By Shermain Bique-Charles
The coronavirus pandemic is not the only factor affecting the economic development of the twin island – as Prime Minister Gaston Browne has also blamed international financial institutions.
Browne, who is also the country’s Minister of Finance, told world leaders at the recently concluded 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that Antigua and Barbuda has received not “one cent” from the international financial institutions, to help meet the “enormous challenges that have brought much larger countries to their knees”.
In the case of the twin island state, Browne said during his virtual presentation that the approach of the Paris Club of official debt holders has been particularly callous and absolutely insensitive during this unprecedented global pandemic.
The Paris Club comprises a group of officials from major creditor countries whose role is to find coordinated and sustainable solutions to the payment difficulties experienced by debtor countries.
As debtor countries undertake reforms to stabilise and restore their macro-economic and financial situation, Paris Club creditors provide an appropriate debt treatment.
However, Browne said the Paris Club has not found it possible to agree to suspension of debt payments, debt rescheduling, or debt forgiveness, “to allow countries like mine an opportunity to cope with the extraordinary challenges confronting us and in which we played no part in creating”.
“Amidst the circumstances of dwindled revenues and extraordinary expenses, the Paris Club is demanding repayment of decades-old delinquent loans that simply cannot be repaid at this time,” he said.
What is worse, according to Browne, is that, “with no sympathy for the dire conditions we face”, the Paris Club blocked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from considering financial assistance and debt service relief, provided to many others, “unless we subject ourselves to a programme that would lead to an increased debt service burden and even more austere conditions for our people than presently exists”.
The prime minister said he could not take such a decision, saying flatly “that, we cannot do and certainly will not entertain”.
He told those at the annual meeting that because of the decision by the Paris Club, poverty is becoming more severe among the population.
“As our economy weakens, with an insufficient response by the international community for debt rescheduling and access to concessional financing, unemployment and poverty are growing,” he said.
Looking on the bright side, Browne assured that the people of Antigua and Barbuda are moving on with resilience, bravely and resolutely.
Furthermore, he said, despite inadequate international assistance, the government has spent millions of dollars since Covid-19.
He warned however that if this trend continues, many countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, will be unable to pay existing debt and therefore will not qualify for new borrowings.
“Even if these countries all end up in IMF programmes to give them short-term relief, unless there is suspension of debt payments, debt forgiveness and debt rescheduling, they will not recover their economies, they will certainly not achieve the UN sustainable development goals, and their debt stock will be enlarged by the compound interest that will result from unpaid debts,” Browne added.