Barbuda MP ‘disappointed’ with Council’s unchanged budget allocation

Barbuda MP Trevor Walker (Observer file photo)
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By Carlena Knight

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It’s been almost a week since Prime Minister Gaston Browne presented this year’s budget dubbed ‘Reset, Recover, Revitalise’ – and while the title suggests a push for prosperity, Barbuda MP Trevor Walker is not so impressed.

Walker told Observer yesterday that he was “disappointed” by the financial allocation for the sister isle.

Although $50.1 million was allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade and Barbuda Affairs, of that figure only $6.5 million will be dished out to Barbuda, specifically the Barbuda Council.

Walker said that when one factors in the continued restructuring of Barbuda, post-Hurricane Irma, among other issues, the figure is insufficient.

“It was extremely disappointing that less than a half of the percent of the exact budget was allocated to Barbuda in terms of allocation to the Barbuda Council, which is $6.5 million – which has been $6.5 million since 2018 after Hurricane Irma,” he said.

“Notwithstanding what we’ve been through – and this is general knowledge in terms of the nation – cost of living, inflation, especially the whole question of difficulties moving goods and services during this very difficult time, the Prime Minister and the government has not moved that allocation or allocated amount from $6.5 million in five years.

“I found that to be very disappointing. The Council presented the budget to the Ministry of Finance, I think in excess of $10 million, so during the debate I will go into more details about it but I just found that to be real disappointing,” Walker explained.

The seasoned politician went on to say that the overall budget left much to be desired and he is hoping far more details will be shared during tomorrow’s debate in Parliament.

“I just think the Prime Minister tried to paint a picture that is furthest from reality, that he wants people to believe in terms of cost of living, in terms of what the government has done and is doing to ease the squeeze so to speak, on the people of Antigua and Barbuda,” Walker said.

Walker was referring to when PM Browne addressed claims made by opposition members that his administration had given no relief to the people. Browne claimed the government had spent in excess of $1.3 million in relief monies and social programmes in an attempt to combat the high cost of living and inflation.

Walker said it was quite ironic that the PM, while suggesting that his administration and the economy is progressing, would then attempt to take additional steps to collect more money.

This, he said, sends a contradictory message.

“The second thing is, it’s also very interesting that the Prime Minister is basically, in my view, asking the people of Antigua and Barbuda to tighten their belt.

“The ABST review, for example, he is also of the view that government needs to collect more taxes by implementing certain measures. So it is not as rosy as he paints it to be, but I suppose when the debate comes along we will get more details on that,” Walker added.

Legislative and administrative adjustments are set to be made to the application and enforcement of the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST), with the government keen to plug longstanding leakages and thereby increase revenue.

Browne told the country last Thursday that these adjustments will help boost finances, saying one-third of ABST revenue is currently given away through tax exemptions.

There is no set date for when these changes will come into effect, but they are expected to be implemented sometime this year.

The $1.8 billion dollar budget spoke to a projected 9.4 percent real GDP growth for 2023 by the Central Bank, an increase from last year’s 8.5 percent.

The Ministry of Education, Creative Industries and Sports is to receive the biggest chunk of the pie this year with a whopping $185 million.

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