Deconstructing the 2022 budget

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There were all the usual ceremonial trappings that come with the presentation of the budget. And of course, all the Members of Parliament, save for MP Jamale Pringle of All Saints East and St Luke, and MP Trevor Walker of Barbuda, were at the ready to dutifully applaud and scratch each other on the back. But there was a difference with this lovefest. Seems, all is not well in the Kingdom.

This was evidenced by a group of raucous protesters, standing across from the entrance to the Parliament grounds, and making their discontent known to those in high places. The placard-carrying agitators were from Clarevue Hospital, the Fiennes Institute, Caribbean Airline Services and Jolly Beach Hotel, and they were demanding the monies owed to them. It was a historic moment – four different sets of disgruntled workers, coming together to petition this feckless and uncaring government for redress of grievances. We salute them for taking a united stand! The courage and determination of the picketers ought to give this administration pause. It is a new paradigm. The people are no longer afraid to stand up and speak out!

Anyway, even as the protesters were making their disgust known on the outside of Parliament, he of a high place was holding forth on the inside with the unveiling of a EC$1.64B budget. To no one’s surprise, Education received the largest slice of the pie – EC$154.8M – as in recent times past. We cannot argue over that. The monies spent on education are an investment in our future. If the funds are spent wisely (And that is a big ‘if’), then Antigua and Barbuda will reap great dividends. We cannot afford to shortchange our children. As one writer famously declared, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

As you can imagine, (and this comes as no surprise) based on the grumblings from the sitting MP’s that they need a raise (the nerve of them), he of a high place announced that there will be a salary increase for public servants after negotiations have been completed. Of course, we do not begrudge the public servants a decent wage increase. They have been labouring at starvation pay for some time, notwithstanding the fact that every blessed thing else has increased enormously over these past few years.  To be sure, (Forgive us for being cynical), this wage increase is being offered to the workers as a carrot. It is designed to seduce and entice them into regarding the administration favourably. Remember, it is a cheap trick, and this is an election year. This budget is an election budget! BE NOT DECEIVED!

And let us not lose sight of the very real probability that the “poor” Members of Parliament will quickly vote themselves a raise, on the heels of the public servants’ pay hike. Sigh! These Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) MP’s . . . they’re a rare breed!

Anyway, take a look, if you will, at the amnesty that has been offered to unregularised residents from March 1 to April 30. We suggest that that is another cheap and transparent play for votes, straight out of the old Antigua Labour Party (ALP) playbook. Said he of a high place, with a straight face, when justifying the amnesty, “Mr Speaker, the many private and public sector projects to be implemented in 2022 will require additional labour, if we are to secure the projected eight percent growth rate. To ensure that sufficient labour is available domestically, we will offer amnesty to individuals living in Antigua and Barbuda whose status is not regularised. . .” (Don’t laugh!) This ABLP administration has no shame!

Of course, we find it unconscionable that, never mind the EC$123.1M collected from the Citizenship By Investment Programme in 2021, this shameless administration could not rustle up the funds to provide a stimulus to the suffering citizens of this country at the height of the economic downturn.  We were left out in the cold, up the proverbial creek without the stimulus paddle. We ought never to forgive this administration for its insensitivity and uncaringness.

To no one’s surprise, there was a rehash of many of the things that we have heard in previous budgets, as is this administration’s wont. For example, there was the revival of the sweet-sounding talk that work on the new homes in the Point will begin this year. Same-old, same old!  Then there was a dust-off of the story that the APUA will be spending EC$27M to establish a solar voltaic plant in Barbuda, never mind that this administration, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, abandoned one that had already been on the sister isle. And wait, there’s more regurgitation. For example, he of a high place again promised that the administration will be building a forensics lab here in our fair State, never mind that that solemn promise was made more than two years ago. Sigh! Even the Paradise Luxury Resort tale about work being accelerated there, elicited nothing more than a yawn. As did the announcement that Robert DeNiro would be investing US$40M. Yawn, yawn! We’ve heard versions of that tale before.

Similarly, there was more talk about finishing the Sunshine Hub Car Park in St John’s (yawn), as well as transforming the Woods Pond into a scenic park and recreational area. (yawn, yawn). As has been oft-said in these editorial pages, “We will believe that malarkey when we see it!”Much as we doubt that any benefits of consequence will redound to Antigua and Barbuda as a result of the two Special Economic Zones that we now have here. Even he of a high place did not sound convincing when he declared in his budget speech, “We look forward to further injection of capital in these special economic zones, so that the direct and indirect benefits of these initiatives may be realised.” Huh! Keep dreaming, Sir. We do not share your optimism, never mind that you are one of the few persons benefitting enormously from the presence of the Western Imperial Special Economic Zone (WISEZ) here in our fair State.

Actually, at one point during his presentation, we had to laugh out loud, because while waxing lyrical on the supposed goodies, he of a high place protested vigorously that, “This is not pie-in-the-sky!” Good grief! “Wethinks thou doth protest too loudly!”

And so it goes . . . a dull and lackluster budget, save for the inducements that were thrown in to bolster the administration’s re-election bid. Under the heading, SETTING THE THEME FOR ECONOMIC REJUVENATION, he of a high place delivered a self-serving diatribe with numerous references to ‘leadership,’ and how much ‘leadership matters.’ The thing is that he wist not that precious few are impressed with his boorish behavior, his pettiness, and his bull-in-a-chinashop style of leadership. Yes, O thou of a high place! We know that leadership matters, and it is for that reason that we are ready for new and more respectful leadership here in Antigua and Barbuda.

Meanwhile, we will continue deconstructing this 2022 budget, to uncover what it is not saying.

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