I have taken note of the statement made in Parliament by Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, concerning the section referring to Antigua and Barbuda in the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) of the Government of the United States.
I place on record my complete and unequivocal support for the response to the Report by the Prime Minister.
This is not the first time that this report has made inaccurate and damaging statements about Antigua and Barbuda.
During the period in which I served as Prime Minister, similar reports were made.
Indeed, they were also made during the time in office of the United Progressive Party when our country was persistently described as being of major concern for money laundering.
Just as Prime Minister Browne has responded robustly in defence of our jurisdiction, there were occasions when, as Head of Government, I had to do the same.
The fact that, as Heads of Government, we raise our voices to champion our country should not be regarded as a souring of relations with the United States.
Also, please do not believe that this report is the work of the new Donald Trump administration.
Do not for one second entertain the idea that President Trump’s government has deliberately set upon our country.
This report was written by a handful of people at a time of transition and flux in the US government when thousands of appointments are yet to be made, and policies both domestic and foreign are still unfolding.
The truth is that this report was written by a few persons who were uninformed at best.
It is riddled with unsubstantiated claims and with incorrect information.
The Prime Minister has listed the many instances of false information and claims.
There is no need for me to repeat them here.
But just as in our country, the government should not formulate policy or make statements about another country unless we have checked and double-checked the facts, the same obligation devolves upon every other nation, including the United States.
Those who wrote this false report about Antigua and Barbuda maligned our country, but they failed their own government as well.
For they have compiled a report in the name of the US government that cannot stand up to scrutiny.
However, we have an obligation to defend our country.
We too would be failing in our obligations to our nation, if we sat by and allowed its reputation to be damaged.
Like every other country in the Caribbean, correspondent banking relations are being withdrawn from our banks by global banks because of a fear of the huge fines that could result from instances of money laundering.
Immediately as the INCSR was released, every compliance officer in every major bank in the US had read it.
Therefore, despite all that we do to implement and enforce the strongest anti-money laundering regime, the INCSR report damaged our jurisdiction.
No right thinking and responsible Prime Minister could let that pass.
The government was obliged to set the record straight and to call out the falsehoods and inaccuracies in the Report.
If not, it is the people of this country who would suffer as the US banks refuse to do business with our banks.
That would materially affect every business, every hotel, every person who receives money from abroad, and every person who must send money overseas for whatever reason.
The Report made the blatantly false statement that our country’s Citizenship by Investment Programme is "the most lax in the world".
Yet, it produced not a scintilla of evidence to back that wild claim.
But, by just making that false claim, they put in jeopardy the Citizenship by Investment Programme whose proceeds are used to pay the pensions of our elderly, to support our health services and to pay off debt.
In other words, they put the welfare of our people at serious and grave risk.
We may be a small nation, but we are a proud people who try our best to carve a place in the world, despite all the obstacles placed in our way.
At the very least, we should be respected, and not subjected to false reporting by a few unidentified persons who hide behind anonymity to discredit our country either through incompetence or carelessness or both.
How could any responsible Prime Minister sit-by and say nothing?
Had Prime Minister Browne done so, he would have deserved criticism and condemnation for abandoning his duty to the people.
Instead, he stood-up for our nation.
For that, he merits our praise, our appreciation and our gratitude.