by which the decisions made at Quebec can attract funding to ensure their implementation", the Antigua financial services spokesman added. He said it is not certain that those funding mechanisms are in place at the moment.

Sir Ronald indicated that the preparatory meeting has put the leaders in a much better position to get closer to concluding a Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. "...We've had some very good discussions on what has to happen if the Free Trade Area of the Americas is to become a reality, the kinds of changes it will require us to make, and the ways in which countries will have to co-operate to facilitate the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas", he added. He noted that particular emphasis was placed on the smaller countries, such as those in the Caribbean, which Sir Ronald said will need to make much greater changes than the larger states.

"In the case of the Bahamas, for instance, they rely on Government revenues on importation of items to the tune of 50 per cent of their budget. If they are going to lose that money because they have to lower tariffs or get rid of duties, they've got to find some other way of replacing that...", he said.

Sir Ronald said there will have to be some kind of compensatory mechanism to facilitate the integration of small countries to a large free trade area with countries like the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Antigua and Barbuda representative indicated that when the Caribbean Heads of Government sit down to talk, they will also be seeking assistance in strengthening their financial systems and trade within a global market. The contentious issue of harmful taxation competition is also expected to come up at the Quebec Summit.

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Prime Minister acts decisively on Audit Report on Medical Benefits Scheme

Prime Minister Lester Bird has acted decisively on the Forensic Audit Report on the Medical Benefits Scheme.

Mr Bird revealed on 30th March that he has received an Interim Report on the Scheme and has sent it directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Prime Minister said that the Interim Report, from Alan Joseph who was commissioned by the Cabinet to conduct the Forensic Audit, "indicates that there is cause for a examination of the issue by the Director of Public Prosecutions."

The Prime Minister had publicly indicated that it would be irresponsible to take any action on allegations of wrong doing at the Medical Benefits Scheme unless there was a prima facie case of impropriety. On this basis, Mr Bird had refused to be pushed into establishing a Commission of Inquiry which was being demanded by the opposition, United Progressive Party.

Prime Minister Bird said, "There is no need to waste time and money on a Commission of Inquiry that would have to send its findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions anyway. Therefore, I am sending the report directly to the DPP for appropriate action."

The Prime Minister added, "This is no longer a matter for politics; the legal system will deal with it."

Mr Bird also disclosed that, based on the findings of the Forensic Audit, he is writing to Health Minister John E St Luce instructing that three senior members of the management staff at the Scheme be suspended from duty pending examination of the issue by the Director of Public Prosecutions. He has also instructed that the present Board of Directors of the Scheme be dissolved and a new Board appointed.

 

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BROADCAST STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE LESTER B. BIRD PRIME MINISTER

On Monday 2nd April, 2001 the Prime Minister, Lester Bird, made the following statement:

As you are aware on Friday 30th March, I sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) an Interim Report that I received of a forensic audit of the Medical Benefits Scheme.

Since then, three basic questions have been raised.

These questions warrant attention.

The first question is why did I send the interim report to the Director of Public Prosecutions instead of to the Police or to a Commission of Inquiry?

The reason is simply because both a Commission of inquiry and the Police would ultimately have had to send their findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his examination and institution of any legal proceedings that might be warranted.

A Commission of Inquiry has no power of prosecution. If such a Commission were to be established, it would simply listen to evidence from interested parties and write a report with recommendations.

Should any of the recommendations require prosecution, the Commission would have to refer the matter to the DPP. A Commission of Inquiry does not itself have any authority to institute criminal proceedings.

Therefore, by sending the interim report directly to the DPP, this lengthy and costly process has been avoided.

I should emphasize that there is no magic about a Commission of Inquiry.

No Commission of Inquiry has any power to do anything more than to inquire into a matter. At the end of its inquiry, should a Commission wish any legal proceedings to be instituted, it would ultimately have to refer the matter to the DPP.

A Commission of Inquiry has less power and authority than the laws of the state and the judicial process. By placing the matter before the DPP, the full force of the law has been invoked. The same arguments apply to the Police who would also have to refer findings of any investigation to the DPP.

Now that the matter is in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions, any member of the public, including those persons who have made allegations of impropriety, can take their evidence to him for action.

In other words, the Leader of the Opposition, and others who have made claims against Ministers and Officers of the Medical Benefits Scheme, can submit their evidence to the DPP who is bound to take full account of such evidence in any proceedings he deems to be appropriate.

No one is prohibited in any way from submitting such evidence.

I should also stress that the DPP has the authority to call upon the Police to assist him fully in all aspects of his examination of the matter.

The second question that arises is: Why did I instruct the Minister of Health to dissolve the present Board of Directors and to suspend three senior officers from duty pending the outcome of the DPP's examination of the matter?

Again, the answer is quite simple. The content of the interim report is such that no responsible person could do other wise. Indeed, had I not taken the action that I have, I would have been justifiably criticized.

I am releasing the interim report to the media, and I am also sending copies of it today to the Leader of the Opposition, the Christian Council and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

It will be seen that the forensic audit says the following: "The Chief Parmacist admitted that he independently selected vendors for the procurement of pharmaceuticals. Some vendors were selected even when the prices were 400% of the best available prices. Based on the information gathered, it is apparent that the system of procurement used by the Chief Pharmacist has caused the Scheme to suffer considerable financial loss and moreover the absence of competitive bidding and the lack of other rational explanation lead us to conclude that the circumstances are indicative of impropriety in the procurement of pharmaceutical products".

The interim report also says the following: "The audit also uncovered highly questionable activities where the Accountant and the Superintendent, without the approval of the Board of Directors, engaged a senior member of the external audit firm in his private capacity to find ways to account for "significant differences between the ending inventory per books and the balance per physical count". Payment for this exercise was made to a non-existing company while cheques were secured and processed by the senior auditor. This cost the Scheme over three hundred thousand dollars".

Another section of the report states: "With regard to the procurement of administrative supplies and equipment our audit revealed that approximately $1.4 million were procured by the Superintendent between 1994 and 2000 through Tropical World, a business owned and operated by the Superintendent. We consider the activity of the Superintendent a conflict of interest and a high probability of violation of Civil Service regulations". I am sure that you will agree that this was information that required immediate action. Taking these findings into account, the officers involved could not reasonably be left in their posts.

With regard to the dissolution of the Board of Directors, the audit report contains the following statement: "Our audit revealed that the Board of Directors failed to effectively exercise the responsibility assigned to them by the Cabinet Ministers when appointed to serve as directors of the Antigua and Barbuda Medical Benefits Scheme. As directors, they presided with great indifference bordering on reckless disregard for the activities at the Medical Benefits Scheme". Again, given the strength of such a statement by the Auditors, I am sure you will agree that the Board of Directors could not reasonably be left in place.

The third question that has been raised is the allegations made against Ministers of the Government.

Let me say that so far I have received only an interim report of the Audit. The Auditors have indicated that I will not receive a final report until mid-April. However, in the interim report, there has been no suggestion by the Auditors of any impropriety by Ministers.

The auditors are professional people who have a practice in the United States. A condition of their license to operate is that they reveal impropriety or risk the loss of their professional license if not prosecution. The auditors have no reason whatsoever to place their professional integrity and livelihood at risk to protect anyone. My Ministers have always stated that the allegations made against them are false and baseless. I have always accepted the word of my Ministers and I continue to do so. Until and unless there is any basis for doing otherwise, they retain my full confidence.

I would also like to stress that any person, who has evidence of any impropriety, has the right and the obligation to submit such evidence to the DPP for his action. Failure to produce such evidence indicates that it does not exist and that the allegations made against Ministers are nothing short of a political campaign to smear their reputations and destabilize the Government.

Fellow Citizens, the work of the Auditors on the Medical Benefits Scheme has pointed to several unacceptable practices. In the circumstances, I believe that similar audits should be conducted of the Social Security Scheme and the State Insurance Corporation to ensure that only best practices are followed in these two institutions.

Consequently, I propose to recommend that they be similarly audited as soon as possible.

Finally, I repeat what I said last Friday: As I have done with the interim report, I propose to send the final report on the Medical Benefits Scheme to the DPP. I will also provide copies to the Leader of the Opposition, the Christian Council and the Chamber of Commerce.

This matter is now one that should be determined by our Courts in full accordance with the laws of our land. By sending it to the Director of Public Prosecutions, we are ensuring that the full weight of the law and our juridical process is enforced.

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New Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See presents credentials

His Excellency the Most Reverend Emil Paul Tscherrig, the new Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See, accredited to Antigua and Barbuda, presented his credentials on 27th March to the Governor General Sir James Carlisle and paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Lester Bird. Through Ambassador Tscherrig, the Prime Minister urged the Pope to use the moral authority to speak out on behalf of small states on such issues as Global Warming, Reform of the WTO and OECD Harmful Tax Competition.

Antigua and Barbuda established diplomatic relations with the Holy See on December 15, 1986. His Excellency the Most Reverend Emil Paul Tscherrig replaces His Excellency the Most Reverend Eugenio Sbarbaro, and brings much experience to his new tour of duty, having served in the Apostolic Nunciature in Uganda, Korea, Bangladesh and finally in the Secretariat of State (Vatican City). In addition to being Vatican Ambassador, the Most Reverend Emil Paul Tscherrig is also the Apostolic delegate, the Pope's representative to the Catholic Church in various countries.

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The Barbuda Peoples' Movement (BPM) wins Local Government elections

The Barbuda Peoples' Movement (BPM) has won all five seats in Local Government Elections held on Friday 23rd March.

The electorate had to choose between the incumbent BPM and the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (A&BLP).

The results are as follows:

Wendell Nicholas (BPM) 435 votes
Tyrone Beazer (BPM) 432 votes
Randolph Beazer (BPM) 430 votes
Fabian Jones (BPM) 406 votes
Hartford John (BPM) 398 votes

George Burton (A&BLP) 233 votes
Hesketh Daniel (A&BLP) 216 votes
John Thomas (A&BLP) 210 votes
David Shaw (A&BLP) 199 votes
Irvin Webber (A&BLP) 187 votes

There were 1060 registered voters of which 645 voted.

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Barbuda gets increased overdraft facility

The Barbuda Council will now have more money at its disposal. This follows a decision of the second meeting of the Joint Consultative Committee.

The JCC, which is a working committee recommended by the Commonwealth Observer Team, comprises four members of the Barbuda Council and a similar number from the central Government.

The meeting, at which Prime Minister Lester Bird was present, looked at the question of the financial recommendations from the Commonwealth Report, in relation to the government's financial advances to the Barbuda Council.

"We agreed to increase the overdraft from $300,000 to $500,000," Prime Minister Bird said.

The one-day meeting also addressed the practical implications of the question of transfer of utilities to the Barbuda Council, which was recommended by the Commonwealth Report.

Other matters were sent to a sub-committee, including the suggested formula for Government to pay the Council for public works.

Chairman of the Barbuda Council, Arthur Nibbs, is pleased with the increase of the bank overdraft. "I feel that would give the Council some backup". The meeting, he said, actually adjourned without any full-fledged discussions. However, the next meeting will look at specific issues like Immigration and Customs in Barbuda.

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Police successful in enforcing seat belt laws

The police are reporting a successful start in enforcing the use of seat belts in Antigua and Barbuda.

Officers from the Traffic Department were out in full force yesterday morning, checking for persons in violation of the seat belt laws and other traffic offences.

Superintendent James Hill of the Traffic Department, says a few persons were caught not wearing their seat belts and were warned. He also said the officers observed that a number of children under the age of ten were also seen travelling in the front seat of vehicles and is advising drivers to desist from this practice.

The police will be charging persons caught not wearing their seat belts or those who are driving with children in the front of their vehicles. They are therefore appealing to the driving public that now is the time to become more aware of the SEAT BELT LAWS in Antigua and Barbuda.

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Prime Minister Bird congratulates new St Vincent Prime Minister

Antigua and Barbuda's Prime Minister, Lester Bird, sent a letter of congratulations to the new Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, on his Unity Labour Party (ULP) victory at the polls, in that country's General Election held on the 28 March.

The letter which was sent via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reads:

I take this opportunity, on behalf of the Government and people of Antigua and Barbuda, to offer you congratulations on the resounding victory of your Unity Labour Party (ULP) in yesterday's general election in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I also congratulate you on your appointment as Prime Minister.

You have received a strong mandate from the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to manage their affairs and, as your party assumes the responsibilities of Government, I offer you the friendship and full support of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. Please accept, Prime Minister, my best wishes for a successful term of office.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda have always enjoyed a close relationship, and I hope that these bilateral ties can be strengthened during your tenure. I look forward to working with you in our regional councils of CARICOM and OECS as we face together the development challenges of our region."

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Canadian battleship visits

The Canadian Battleship, HMCS Iroquois visited Antigua and Barbuda from 22 - 26 March.

The ship, a Destroyer in the Canadian Navy, is Canada's Task Groups Flagship and is under the Command of Captain Cal Mofford.

The HMCS Iroquois, which has 30 officers and a crew of 230, is currently in the Caribbean for combat readiness operations with a multinational task force that includes ships from Belgium, Canada, Germany and the United States.

 

Captain Mofford paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister, Lester B. Bird on Friday 23rd March. He also held discussions with Colonel Trevor Thomas, Head of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF).

The Canadian Navy Brass also reviewed regional security issues and Canadian military assistance to the ABDF and to the Regional Security System. Canadian assistance includes information technology training and the upgrading of the information technology training facilities installed by Canada at Camp Blizzard in 1998.

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2001 Carnival Queen contestants named

Six young ladies have been named to take part in this year's Carnival queen show.

They are Tamisha Joseph, Nicole Thomas, Debra Allen, Ishina Michael, Wendy Thomas and Teshena Marshall.

The show takes place on August 1st at Carnival city.

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34th Annual Antigua Sailing Week

Excerpted from the Antigua Hotels & Tourist
Association's Newsletter

Sailing Week is now in its 34th year of existence. An increasing number of yachts and boats from all over the world choose the ideal Antiguan waters every April to renew old rivalries and strike up new ones, as they make their bid for trophies and prizes.

To date, approximately 100 boats and boat companies have registered interest in competing in Sailing Week 2001, the top regatta of the Caribbean and numbered in the top 5 in the world. The Antigua Sailing Week will be held from April 29 to May 5, 2001.

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Tourism campaign takes a taxi

Promotion of Antigua and Barbuda's tourism product has been given a new twist in London.

The positive attributes of the twin island state are now being shown off all over Britain's capital city in a "Taxi campaign."

Two London taxicabs have been specially painted to portray scenes of beaches, boating and a woman sun bathing with the slogan "wouldn't you prefer to be here?"

Both taxicabs operate all over London.

This is the first phase of a special tourism drive being undertaken by the High Commission in London in an effort to raise the profile of Antigua and Barbuda as a desirable Caribbean destination.

The second phase will see a similar campaign, this time using buses and the underground.

It all leads up to a spectacular Caribbean Exhibition planned for July in London in which all the Caribbean states are expected to participate.

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High Commission for Antigua and Barbuda
2nd floor, 45 Crawford Place, London W1H 4LP

Tel: 020 7258 0070 Fax: 020 7258 7486

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