EDITORIAL: In the rear view mirror

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To those whom it concerns, and it really ought to concern every Antiguan and Barbudan, the prime minister’s budget speech was a smorgasbord of tiresome comparisons and a craven playing to the peanut gallery. MP Joanne Massiah referred to it as a “Houdini budget,” and she ruefully remarked that there was no way that the government could pay for all the unrealistic and fanciful promises. We noted with a wan smile that the PM elicited much laughter when referencing the over-the-top promise of ‘five hundred houses in five hundred days,’ as well he ought to have, because no serious person could have ever considered that promise as anything more than a fallacy. The fact that he constantly goes back to it shows that he has a sense of humour. Perverse? Perhaps. Tone-deaf? Most assuredly! After all, with the seriousness of our housing situation here in Antigua (never mind Barbuda), affordable and low-income housing ought not to be a laughing matter.
Now on to the tiresome comparisons and the knee-jerk propensity of this government to forever hearken back to the supposedly bad old days of the UPP administration. Mind you, this is not a defense of the previous administration. They made mistakes a-plenty and squandered much goodwill. Rather, the constant references are an indictment of an administration that, some three-and-a-half years after taking office, steadfastly refuses to take responsibility for, or ownership of, any of the problems that we now face. Of course, the new villain du jour is Hurricane Irma, but as Irma fades as a plausible scapegoat, the administration increasingly and forever redoubts to its default fall guy – the UPP.
Consider. Immediately after his opening formalities and the obligatory pablum, the PM, under a section called PERFORMANCE, looks in the rear view mirror and declares, “Between 2009 and 2013, the government’s fiscal position was unsustainable. There was an annual average primary deficit of $73 million and an annual average overall deficit of $177 million. In contrast, over the period 2014 to 2017, my government recorded average annual primary surpluses of $71 million and annual overall deficits of $24 million.” Yipeee! But these comparisons are misleading because they do not mention such extenuating factors as the worldwide recession, the collapse of financial markets and the abrupt removal of the so-called Stanford ‘safety net’ during the UPP years. Neither do they take into account that by the time this government took office, much of the world was on the rebound, as was our fiscal position. But let’s not quibble over a few inconvenient variables and facts when presenting a feel-good budget . . . through the rear view mirror!
And the unfortunate presentation ‘through the lens of the rear view mirror’ continued. When talking about THE ECONOMY, the PM began by saying, “Mr. Speaker, during the Lovell years, between 2009 and 2011, the economy contracted by a cumulative 21.6 percent . . . ’’ Again, that may be so, but again, no mention is made of the fact that this was at the height of the world economic downturn, and just about every economy contracted. Yes, “America sneezed, and the rest of the world caught a cold!” Again, as per this administration, the facts are largely irrelevant.
No defense of the UPP but to put things in perspective, in March 2009, Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman proclaimed that up to 45% of global wealth had been evaporated by the global financial crisis.
And so it went – Under the section entitled DEPOSITOR PROTECTION TRUST, the good PM began, “Mr. Speaker, the terrible condition of the banking sector that my government inherited in 2014 is well known . . .” It is 2018, for crying out loud! The current administration has been in office for some three-and-a-half years! Tell us about your stewardship of the sector and what you plan to do . . . without forever hearkening back to the previous administration! We are going to be fair and say the ‘looking back’ budgets are not just an ABLP thing but we keep hoping for a refreshing change and are left to ask, when are you going to take ownership of the blessed thing? Why, in the name of all that is good, would the PM find it necessary to prefix the discourse under the heading EXPENDITURES, “Mr. Speaker, my government has successfully cut wastage and frivolous expenditure that was evident under the last administration . . .?” grief!  Just proudly proclaim the percentage or quantum of expenditure savings.
 It is almost like an insecure and punkish boyfriend who has won the heart of his love-interest, but he constantly refers to, and compares himself to, her previous lover. Three-and-a-half-years after he won her heart! Poor fella. If she leaves him and returns to her previous lover he would have only himself to blame!
 And the analogies do not end there. Think a runner who is way ahead in a race, but instead of focusing on the finish line and keeping his eyes on the prize, he is constantly peering over his shoulders at the other racers behind him. In the world of athletics, this is a major no-no. And runners do this at their own peril. They are liable to stumble and fall. Hmmm!
Think Donald Trump blaming the missteps in his administration (only a year old, mind you) on Obama, the previous administration’s operatives, the deep state, the FBI, the Democrats, Hillary Clinton and so on and so forth. Indeed, political watchers have remarked on the fact, that Trump appears to be in perpetual campaign mode because he almost never makes a speech without mentioning “Hillary Clinton blah, blah, blah.”
Perhaps it is a bit much to ask of this administration to ditch the unhealthy obsession with ancient history (and in the life of our politics, three-and-a-half-years is indeed donkey years and ancient history). Some would say this nervous tic speaks to the insecurity and the shaky leg upon which this administration stands. They claim  it is a measure of the smallness of the administration that, instead of measuring its accomplishments against the wondrous accomplishments of its previous years, the government has taken to measuring its accomplishments  against an administration that it defeated three-and-a-half-years ago!
Interestingly, there is a manufacturer’s caution imprinted on the side and rear view mirrors of many cars. It says, “Warning, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear!” Hmmm!
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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