Antigua & Barbuda’s new opposition leader, Harold Lovell, was in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) last weekend for the first time since succeeding former prime minister Baldwin Spencer as the head of the United Progressive Party (UPP).
The ex-Minister of Finance, Economy & Public Administration, Tourism, Aviation, Culture and the Environment brushed aside his only challenger – Eleston Adams – by a wide margin of 291 votes to 13 at the party’s 10th biennial convention last May.
Spencer, whose party was swept from power by the Gaston Browne-led Antigua Labour Party (ALP) in the June 2014 elections, stepped aside as the leader of the UPP, which he headed for nearly two decades.
Lovell came to the GTA following visits to Miami, Atlanta and New York.
“My first order of business is to ensure that I engage with Antiguans & Barbudans at home and abroad,” he told Share in an interview last Sunday prior to meeting with nationals. “At home, I am engaging with the business community, young people and individuals within our party. I have also placed a high premium on meeting with nationals in the Diaspora as part of my engagement campaign.”
The former Member of Parliament shared his vision for the twin islands that are still recovering from the fallout of the $7 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by financier Allen Stanford from his offshore bank in Antigua. The island’s largest private employer was convicted three years ago and sentenced to 110 years in prison.
“I would like to see Antigua & Barbuda become a globally competitive economy which adopts the best social programs within the social democratic countries which is to say we drive the economy and we make certain that Antigua & Barbuda – as a small, open and vulnerable space – can compete with other economies around the world,” said Lovell. “It’s crucial that we equip our people to compete in what is increasingly becoming a borderless world. At the same time, economic prosperity without a fair system of social distribution is not good.
“As a small island, our resources are finite. It means therefore that we have to protect our resources and make certain that globalization doesn’t mean that our people are overrun and overpowered by bigger countries and forces. The protection of our resources and the empowerment of our people remain central to that vision.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that the islands, which are heavily dependent on tourism, will experience a 2.1 per cent growth this year.
Despite losing his St. John’s City East seat to Melford Nicholas in last year’s elections, UPP members felt strongly that Lovell was the best candidate to head the party established in 1992 through a merger of the Progressive Labour Movement, the United National Democratic Party and the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement, which Lovell served as general secretary and vice chairman.
“I lost my seat in a swing vote for the UPP,” said Lovell, a former Antigua & Barbuda Union of Teachers general secretary. “There was a swing that averaged about 12 per cent which is quite significant and in my constituency, it was about nine per cent. In many ways, my ascendancy was an expression of the will of the people. They wanted a change, so part of my reason for choosing to make engaging with nationals at home and abroad a priority is to hear from those who have been affected by our policies and those who are interested in the progression of our islands. I want to hear about those things that we have done right and wrong and the things we could have done better. I have come with an open mind, though not an empty mind.
“We have been badly affected by the global recession which was responsible for many Caribbean leaders being voted out of office recently because their countries couldn’t withstand the tidal wave. In Antigua & Barbuda, there was a disconnect and people were complaining that, after 10 years, they didn’t feel that they were as close to the party as they should have. There was a feeling that the party had shifted from its base and it wasn’t sufficiently responsive to the needs of the people. I am addressing that very carefully.”
To boost the struggling economy, the UPP passed the controversial Citizenship by Investment Program Act in 2013. Individuals can obtain citizenship for a $250,000 donation, a $400,000 real estate investment or a $1.5 million business investment. There is a $50,000 processing fee and new citizens are required to spend at least 35 days on the island over the five-year span of the initial passport.
Lovell claims his government did its homework before passing the Act.
“We did so after setting up a task force to look at the pros and cons and after consultations with Canada, the United States and British governments as well as the European Union, the IMF, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and the World Bank,” he said. “They all said they had no difficulty with the program. Their main concern was the management of the program. We felt that transparency and accountability were key, so we made sure that in the Act we said that twice yearly, the government would need to come to parliament and disclose the names of the persons who had been granted citizenship, the amount of funds that were collected and the purposes to which the funds were put.”
Citing criminality, security and border integrity concerns posed by their controversial economic citizenship program, Canada enforced visitor visa requirements on Grenada and Dominica 14 years ago for selling passports to anyone who could afford to purchase the travel document.
Last November, residents of St. Kitts & Nevis lost the ability to travel freely between their country and Canada because of its government’s controversial economic citizenship program launched in 1984.
A Canadian government release stated the restriction was implemented because of concerns about the issuance of passports and identity management practices within the St. Kitts & Nevis’ investment program.
Lovell fears that nationals of Antigua & Barbuda could be added to the list of Eastern Caribbean countries whose residents require visas to enter Canada.
“We have seen the tremendous economic benefits that can be derived from the program, but you run the risk of killing the goose that lay the golden egg if the program is not properly managed,” he said. “We believe that a lot of the approaches to the program by the new ALP administration are reckless and high risk and could seriously jeopardize the program’s longevity and sustainability. We have some serious concerns with the way in which it is now being managed.”