You are a key figure in Antigua and Barbuda as have been in politics for over 40 years. What are your main priorities in your current role as Minister of Public Utilities, Civil Aviation and Energy? What are your objectives for the coming years?
We are making sure to safeguard energy for our citizens. We have two power plants on order that should be arriving early next year.
We suffer from drought and yet offer the cheapest water. Most of our water comes from the reverse osmosis plant. We produce over 7 Million Gallons a day of water and we are expecting to take that up to 10 Million Gallons a day shortly.
We offer the best telephone service in the Caribbean with a 4G network and are rolling out fiber to the homes. We make sure to keep up to date with all the latest technology in the telecommunication industry. Most of our telephone technicians including the managers are in the United States and we are currently working with Erickson and are making important strides in this sector.
We have a new airport since 2015 and it is able to hold any type of plane. Major progress has been made in the installation of a new Air Traffic Control (ATC) Cab at the airport to make sure we are keeping up with the times.
We have solar energy, which we have installed at schools and on the grid and are trying to provide backup with wind energy. Barbuda will have a climate-resilient and green supply of energy through solar and wind, it will become the first island in the Caribbean to be powered solely by solar energy.
Your Ministry partnered with the UAE-Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund (UAE-CREF) to restore power to Barbuda. The project aims to build a modern, climate-resilient, safe, reliable and sustainable supply of electrical power for Barbuda. Please tell us more about this project and its importance for the island of Barbuda?
We have been working with the UAE-Caribbean Renewable Energy Fund and other partners include the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (NZMFAT). The agreement will see the disbursement of US$5.7 million from the UAE to support Barbuda through the largest renewable energy initiative of its kind in the Caribbean region. My ministry has also participated through the CARICOM Development Fund. We are currently in the preparation phase and we are installing a new tank for storage purposes in Barbuda. There is currently power in Barbuda and we need to check its distribution.
JetBlue will be adding two flights from New York to Antigua every week. There has also been an agreement on the resumption of the second daily flight from Miami by American Airlines. What does this mean for the country? Are there any new companies in the pipeline looking at entering Antigua?
JetBlue and American Airlines adding flights to Antigua has been very positive for us as it has increased air traffic in the country. We are looking at the possibility of bringing direct flights from Colombia and we also want Copa Airlines to make a stop here. We are in talks with two major European airlines to bring direct flights to Antigua. Virgin comes here four times a week and they might increase it after the Thomas Cook collapse. British Airways flies here everyday during the winter season and five to six times a week otherwise.
LIAT operates high-frequency inter-island scheduled services serving 15 destinations in the Caribbean. What does the future hold for LIAT?
Our Government has secured a loan of US$15.8 million with Banco del ALBA from Venezuela to purchase additional shares in LIAT. When LIAT had to change a fleet of planes each government; Antigua, Barbados and Saint Vincent gave a guarantee to continue subsidizing the company. We bought some of the common stock back from Barbados, as the airline would have faced liquidity otherwise. We are highly committed to keeping and saving LIAT in order to be able to travel among Caribbean countries.
You are the chairperson of the National Asset Management Company (NAMCO), the state insurance company (SIC) recently got transferred to NAMCO. What do you aim to achieve with NAMCO and how is this transfer beneficial for the country?
NAMCO is the investing arm of the government wherever they need help. For instance the pier group had no money for the development of the port so we leant them EC $9 Million (US$3.3 Million) to help them continue with the work. We had to pay the EC $16 Million (US$5.9 Million) in debt the former government had. We are not going into private sector; the private sector must flourish by itself. The State Insurance Company’s shares have been transferred to us and with time we have a company that ensures all government buildings and properties. We started to develop a hotel at Valley Church and when an investor was interested, we decided to step back. This shows we do not want to compete with the private sector.
Antigua and Barbuda has strong bilateral links with the United States and especially Florida. What is the role that the U.S and Florida could play to further their relations with Antigua & Barbuda?
We have a long-standing relationship and we work very closely with the U.S. The U.S should think about making more investments in the country, as we are neighbors. The Chinese have done a lot, they have given us a loan for the airport, the harbor and they are building two clinics. I would like to ask the U.S, a similar help.
You are a long standing Antiguan public figure, you were first elected to parliament in 1976 and have held positions under different governments of Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries; Minister of Aviation, Public Information and Public Utilities; Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Leader of the Opposition. What do you feel most proud of in your personal life? What major changes have you overseen in your political career?
I am committed to my party; we have done a really good job for the people of Antigua and Barbuda. I have rescued the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA), which was a company that was busted and we are now working on repairing roads.
My biggest pride in my personal life is the relationship that I have developed with the people of Antigua and Barbuda. I am there for them 24 hours a day and I participate with everything in the area.
What is your final message for Miami Herald readers who consider Antigua & Barbuda as a potential investment destination?
There are a lot of investment opportunities in Antigua and Barbuda especially in the tourism sector and I want to tell the Antiguans and Barbudans living in Miami to come back here and invest in their country. Antigua is a place that offers many opportunities and we invite them to come. Our GDP was below EC $3.9 Billion (US$1.45 Billion) and today it is EC $4.7 Billion (US$1.74 Billion), we have seen improvements.