Prime Minster the Honourable Gaston Browne, on Monday, met with the UK Secretary of State for International Development, the Honourable Penny Mourdaunt, in a bilateral meeting at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London. In the bilateral, the Prime Minister thanked the United Kingdom for the £3 million that have been pledged to the rebuilding effort in Barbuda. He further updated the International Development Secretary on the progress being made in the reconstruction work on the island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
The Prime Minister expressed that while progress is being made, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda was experiencing challenges because of the slow disbursement of pledged funds from friendly countries. He noted that while many countries have pledged funds, much of the donations originate from funding already allocated to development assistance and consequently did not generate much by way of specific funding for the relief efforts. The Prime Minister also said that the majority of the pledged funds have not yet been received by Antigua and Barbuda and this has forced the Government to recalibrate its rebuilding master plan as Antigua and Barbuda does not have the financial capacity to finance a recovery of this scale on its own.
The Prime Minister also spoke to the Development Secretary about the need to address the urgent issue of derisking. He told Secretary Mourdaunt that correspondent banking services must be seen as a global public good and therefore the handful of banks who hold a monopoly on these services cannot be allowed to continue this practice of what is essentially debanking entire regions. He gave assurances that Antigua and Barbuda is compliant with international standards that govern financial regulation and anti-money laundering practices and so consequently the categorization of the country as high risk for potential financial crime is unjustified. Further, financial regulation and supervision is a dynamic area and where periodic financial reviews are carried out of the banking operations in the jurisdiction there is a consistent culture of immediate co-operation to remedy deficiencies.
The Prime Minister also took the opportunity to raise the issue of Caribbean nationals in the United Kingdom, including Antiguan and Barbudan nationals, who are classified as ‘undocumented migrants’. These migrants are people who have lived in the United Kingdom continuously on, or before 1971, having moved to the UK as children at a time when the island was a colony of Great Britain. These Caribbean nationals came at the invitation of the UK Government to assist with the post war reconstruction of the UK and were accorded indefinite leave to remain under the 1971 Immigration Act. Incidentally, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Windrush, the first ship bringing Caribbean national to the UK. Despite this, many of these nationals are today being deported to the Caribbean because of their inability to produce onerous documentation to prove their UK citizenship. The Prime Minister expressed his concern that this treatment was unjust and articulated a need for a revision of the UK’s policy towards these ‘undocumented migrants’ and called for these men and women to be treated them with fairness and respect. The Honourable E. P. Chet Greene will travel to #10 Downing Street today with other Caribbean leaders to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May on this issue.
In her response, Secretary Mourdaunt assured the Prime Minister of the continued support of the UK Government to the rebuilding efforts in Barbuda and that the pledged funds would be disbursed as quickly as possible. She further reiterated her Government’s commitment to assist developing countries with capacity building through its international aid programmes. Secretary Mourdaunt acknowledged that the problem of derisking was an issue that should be taken seriously by financial institutions in developed countries. She expressed her hope that the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting would be able to find a credible way forward on the matter. Finally, Secretary Mordaunt signaled her willingness to work with Antigua and Barbuda, and all Caribbean countries, to represent their concerns on undocumented migrants to the UK Government. She also advised governments to have persons who have such claims contact their respective UK Members of Parliament for further assistance.
At the end of the bilateral both countries committed to strengthening the existing ties between them with the hope of more beneficial cooperation in the future especially in the areas of trade and investment. Both countries also re-affirmed their shared values including respect for the rule of law and good governance.