Open Letter to Prime Minister Gaston Browne: Please Extend the Pandemic Barrel Programme

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Dear Prime Minister Browne,

This letter is in direct response to your recent announcement to end the Pandemic Barrel Programme as of July 31, 2021.

As you and the current administration are aware, our nation and its people are unable to survive the Covid-19 pandemic without remittances from external sources, including the Antigua and Barbuda diaspora. We recognise the validity of losing revenue at the expense of those who attempt to circumvent the process. However, to end this programme without an adequate and viable alternate solution in place is irresponsible and inconsiderate at best – especially considering the plight facing our nation. At worst, we fear that many families will suffer a number of knock-on effects, least of which are hunger, homelessness, and becoming the victims of violent crimes, such as the recent spate plaguing our country.

In the absence of a stimulus package or other form of organized support program, how will our people and the nation survive?

The Covid-19 pandemic has crippled the world economy in ways that many of us will never fully comprehend. We are well aware that tourism is Antigua and Barbuda’s major source of revenue. Although it was the responsible thing to do at the time, halting travel essentially placed a financial strain on our economy that resulted in widespread job loss and a significant decline in economic activity. Many small and medium-sized enterprises collapsed, which created a sense of despair among entrepreneurs who found themselves without a safety net.

The Pandemic Barrel Initiative has been a life saver for many nationals who are unemployed and unable to provide for their families. This plight deepened the sense of patriotism and responsibility among the diaspora. We have watched the economic and social decline in our homeland from the sidelines, and we felt compelled to provide significant support to alleviate the unforeseen suffering.

Unlike the natural disasters that have affected Antigua and Barbuda in the past, Covid-19 is not localised, decisive and measurable; this pandemic has held our twin island nation in a vice grip for more than 16 months. For members of the Diaspora Progressives, a group of patriots across the global diaspora with a shared vision for development and advancement of our nation, these circumstances increased the sense of urgency we feel to demonstrate our allegiance and commitment as we collectively rebuild our country.

Despite our own economic challenges, we provided financial donations and in-kind assistance with the help of several community groups and individuals throughout the diaspora. This outpouring of support has been crucial to many who are just trying to survive. Our donations have helped a number of families put food on the table, acquire critically needed toiletries and supplies, and provide much needed relief.

The most basic needs of Antiguans and Barbudans are unavailable at home. It is disappointing that there hasn’t been an organised government response or consultation aimed at mobilising targeted support and identifying the most urgent needs of our people. The only way we will recover economically is through collaboration and cooperation; this is not the time for political posturing and repressive actions.

Prime Minister Browne, we are calling on you to extend the Pandemic Barrel Initiative until the worst of the pandemic’s effects are behind us. As public servants, the government is duty bound to protect the poor and vulnerable and help ease the burden on families in Antigua and Barbuda. While the Diaspora Progressives are not public servants, we are willing and able to serve the public. We are committed to using the skills and resources that we have to help as needed.

We are aiming to become a sustainable source and partnership for Antigua and Barbuda. So we ask that you tap into our collective strength so we can shoulder this responsibility together. Now is the time to live up to our motto, “Each Endeavouring, All Achieving.”

Mr Prime Minister, we await a favorable response from you and the government regarding how we can formalise our efforts into a government-approved remittance programme aimed at relieving the current suffering of our fellow nationals, as well as creating a path that allows us to all thrive and experience continued prosperity.


Diaspora Progressives

Thoughts and views expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer NewsCo, its management or staff.

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