Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, says he has instructed his bankers to make available the sum of EC$100,000 (Bds$74,000) from his personal savings account to assist with the rehabilitation of storm-battered Barbuda.
And while expressing confidence that at least three million US dollars could be raised from domestic sources, Browne today made an impassioned appeal to every Antiguan from the floor of parliament to also pledge monies, “even if it is a 100 dollars”, to the rebuilding effort.
“I expect every Antiguan and Barbudan to step up to the plate. I also want to say here that all of the individuals who collect government rent I want them to contribute at least one month’s rent to the recovery efforts,” Browne said during a special sitting of parliament.
“As parliamentarians I expect each and every one of us to step up to the plate,” he added, while calling on the commercial banks and other businesses operating in St John’s to contribute as well.
“There are wealthy people in this country who can contribute,” the prime minister said, adding “I know we can’t legislate it, but we are demanding it”.
At the same time, Browne said he was grateful to members of the regional and international community who had already come to Barbuda’s aid in its time of need.
His comments came as the Canadian-based Scotiabank donated BDS$1 million to charities assisting with the rescue and relief efforts in the Caribbean countries impacted by Hurricane Irma and the Venezuelan government donated food, medicines and other supplies, with its Air Force planes providing evacuation to hundreds of Barbudans.
The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has also announced special concessionary “Immediate Response Loans” of up to US$750,000 to its affected borrowing member countries and that it was in the process of providing emergency relief grants totalling US$200,000 each for the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Antigua and Barbuda.
Just last week the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, a segregated portfolio company and CDB partner, announced that it would make payouts of US$15.6 million on their tropical cyclone policies to the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, and St Kitts & Nevis as a result of the passage of Hurricane Irma.
And with additional payouts expected in relation to water damage from flooding and storm surges, the European Union announced that it had released an initial amount of humanitarian assistance of two million Euros for the most affected islands in the Caribbean.
The Gaston Browne administration last week ordered the evacuation of the estimated 1,800 people on the Antigua sister isle, after it was decimated during the passage between last Tuesday and Wednesday of Hurricane Irma, which also claimed the life of a two-year old child.
Browne told legislators today that since then Barbudans who were never given legal ownership of their lands, have been “relegated to squatters” .
However, he announced that as a means of ameliorating this situation, displaced Barbudans would now be allowed legal ownership of their lands for the price of “one dollar”.
“We are saying here we will give you freehold ownership,” Browne said, adding that “Barbudans I have spoken to they are absolutely elated” over the move which he said would empower them significantly.
“When you give a Barbudan freehold, first of all those who have their properties that are damaged, they can go into the bank, they can borrow money, they can repair their properties, they can get a mortgage they can build.
“They can get a loan for student purposes, to businesses. It is a form of empowerment,” Browne told legislators, adding “it is untenable in the 21st century for Barbuda to be exclusively dependent on Antigua.
“It is totally untenable . . . and the irony about it, each time that salaries and wages are late, they hold the Central government responsible. It was never the intent of the Central government to take full responsibility for the payment of salaries and wages and other expenses in Barbuda.
“The intent was . . . that Barbuda would be able to generate some level of revenue and that Antigua would have provided a subsidy. But clearly it has become a totally dependent relationship,” he said, noting that Barbudans are “proud people and they don’t want to be coming cap in hand to Antigua begging for a salary cheque on a weekly basis or monthly basis when they can generate their own income”.
“This is a time to put aside the politics and look at issues based on merit,” he said, while assuring that the necessary mechanisms would be put in place to ensure that the freehold lands were not easily sold.
He said the government intended to use more than US$312 million in financial support from the United Arab Emirates to the redevelop Barbuda as a medical and greening hub.