The stage was set for a big outing. Seemed, the United Progressive Party (UPP) was ready and rarin’ to present its thoughts on where we ought to be headed in this Covid-19 period. The prevailing sentiment – one even shared by supporters of the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) – is that this administration has left Antiguans and Barbudans, the most vulnerable among us, to twist and be buffeted by the dreadful Covid winds. No relief. No Stimulus. No meaningful intercession on behalf of the poor in any number of areas. Nada! So, as you can imagine, we were all waiting with bated breaths on the first-of-its-kind virtual public meeting, to hear a critique of this administration’s handling of the crisis, and plans for how the UPP could mitigate its dreadful effects on the lives and livelihoods of so many Antiguans and Barbudans.
After some inspiring opening remarks by Leon ‘Chaku’ Symister, a member of the party’s executive, the indefatigable Franz DeFreitas, he of our very own VOICE OF THE PEOPLE renown, set the ball rolling with a stirring and impassioned denunciation of this administration and its many failed policies. He spoke of an extant mental health crisis, and lamented the lack of vision and compassion for those who are suffering. His pet subject, education, saw him calling for strategies that will provide teachers an easement. He lamented the unreliable internet situation, and spoke of a lack of vision among the policymakers. He ended with a call for more to be done for our greatest resource – our children.
Pearl Quinn Williams, the erstwhile banker, was equally passionate in her presentation, especially when she spoke of the harsh realities facing families – the stress, the anxiety and the desperation. She touched on the anguish facing people who are not working – former LIAT staff, hotel workers, taxi drivers, with no viable prospects for future employment. Many now face the real possibility that they could lose their homes and other big ticket items to foreclosure and repossession. Her voice cracking with emotion and resolve, she declared that the Redeem Team is ready to take the reins and do right by the people of this fair State.
The astute Sean Bird, the grandson of the father of the nation, Papa Bird, weighed in with a denunciation of the dire economic situation, and the seeming lack of a sound management plan. He spoke of the grave uncertainty in our economic outlook, and cited the higglers, taxi drivers and hotel workers who are not able to pay their bills. He suggested that Covid has exposed existing and entrenched vulnerabilities, and shared that the people are looking for a responsible government that will do something about their sleepless nights and uncertainty; a government that will give them a bright and stable future. He was on point! We suggest that his grandfather would have nodded approvingly.
Then there was the indomitable Alister Thomas, who recited a long list of progressive policies and programs implemented by the UPP during its terms in office. He suggested that the UPP will again look for ways and means to ease the hardship and suffering of the people. He also stridently lambasted the sitting Prime Minister as being disrespectful, uncivil, rude, obnoxious and uncaring. He certainly delivered a mouthful!
The Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, and Deputy Leader of the UPP, the Honourable Jamale Pringle, then weighed in with his usual resolve, saying that he will not sit back and allow this government to take advantage of the people. He suggested that the UPP will find ways to confront and surmount problems, and he took a swipe at the good PM, suggesting that the only thing that comes out of his mouth, is gibberish. He also questioned why the good citizens of this fair State are unable to get a stimulus. His deliberation was warmly received.
Lastly, but by no means leastly, the political leader of the party, Harold Lovell, took the podium and delivered a speech for the ages. He spoke movingly about the enormous debt of gratitude that we owe our frontline workers, and denounced the long wait that seniors have to endure before their pension checks become available. He also proposed a package of relief over a six-month period for struggling Antiguans and Barbudans. For example, while acknowledging that no amount of money can truly compensate our frontline workers for the gracious and selfless way in which they put their lives on the line to care for us, he proposed a $1,000.00 honorarium as a small token of our appreciation for their enormous sacrifices. He also proposed a fifty percent write-off of electricity and water bills for out-of-work Antiguans and Barbudans. And as if that were not enough, he proposed a monthly income subsidy for landlords to protect struggling tenants from eviction.
And he was not done. The political leader spoke of using the Central Marketing Corporation (CMC) to source markets for local produce, duty-free concessions on all Covid-related expenses, an expansion of the PDV Benefits Programme, water to farmers at a reduced rate, a cut by half in all work permit fees, free internet to children and teachers (teachers are currently using their own data and own resources), counseling and therapy for teachers, a twenty-five percent discount on electricity bills for all businesses, except banks and insurance companies, a reduction in the price of gasoline at the pump, and so on and so forth . . . It was an impressive and carefully pondered relief package, and one well worth considering.
It was certainly a memorable public meeting, viewed by several thousand world-wide, and it appealed to our best instincts, our humanity, our thirst for something better. This administration is bankrupt of ideas and strategies to bring an easement to the people. There is no compassion; no feeling the pain. It is an astonishing dereliction of duty, and we certainly hope that the people who have been so badly neglected, will remember how poorly they were treated during the darkest days of this awful pandemic.
We look forward to the next virtual public meeting.
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