BRADES: Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, Gaston Browne and Premier of Montserrat, Donaldson Romeo, both months into their first term in office, have pledged to forge closer ties between their governments and peoples.
Last week, Prime Minister Browne, accompanied by Permanent Secretary Ambassador Colin Murdoch, paid a goodwill and friendship visit to Montserrat during which he was introduced to members of the island’s Cabinet and toured the Montserrat Museum, sand mining operations in Belham, the Geothermal Project, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, the Marine Village, the Sports Centre and received a helicopter tour of the volcano and surrounding areas.
“I am delighted to welcome our Prime Minister from Antigua & Barbuda to Montserrat and to officially advise him that Montserrat is open for business – seeing the old and the new and to witness the start of our project called Ash to Cash, which will involve the immense volume of sand available in Montserrat from volcanic activity that will be beneficial to Antigua and Barbuda in the near future,” said Premier Romeo. “(This) visit signals the start of new and improved relations between our two countries.”
In announcing the establishment of a Joint Commission to explore areas of cooperation between both countries, Browne said that Antigua & Barbuda and Montserrat have had close relations spanning several decades that involved free movement of people long before the phrase was adopted by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) or Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
“My impression prior to this visit was that Montserrat was totally devastated by the volcano, not realizing that you still have a beautiful and viable country,” he said. “From what I have seen, you still have a significant amount of potential and what I believe is required is for you to build your infrastructure and I am quite confident that Montserrat someday will become a self-sustaining country and anything Antigua & Barbuda can do to assist you in building capacity, and to share in the socio economic infrastructure development, we are more than willing to do so.”
In addition to announcing the establishment of the Joint Commission, both leaders revealed that Antigua & Barbuda will provide scholarships to Montserratians upon the opening of the University of Antigua & Barbuda, pursue joint ownership of a barge to be used in sand mining which will reduce cost to both countries, and collaborate on bringing Cabinet documents and visa applications online.
Both leaders also pledged to collaborate in tourism, agriculture and social transformation. Browne confirmed that he will be making representation to the British Government on behalf of displaced Montserratians living in Antigua & Barbuda for housing and other services.