The US $2 billion MOA has raised questions about whether the Gaston Browne administration gave away too much for too little in return.
The “strictly private and confidential” document obtained by OBSERVER and which is already in the hands of several other individuals, promises wide-ranging incentives and concessions.
It also secures a major stake in the country’s CIP with YIDA’s Beijing office being “the only office to be recognised for the promotion and facilitation of CIP in China and the rest of the Asia Pacific region.”
Up to 70 per cent of the revenue from the CIP is expected to come from the Asian region and, in the view of former finance minister Harold Lovell, “this raises a major red flag and a major problem.”
Lovell said that clause of the agreement excludes other CIP agents and “creates a monopoly which undermines the integrity of the programme.”
The MOA provides for the government to pay YIDA US $40 million for an office in Beijing, run by YIDA, which will be the sole office to promote and facilitate CIP.
Antigua & Barbuda has also committed to pay “international travel expenses” of employees stationed at the Consular Office.
Payment of utilities services, salaries, translation services, and promotional fees for tourism marketing are also among government’s obligation, in the MOA that was reportedly signed after eight hours of negotiations.
On that component of the MOA, Lovell who is also an attorney-at-law has raised questions.
“They talk about international travel expenses; who is going to monitor that? Who limits that, who says who flies where and for how much? We talk about rent and utilities; who is paying the rent, to whom and what prevents me from setting up a shell company and rent a building for $100,000 a month and just charge it to the people of Antigua & Barbuda?” he queried.
On June 14, one day after taking up the reins of power, Prime Minister Gaston Browne inked the deal with YIDA, paving the way for a US $2 billion two billion investment.
In addition to the waiver of all taxes and duties, the government has also granted the Chinese principals permission to operate electricity, water and sewerage facilities.
YIDA will construct a project with 14 components to include an International Tourism Island, Free Trade Zone, Off-shore Duty Free Zone, Finance Bank Centre, Casino, Horse racing Development, a multi-purpose entertainment zone, Finance and Banking centre, among other facilities.