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By Elesha George

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The government of Antigua and Barbuda has announced an EC$1.4 billion budget for 2021, with the hopes that improvements in tax collection, an increase in capital spending, and overall enhancements in its fiscal strategy, will yield a projected growth rate of 3 percent.  

“I am pleased, Mr Speaker, that this budget introduces no austerity measures, nor does it cut back on social sector spending on health, education and public services.

The budget also introduces no new taxes on our people.  It merely strengthens tax administration and improves tax compliance,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in parliament on Thursday, before presenting this year’s budget.

Of the $1.4 billion, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has been allotted the biggest share at $143.1 million.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment received the second highest amount of $113.4 followed by the Attorney General’s Office and Ministry of Legal Affairs, Public Safety and Labour – $98.8 million; Ministry of Works – $85 million; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Immigration – $37.9 million; Ministry of Tourism and Economic Development – $25.1 million; Ministry of Sports, Culture, National Festivals and the Arts $22.2 million; Ministry of Transformation, Human Resource Development and Youth and Gender Affairs – $22.1 million; Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs $16.5 million; Ministry of Information, Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Information Technology $14.8 million; Ministry of Energy, Civil Aviation and Transportation – $8.7 million and Ministry of Housing, Lands and Urban Renewal $4.8 million.

In addition, $16 million was allocated for the prime minister’s scholarship programme and $6.5 million for the Barbuda Council.

Overall, the government anticipates that the amount of money spent this year will exceed its budget by $133.7 million or 3.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It will also exceed the revenue collected for 2021 which the government estimates will be $872.5 million.

This is inclusive of Indirect Tax Revenue – $604.2 million, Direct Tax Revenue – $98.5 million and Non-Tax Revenue (revenue other than from taxes) – $169.0 million.

“The Customs and Excise Division and the Inland Revenue Department are tasked with the all-important responsibility of delivering this revenue performance,” the prime minister said.

Loans raised by the government from the public borrowing (capital receipts) are budgeted at $7 million, while grant funding for fiscal year 2021 is budgeted at $82.1 million.

Recurring government expenses like wages and salaries and pension payments, but not including payment of loans, is estimated to cost $928.1 million – exceeding the government spending amount by $55.6 million for 2021.

According to the prime minister, “Government’s capital budget for 2021 is $167.2 million, which is a 62% increase over the $103.3 million spent on capital projects in 2020.” Browne said the increase in capital spending is part of government’s strategy to promote economic activity while it awaits a rebound in the tourism sector.