Mr. Speaker, members of this Honorable House, my fellow Turks and Caicos Islanders, a pleasant good morning. I would like to thank my almighty God for his goodness and mercies and the strength to carry on, for he is my light and my salvation.
I wish to take this opportunity to extend birthday wishes to both the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and the Hon. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, I woke up this morning with a heart burdened with questions as to whether or not I should carry on. Mr. Speaker, as per the usual, I asked my Lord for strength, guidance, wisdom and determination, and because of those I am here standing before you in this honorable House this morning.
Mr. Speaker, the past few weeks of duty in the Office of Premier of this country have been a reality check. You see Mr. Speaker, I was taught all my life to be honest, to be law abiding, to play by the rules as these are the best of policies to which one should adhere to safely see oneself through life. Mr. Speaker, to some extent these guiding principles are true, but in the current socioeconomic and political context of our beloved Turks and Caicos Islands, these qualities do indeed at times appear to be pointless and are the constant root causes of frustration as the rules are not in our favor. Mr. Speaker the rules that I am referring to are the constitutional rules of this country which give the Governor the uncensored power to do whatsoever he pleases. Mr. Speaker, if these powers were consistently used in the interest of Turks and Caicos Islanders to better their lives we may not have a problem. The difficulty, Mr. Speaker, is if government plays by these current rules, it would be to our detriment as we would not be serving the best interest of our people. What is unfair is, if Turks and Caicos Islanders attempted to challenge the status quo, it would also be to their detriment, so essentially we can`t win for losing. However Mr. Speaker I am a fighter. I am a leader and if I am going to die I would prefer to die trying and challenging the status quo.
Mr. Speaker, we came to government, elected by the people to improve their lives and well-being, not just economically and socially but also, more importantly, to improve their lives democratically. Mr. Speaker, the people of these islands elected us to make decisions in their best interest, to represent them, but the government of the people is having some of the most difficult times, being bound by chains and whipped when we try to break free in the interest of the people.
Mr. Speaker, the economy of the Turks and Caicos Islands has shown many positive signs of growth, as evidenced by our GDP which has grown by 3.4%, there are also major investments such as the Shore Club and the West Caicos development that were stalled and are now well on their way towards initiating activity. Very soon other developments like Dellis and Ambergris Cay will come along, and with new interested investors engaged, I am very optimistic that this economy will rebound completely. However, Mr. Speaker this growth must be to the betterment of the lives of our people who must be able to capitalize on the opportunities that would be presented to them. Mr. Speaker, the only way we can guarantee this in an environment of unfair competition is by strengthening our Belonger preference policies as we grow and diversify our economy and as we streamline and make more efficient, our business and labour policies.
Mr. Speaker, we are about leveling the playing field not making it uneven. Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my Turks and Caicos Islanders that we are mandated to empower them through protection of reserved categories of business and capital and investment facilitation and that we shall do. I can let the EU know now, that if the EDF grant of 15 million which is intended to improve and streamline business practices, has as its goal the
removal of Belonger reserve categories as a trade off, then they can keep their money as this will not happen under my watch at this time in our current economic state.
Mr. Speaker, Tourism is our main industry and it has served us and continues to serve us well even during to downturn in the economy. However, we are vulnerable to economic shocks and unless we diversify our economy we would always remain vulnerable and at high risk of not being able to withstand economic downturns. Mr. Speaker that is why we have begun the process of facilitating other industries, such a manufacturing and processing, and identifying trading partners for the importation of raw materials to serve these industries.
Mr. Speaker our neighbours of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas and other Caricom countries in close proximity may serve well as trading partners and allies, so too do other first world countries like the US and Canada. Mr. Speaker the diversification of our economies into the manufacturing and processing industry will, in addition to boosting the economy, create jobs and promote Turks and Caicos internationally with goods labeled ” Made in the Turks and Caicos”, these results all having an overall impact of lowering the cost of goods and cost of living.
Mr. Speaker, we are continuing to venture internationally to promote these islands to investors in an effort to encourage more new investments and major infrastructural developments. Mr. Speaker on September 22nd, I will be one of the key note speakers at the KPMG Miami Infrastructure conference where I will be presenting three key major infrastructure investment opportunities, namely the Phase 2 Providenciales Airport expansion with new international arrival and departure areas, the East Caicos Mega Port and Resort Facility and the Caicos Causeway. These projects we see as life changing projects for these islands that will bring economic prosperity and sustainability and diversify our bread basket.
Mr. Speaker, as a government, in addition to expanding this economy and providing jobs, a task that we are feverishly doing, we are also obligated to providing educational opportunities and adequate an educational environment for our people. Therefore Mr. Speaker, I would love to take this opportunity to welcome all of the school children back to school and congratulate them on their achievements that brought them to this level in their educational endeavours. Likewise, I would like to congratulate and thank those deserving parents, and teachers, for their hard work and support of all of those students whose academic achievements were outstanding. Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the Ministry of Education and the Education Department for the provision of scholarships and educational opportunities for our students. Mr. Speaker, there were also a number of organizations such and the Seventh Day Adventist Church, The Baptist Union, The Rock of Jesus Ministries and others who made provisions for school supplies, scholarships and financial support, I thank these organizations and individuals and encourage them to continue to give back to their community as we raise this nation.
Mr. Speaker, the return to school in terms of readiness has been challenging and we as a government stepped up to the plate to address those challenges and for this I thank my Minister of Education and her team, however, there were challenges that we were unable to solve but not for lack of trying. Mr. Speaker, the matter of the over-crowding of the Clement Howell High School is still of grave concern for our government. We have tried to secure both capital and recurrent expenditure funding so as to split the Clement Howell High School as a short term measure to relieve the over-crowding, whilst we prepare for the building of a new high school facility in the medium to long term. But Mr. Speaker this did not come to fruition.
Mr. Speaker the British Government`s focus is on using our surplus to pay down loans whilst our people suffer and are deprived of educational opportunities. Mr. Speaker, as a Government we are motivated to find solutions to our financial challenges to meet the basic needs of our people. But whilst we are forced to raise taxes to meet loan obligations and provide educational and social services for our people, the British government continues to drain our purse with unchecked expenditure being incurred by the Civil Recovery Team and SIPT. Mr. Speaker, this situation is unbearable and just unacceptable. Mr. Speaker, I am hereby holding the AG and the Governor accountable for these actions and am calling on them to give account and justification for funds that we could be using on our children, sending them to school in proper and healthy environment. And Mr. Speaker whilst on the topic of health, likewise the hospitals which are another possible source of concealed internal hemorrhage, will be put in check, also providing funds that can be used more effectively either in healthcare or elsewhere. Mr. Speaker, our Cabinet yesterday had a presentation of the Interim Hospital Audit and an action plan has been devised to address the issues being highlighted in the interim audit. This healthcare situation will be fixed.
Mr. Speaker, I have made public my dissatisfaction with the recent actions by the outgoing Governor to make a strategic re-appointment of the Attorney General despite the objection of myself, my government, the Leader of the Opposition and the People of the Turks and Caicos Islands. I have taken the liberty of outlining my reasons for my stance on this issue and I am asking all Members of the House of Assembly to join together with one voice on this issue.
Mr. Speaker and Members of this Honorable House, may God continue to bless you and bless these Turks and Caicos Islands. I thank you.
PNP Government not prepared for this work!
#TurksandCaicos, September 16, 2021 – This is exactly what the PDM was warning the new PNP Administration about, hoping that this did not occur; COVID-19 being spread in our schools amongst our babies. My fears are from the positions of a Parent, a citizen, a Member of Parliament, a former Minister of Health, and a Scientist.
In my press release from a week ago I stated “And we know how critical it is to get our children back to school. It is especially critical for their mental health and their development. In achieving this, the Government must ensure that schools can open with confidence, both in capacity and in the broader public health indicators that exist. Safety of our children and our families should be driving the decisions of the Government every step of the way.”
I then went on to say “Our first job must be to care for our children, and provide a safe learning environment. However, the PNP Administration’s readiness for the reopening of Schools this week was frightening to observe. All occurrences showed that this PNP Administration was not adequately prepared, and did not provide the schools, through the Department of Education, the much-needed budgetary support in human resources, adequate safety materials, supplies and early provision of book-list. In addition, they did not provide the schools with any enhanced and improved health and safety guidelines. They should not put your child and your family at risk.”
And now our worse fears are coming through. This new Government should immediately adjust protocols, execute their contingency plans, if any, and take all mitigating actions to prevent further spread. Immediate action is needed.
I had also stated that; “The Government had every opportunity to be more than ready to mitigate against all the known challenges that the Pandemic presents. It would have been in everyone’s best interest if the Government had budgeted for the hiring of more teachers, and more staff for the schools, which would enable decreasing class sizes, hence providing our students and teachers with a safer environment.”
It is not a bad thing to admit that you got something wrong, and then immediately correct the mistakes, especially when the lives at risk are our children. It is bad when no immediate action or adjustments are made to correct the mistakes. The Government has fell down in many areas while executing the re-opening of schools under a covid-19 environment.
The new PNP administration must take urgent actions, and after, immediately address the issues of overcrowding, class sizes, number of teachers, Cohort groups/school hours, and school health and surveillance systems.
Do not fail our children, our future, our parents, our families, and our country.
Hon. Edwin A. Astwood
Leader of the Opposition
CARICOM African Leaders Identify Areas of Co-Operation at Historic First Summit
CARICOM, September 13, 2021 – Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Africa have committed to strengthen collaboration and unity and to foster increased trade, investment and people-to-people engagement between the two regions.
The commitment was given during the historic First CARICOM-Africa Summit hosted by Kenya and held virtually on 7 September 2021. His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, Chair of the Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) presided over the Summit which was attended by Heads of State and Government as well as Heads of Regional Integration Secretariats and Institutions of CARICOM and Africa.
Speakers at the Summit noted its historic nature and that African and Caribbean cultural and political ties run deep based on a shared history, culture, as well as a sense of a common identity. They cited common historical experiences which inspired the Pan-African Movement championed by the Africans and the diaspora and which established the foundations of a rich and vibrant African-Caribbean relationship. The Leaders expressed the view that they were obligated to build on that vision. It was also noted that this First Summit was being held during the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent.
Key areas of possible co-operation and collaboration were identified by both parties. In his statement during the opening session, Honourable Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Chair of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM proposed that September 7th be celebrated as “Africa-CARICOM Day” with a Summit held annually on that date. He also proposed the creation of a Forum of African and Caribbean Territories and States (FACTS), the codifying of a Founding Charter and a Memorandum of Operation of the Forum, a multi-lateral air services agreement, and an investment protection and a double taxation agreement between African and CARICOM states.
President Kenyatta, in his statement at the Opening cited the blue economy, climate change, health and Covid-19, debt sustainability and technology as areas on which the Regions could work together.
In the discussions, the Leaders stressed the importance of exploiting the Blue Economy to boost growth and development. They also committed to foster increased trade and investment through specific agreements and the enhancement of transportation links between the two regions. This could include the removal of the requirement for visas by nationals of CARICOM and African nations.
The Leaders indicated support for the establishment of a CARICOM/Africa public-private partnership dedicated to mobilizing resources and deploying them in critical cutting-edge projects including renewable energy, the creative industries and digital technology. They called for the establishment of a joint CARICOM/AU electronic mass media platform or mechanism to facilitate the flow of news, information and artistic programming between CARICOM and Africa. On the institutional front, they proposed the establishment of an African-Caribbean Forum and the drafting of an Africa-Caribbean Charter and memorandum of understanding to underpin the relationship.
The Heads of State and Government expressed concern about the mutation and spread of the Covid-19 Virus and its effects on the health of the people as well as on the health infrastructure. In that regard, they called for increased access to vaccines and for the building of manufacturing capacity to produce vaccines in Africa and CARICOM enabled by a waiver of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines. The contribution of the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) in making vaccines available to CARICOM was lauded.
The existential threat posed by climate change was acknowledged and there was agreement on the need for the global community to act towards curtailing greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. They supported a joint approach to the negotiations at COP26 to be held in the United Kingdom in November.
There was strong support for multilateralism and the strengthening and reform of multilateral institutions to become more inclusive to reflect the post-colonial world. The Leaders reiterated their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. While welcoming the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, they emphasised the need for debt relief.
They also called for an end to the illegal and unjust economic embargo against Cuba and to the sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The Heads of State and Government agreed to participate fully in the High Level meeting of the UN General Assembly later this month to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, and to jointly use that event to advance the claim for reparations within the processes of the United Nations.
The Summit ended with a mandate for the institutionalisation of co-operation between the CARICOM Secretariat and the African Union Commission.
Commander Defence Force attends UK-Second Caribbean Chiefs of Defence Conference, Antigua
#Bahamas, September 13, 2021 – In keeping with the Global Security Collaborative Framework and Commander Defence Force, Commodore Dr. Raymond King’s strategic intent in strengthening joint relationships with its regional and international partnerships, Commodore King attended the UK- Chief of Defence Staff (CHoDs’) in Antigua from 1- 3 September, 2021 to share best practices and to discuss matters of mutual interest.
Accompanied by his Aide, Sub Lieutenant Delroy Dennis, the sessions also included General Sir Nick Carter; Gen Chief of Defence Staff, United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland; Major General C S Collins, General Officer Commanding 1st UK Division; Lieutenant Colonel Simon Westlake Royal Marines United Kingdom’s Defence Attaché to the Caribbean; and Commander Brian Trim MBE RN Commander task Group.
Also in attendance were countries with various Chiefs of Defence Staff, in particular; Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and defence and security partners across the region, who took part virtually, and shared their views on global security and joint partnerships. They all agreed on several initiatives with training and education designed to improve collective capacity to deal with the diverse security challenges that confront the region.
The inaugural conference convened virtually in November 2020, with each of the regional Chiefs of Defence. This second conference focused on building on the success of the virtual event in strengthening the UK-Caribbean relationships, and developing concepts for UK engagement with its Caribbean partners on issues of mutual interest.
The three-day conference commenced with an ice-breaker reception and concert at Blizzard Camp, hosted by Antigua and Barbuda (ATG) – Chief of Defence Staff Colonel Telbert Benjamin, and joined by the Governor General, Sir Rodney Williams. The core conference which took place on September 2nd, began with an opening ceremony, supported by the Prime Minister of ATG, Sir Gaston Browne.
In the first core session, UK- Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland General Sir Nick Carter set out the UK perspective on the strategic context, informed by the recently concluded Integrated Review (IR) and Defence Command Plan (DCP). The three individual sessions covered issues of serious organized crime threats; regional initiatives and the implications for UK Defence engagement; and natural threats.
The UK- CDS expressed his ambition to use the conference as a vehicle for institutional capacity building, military capability development, training and education, doctrine, and concepts. These are ways to maximize collective security development with focused UK engagement while better constructing an approach that matches the region’s aspirations and requirements.
The final session of the three-day conference was held aboard HMS MEDWAY, River Class Offshore Patrol Vessel built on the Clyde. This permanent Caribbean patrol ship was deployed to the Caribbean to support disaster relief and conduct counter-trafficking operations as an alternative setting for a maritime security focused discussion. It served as a setting to discuss regional maritime security, which included talks around preparedness for Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response (HADR), and UK involvement in regional partnerships.
Header: Participants at the UK- second Caribbean Chief of Defence Staff (CHoDs’) in Antigua, 1- 3 September, 2021.
1st insert: Commodore Raymond King, the Commander Defence Force, presenting his country’s brief on board HMS MEDWAY, during the second Caribbean Chiefs of Defence Staff conference in Antigua.
2nd insert: Commodore Raymond King, Commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force; Brigadier General Steven Andrew Ortega, Commander Belize Defence Force; Lieutenant General Rocky R Meade, Chief of Defence Staff, Jamaica Defence Force; Brigadier Godfrey Bess Chief of Staff, Guyana Defence Force; Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel Chief of Defence Staff, Trinidad and Tobago Defence Forces: In the front row; Colonel Telbert Benjamin, Commander of Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force and General Sir Nick Carter, General Chief of Defence Staff, United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland.
3rd insert: Commodore Raymond King, the Commander Royal Bahamas Defence Force; Brigadier General Steven Andrew Ortega, Commander Belize Defence Force; General de Brigada Angel A Camacho Ubiera Inspector General of the Dominican Republic Army; Antigua and Barbuda – Colonel Telbert Benjamin, Commander of Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force; Major General C S Collins, General Officer Commanding 1st UK Division; Lieutenant General Rocky R Meade, Chief of Defence Staff, Jamaica Defence Force; Brigadier Godfrey Bess Chief of Staff, Guyana Defence Force; Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel Chief of Defence Staff, Trinidad and Tobago Defence Forces Trinidad and Tobago; and Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel Chief of Defence Staff, Trinidad and Tobago Defence Forces.
(Photos courtesy Mr. Wayne Mariette)
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