Just months into their first term in office, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, and the Premier of Montserrat, Donaldson Romeo, have pledged to forge closer ties between their governments and peoples, according to reports.
On Monday, Browne, accompanied by Permanent Secretary Amb. Colin Murdoch, paid a “goodwill and friendship” visit to Montserrat, according to an Antigua and Barbuda government statement.
During the visit, Browne was introduced to members of Montserrat’s Cabinet, and toured the Montserrat Museum, sand mining operations in Belham, the Geothermal Project, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, the Marine Village and the sports center.
Browne also received a helicopter tour of the Soufriere Hills volcano and surrounding areas, the statement said.
“I am delighted to welcome our prime minister from Antigua and 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,” Romeo said.
“Today’s visit signals the start of new and improved relations between our two countries,” he added.
In announcing the establishment of a Joint Commission to explore areas of cooperation between both countries, Browne said that Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat have had very close relations spanning many decades that involved free movement of people long before the phrase was adopted by the sub-regional Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) or the wider 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,” Browne 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,” he added.
“And I am quite confident that Montserrat, some day, will become a self-sustaining country; and anything Antigua and 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,” Browne continued.
Both leaders, in addition to announcing the establishment of the Joint Commission, revealed that Antigua and Barbuda will provide scholarships to Montserratians on the opening of the University of Antigua and 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 with Browne confirming that he will be making representation to the British government on behalf of displaced Montserratians living in Antigua and Barbuda for housing and other services, according to the statement.
Recently, the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda reduced tonnage fees for sand, and ferry fees between both islands were reduced from EC$75 to EC$50 (1US$=EC$2.67), which will become effective in under two weeks.
Romeo, who was elected into office on Sept. 11, has strong links with Antigua and Barbuda. Romeo’s father is Antiguan-born, the statement said.