Editorial: A first glance

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We asked, and guess what? We received.  Recently, the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) presented their 2018 Election Manifesto entitled “Vision 2023 and Beyond …”  Someone is obviously a fan of Disney’s Toy Story because who was not reminded of Buzz Lightyear’s famous catch-phrase, “To infinity and beyond …,” immediately upon hearing or reading the manifesto’s title.
As a quick comparison, the 2014 version of the manifesto, entitled “A Strategic Vision to Rebuild and Empower” was a 76-page publication (cover to cover) whereas 2018’s version is a bit less at 66 pages including covers, notes and blank pages.  So, in terms of heft, it appears as though the 2018 version is as “meaty” as the 2014 edition.  Those picky about size will jump to say that there is less information for citizens to make an informed decision but that would be a spurious argument.  In this case, we will say that “size does not matter” but that is only because we couldn’t resist.  That said, let’s have a very cursory look at the contents of the document.
Before we start, we need to point out that the ABLP is the first party to deliver its manifesto, so it gets top marks for getting this into the people’s hands and for giving us something to review.  Having the advantage of knowing when the election is scheduled obviously made its planning much easier, but the opposition parties all said that they were ready, so we certainly hope that that readiness included their manifestos and we will see them in very short order.
Now to the “Vision 2013 and Beyond …”
After getting past the first 10 pages of political fluff and history, we finally reached Chapter One.  We expected to see the promises and plans, but instead, we were regaled with the “ABLP accomplishments for the people in less than four years.”  The chapter is, as the title says, a giant pat on the back for the ABLP.  That continues until page 23.  At that point, we thought, “Okay.  Fair enough.  Everyone starts with some fluff and then pats himself on the back for the self-evaluated ‘job-well-done’ review.”   The rest of the document would certainly lay out the plans for taking our bit of paradise closer to the label of “economic powerhouse.”  So, on to Chapter Two.
Alas, we forgot.  There needs to be an excuse chapter.  That chapter (Chapter Two), is actually entitled, “What the ABLP could not yet do and why.”  According to this chapter, the only thing that the ABLP believes that it has not delivered is roads.  Really!  The one-page chapter blames the United Progressive Party (UPP) for the inability of the ABLP administration to deliver on its promise to fix the country’s roads.  The excuse chapter can be summed up in this excerpt: “… the cupboard the UPP left was empty and the demands plentiful. Roads suffered…”  The chapter ends by stating “… roads are being fixed and will continue to be developed as part of our Vision 2023 and Beyond.”
Finally, after 23 pages, we reached Chapter Three and what appears to be the vision for the future.  After all, it is entitled “Vision 2023 and Beyond.”  So, let’s have a look.
The first thing that the ABLP tackled was the cost of fuel, which the party is at pains to point out, is only the fourth highest in the region.  The interesting takeaway though is the plans to reduce the fuel variation charge.  There is no timetable for the reduction and it seems more tied to the deployment of renewable energies than the cost of crude oil, which is just over half the price compared to when the party took office in 2014.
Another point of interest was the conclusion that the high cost of imported items rests on “the fees charged by some agents for clearing goods from the port” with “excessive charges by agents” leading “to increased costs of goods.”  We are waiting for more information regarding the specific fees that are referenced and a rebuttal from the “agents.” So, stay tuned.
Crime was next, but it received a fairly generic promise of support. Then it was on to homes.  We are not going to touch on the “500 homes in 500 days” because there was a more interesting bit of news revealed.  According to the manifesto, “two other projects will be realised within the next five years” with financing coming from “$13.5 million provided by the government of Mexico.” Hmmm!?! Where have we heard that before?  Oh yeah!  It was that 2,000 home initiative that we were told had received funding from the government of Mexico to the tune of US$45 million in early 2015, including a grant of US$5 million.  We guess that since the Mexican government is not paying for the Trump border wall, they have a few dollars to help us out.
Then there was an interesting programme dubbed the Prime Minister’s Entrepreneurial Development Programme (EDP), which will be initially seeded with $1 million.  We are eager to hear more about the programme because it does sound interesting and could indeed have a positive effect on economic growth.  That said, we are equally interested in the future funding of the programme which has been projected at an additional $3 million annually through “a Telecommunications Tax of a 5 cents per minute charge on incoming calls that will be paid by the external source.”  Is this an additional tax to the already proposed Universal Service Fund?   We hope we hear more about the EDP, USF and the 5-cent telecommunications tax on the campaign trail or directly from the prime minister and minister of telecommunications.
Well, that’s all for now. We will continue our look at the ABLP’s manifesto in future articles, but we encourage you to read it for yourself and judge for yourself.
See the full ABLP manifesto here.

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