While legitimate foreign investors are taking their money elsewhere, the Government of Antigua & Barbuda has been quietly attracting a new source of financial underpinning.
With striking similarity in approach, China, a nation that has steadfastly refused to honour its substantial, delinquent FDI debt emanating from the early 1900's, is taking an increasingly benevolent investment approach to Antigua & Barbuda.
Perhaps, as some would suggest, it is the symmetry of long-standing and repeated debt reneging that is drawing the two countries ever closer? Others might claim it is simply comfort in corruption.
Given the internationally well-recognised notion that it takes considerable time and effort to gain China's trust in order to conduct business with this notoriously secretive state, negotiators may be shocked to learn that these standards of propriety are not universally required.
It seems now that China is happy to adopt rapid, dubious relationships with parties that other more traditional investors and lenders would view with extreme caution.
It is true that, while agreements are couched in the language of benevolence and friendship, the control over Chinese funds is never fully relinquished. Most of the loaned amounts revert to China for materials and labour, which it contractually supplies to the borrower, who is then granted a long moratorium, before payments on the loan are scheduled to commence.
Nevertheless, a relationship is formed with financial spillage oiling the gears.
Clearly, for China, it seems much more a political partnership than an economic one.
Antigua & Barbuda has been described as two specks of sand in the Caribbean Sea. The sovereign islands do not sustain themselves. They have no industry, no agriculture, limited educational opportunities and no technological development. With tourism as its only product, it is a one trick pony, catering to markets in Europe and North America.
Over the last decade, China's growing influence in the Caribbean has been widely noted and reported. No doubt, China's ability to wheel and deal in America's "front yard" adds to the challenge and raises the level of concern expressed from different points of view in the media.
Antigua, whose Prime Minister openly admits that "Antigua continues to have difficulty with the Americans" without identifying whether that is a reason for or a result of his political decisions, appears only too happy to participate in the Game.
Nevertheless, it is perplexing for independent observers to note that, while various Caribbean nations, for example, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis and the Dominican Republic have been evocatively identified by name as recipients of China's financial support, Antigua & Barbuda remains absent from that list.
Chinese funds and labour have produced the country's only hospital.
They have built a multipurpose Conference Centre.
They have rebuilt the Central Market complex.
They have built the 14,000 seat Stadium for the 2006 Cricket World Cup games.
They have rebuilt the roads between the airport and the stadium.
They have wired the entire network of the country's roads for lights, which they have also provided and installed.
They are in the process of developing a gated community of middle-income housing on a 100 acre plot of land, transferred to a Chinese development company by the Government on a long-term lease.
They have built a turn-key power plant consisting of the building, generators, equipment and linkage to the existing distribution grid that has recently been inaugurated at an approximate cost of $50 million US dollars.
Another $50 million US dollars have been agreed for a new airport terminal. Construction is currently in progress.
The sum total of the funds loaned and gifted has not ever been made public, but the estimates vary between 300 and 500 Million US dollars. Although the attainment of these loans is usually triumphantly announced in the media, many if not most of the loans are not authorised by Parliament, as they should be, at least according to Antigua's latest laws.
There is also the usual discrepancy between the Dollar amounts of loans made public. When pressed, the answer is that the smaller number is for the specific purpose named, while the difference is to be applied to unspecified "social projects".
All this has been occurring under the radar of international awareness. However, that could change, as greed and corruption continue to reach new heights.
Now, two particular developments are likely to create serious problems, the first on a local level, the second on a larger international stage.
The development of the Wadadli Power Plant is the current instalment of a convoluted saga involving governments, political parties, legal actions and a multitude of sub-plots.
The provider of all essential services in Antigua is the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA), a government-controlled statutory entity with exclusive right to sell electricity on Antigua and Barbuda.
APUA has never been able to supply the requisite amount of electricity.
A scheme to remedy this shortfall was devised by the establishment of a privately financed and owned Antigua Power Company (APC), whose sole wholesale client is the statutory APUA, which then retails electricity across the island. The renowned Hadeed family is in control of APC, although the Government participates in the company's profits.
Negotiations have been ongoing over a number of years between APUA and APC to improve and increase the supply of electricity. They included adjustments in profit distribution and a purchase of additional generators by APC, itself a substantial financial commitment on APC's part.
Meanwhile, while these negotiations were taking place, a private agreement was reached between Baldwin Spencer, Antigua & Barbuda's Prime Minister and the Chinese Government to provide Antigua (and APUA) with its own new power plant to supplement the existing aging and inadequate facility and diminish, if not remove entirely, its dependence on the Hadeed-controlled APC.
Active in this agreement was Antigua's Ambassador to China, the Honourable David Shoul, head of the other "power family" in Antigua.
What has emerged, in spite of the obfuscation and great stonewalling by the Prime Minister and a tightly knit group within his Cabinet, is a story of lies, evasions, fraud and maladministration.
Following the money has led to the discovery of corporate entities, formed in China, after the loan agreement had been reached, acting as unspecified participants in a deal already made. It also identified vast overruns of costs finding their way to these entities. However, the final straw was the discovery that the equipment installed was not new, as originally agreed.
Energised by the various factions involved, the public outcry on Antigua has been loud and continues to cause great discord, not only between the political parties, but within the parties themselves. Ironically, Transparency and Accountability! are the cries of the day, along with "Down with the Chinese!" Protesters march and wave Taiwanese and Tibetan flags in front of the Chinese Embassy.
A vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister was aborted in Parliament only last week but a petition is circulating for a Commission of Inquiry into this matter.
For those interested in the curious details of this international deal www.caribarena.com has been on the forefront of reporting these developments. It offers documents and photographs, conveniently listed at the bottom of its article:
The new terminal at the V.C. Bird International Airport is raising a different call to attention.
The land on which this development is taking place had been sold in 2003 by the Government of Antigua to (former Sir) R. Allen Stanford. Since Stanford's arrest in 2010 it has been the subject of much international litigation.
An immediate expropriation of all Stanford properties was initiated by the Antiguan Government simultaneously with the US orders freezing Stanford's assets. The expropriation was resisted by the US Department of Justice and, later in 2010, Antigua's Attorney General caused it to be reversed by a second Declaration of Parliament.
Following this reversal, the Government of Antigua redistributed the "returned" properties between "Receivers/Liquidators" appointed by the Antiguan Courts and Andrea Stoelker, Stanford's girlfriend/fiancee and one of his directors, Barbara Streete, both representatives of Stanford's interests on the Island.
This has triggered a number of legal actions, both on Antigua and in several international jurisdictions, most of which are still ongoing.
As a result, legitimate ownership of the land, which is currently being developed under Chinese auspices (with Chinese funds, materials and labour) at the V.C. Bird International Airport, is still very much in dispute.
Nor has the Government of Antigua produced any documentary evidence that it has negotiated an agreement with any of the disputing parties to take over this property.
Given the Attorney General's earlier statements related to the expropriation of Half Moon Bay, that it is quite legal on Antigua for development to begin on "compulsorily acquired" private property before compensation is paid for the "acquisition", it is not surprising that construction has begun on land that is not Government owned, or paid for.
In this instance, however, the number of conflicting entities considering themselves entitled to this compensation may force the Antiguan approach to its handling of foreign-owned private property into a stronger spotlight than it has attracted to-date.
By its participation in this abuse of sovereign power, China's involvement with the Antiguan Government cannot go unnoticed and can only be interpreted as complicity.
Whether through carelessness or otherwise, the Chinese government has allowed itself to be drawn into the great Stanford spotlight.
One of the consequences to this development is likely to be a wider recognition of the participation of the People's Republic of China in the affairs of Antigua & Barbuda - the good, the bad and the ugly.
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