The Cabinet Secretariat of Antigua and Barbuda notes with concern, attempts by sections of the media, namely the Observer Media Group to convey a conflict of interest in the Cabinet’s decision to grant concessions that are ordinary in nature to Gaston Browne III, son of Prime Minister the Hon. Gaston Browne.
The Cabinet Secretariat views the publication of a letter conveying concessions to a private entity as misleading and malicious in nature. The Observer Online Newspaper, Wednesday 28 June 2017, regrettably chose to publish the Cabinet authority conveying its decision to grant ordinary concessions to a duly qualifying individual/company. At the same time, no effort was made by the Observer Newspaper to confirm whether the concessions granted were unusual or extra-ordinary in any way, which they were not.
The Cabinet Secretariat wishes to state that the day in question, January 11, 2017, when the Cabinet discussed an application in writing for concessions from Investment Facilitation (Antigua) Incorporated, and agreed to grant exemption from the payment of duty on the importation of building materials and capital equipment, Prime Minister the Hon. Gaston Browne was not present at the Cabinet session.
The Cabinet Secretariat further wish to state that whenever an issue is being discussed, a member who has an interest, personally or through family connections or any other declared interest, must recuse himself/herself from the discussions as is the current practice.
The Cabinet Secretariat therefore wishes to advise of the following:
- Concessions considered of an ordinary nature are routinely afforded to individuals/companies. Such concessions are basic, are not extraordinary and are simply intended to assist existing and new businesses in their operations as the case may be presented. Many recipients have received identical or similar concessions, irrespective of political persuasion.
- Three (3) examples (attached) illustrate the common characteristics of concessions that are granted. As the government abides by a higher ethical standard, the date and decision content are only revealed but not names and addresses, in order to protect the privacy of the recipients.
- The targeted individual/company (Gaston Browne III/ Investment Facilitation (Antigua) Incorporated) is a principal of a duly registered and bona fide company eligible for ordinaryconcessions that are similarly afforded to other recipients to assist in the operation of their respective businesses. The company in question was not a recipient of any extra-ordinary consideration.
- The Observer’s decision to publish a Government issued document addressed to a private recipient (i.e. not intended for public consumption or use for biased publishing) in the manner that it did, draws some deserved scrutiny toward its motives. It further underscores, in this instance, the Observer’s lack of journalistic balance by its failure to ascertain whether in fact the concessions granted by Cabinet breeched any threshold. The Cabinet Secretariat maintains there was no breach or unfair advantage created by its decision.
The Cabinet Secretariat has reviewed decisions of the Cabinet from previous administrations and has found that concessions similar in nature have been granted to numerous businesses and individuals in an effort to stimulate economic growth and provide jobs. All concessions requested and approved by the Cabinet are done within the purview of the existing laws of Antigua and Barbuda. The concessions in question are available to any business person in any sector from the Investment Authority Act 2006. The Act does not exclude any category of citizens of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Cabinet Secretariat wishes to advise public servants that they are guided by a strict code of conduct and ethics that they have signed on to on taking up employment with the government. Any unauthorized distribution or publication of government information is governed by public service rules and regulations. All public servants are therefore called upon to adhere to the strictest and highest ethical standards in the discharge of their duties.
Secretary to the Cabinet
4th July, 2017