The United Progressive Party (UPP) is calling for a full investigation into the Antigua Airways fiasco that has left hundreds of West Africans stranded, with the Browne Administration now deciding – unilaterally – to legalize their status.
On Thursday, February 2, the Cabinet announced that an offer to repatriate the African “visitors” would be made. However, those who choose to remain here will be afforded the opportunity to do so, and an arrangement will likely be made to ensure their status becomes legal.
However, Damani Tabor, public relations officer (PRO) for the UPP, says the Party is demanding that the Administration halt its one-sided plans and allow for input from various stakeholders, including the elected members of Parliament.
Tabor says no legalization of the Africans’ status should be taking place without an investigation to determine whether any laws were broken in bringing them here, and whether there was any human trafficking, which Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin has already denied.
From the get-go, Tabor says, this venture had been riddled with lies. He references the Government’s claims that the airline would bring wealthy Nigerian investors here – which the Cabinet has conceded should have been the case but did not pan out as expected.
Tabor says he has had discussions with a legal luminary, who has posited that this hasty move to regularize the West Africans’ status could be a means of sweeping the human-trafficking allegations under the carpet.
If this is done, the lawyer says, then the Government can claim all is well and there was no offense – in spite of statements by the Africans, themselves, that they believe they were trafficked.
According to Tabor, even if this matter is concealed, it does not repair the international harm already done to the country’s reputation; and this, potentially, could damage bilateral relations; jeopardize donor assistance; and hurt the business and tourism climate.
The Party’s PRO says there are also concerns about the economic impact of the Administration’s decision. The Africans will be competing with locals for jobs, he points out, when many citizens and residents are already having a hard time securing employment.
Tabor notes that 10 of the country’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) passports are tied to this scandal, and no one has heard any recent mention of Marvelous Mike, the investor behind the airline, and his involvement – if any – in resolving this issue.
Meanwhile, the UPP is considering a number of measures to force the Administration to reconsider its decision – including activism campaigns and protest action if the need arises, Tabor says.
Tabor adds that he would not rule out a call for a public inquiry into the matter, because the more structured the investigation is, the more easily it would be to integrate the various stakeholders and get to the bottom of this disturbing saga.