The natives are growing restless

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If we needed any indication that the honeymoon is over, there were clear signs last week that the glitter has begun to wear off, and the mundane, everyday business events of life are taking their toll on the relationship.

In June of 2014, the people of Antigua & Barbuda entered into a contract with Gaston Browne’s ABLP. After 10 years of the UPP, it was time for a change. They no longer had confidence that the Baldwin Spencer government was able to deliver for them.

Overwhelmingly, the UPP government was routed and replaced with a slate of 14 candidates and a fresh mandate. Many promises were made to the electorate who was only too willing to believe that things could only get brighter.

Now almost three years in, and past the halfway mark, of its five-year tenure, we can detect more than an aura of disappointment, laced with anger as callers and writers to this media house articulate the absence of the turnaround that they had expected in their fortunes, by this time.

One of the promises made on the hustings, which sparked much excitement, was that of lots of jobs. Tradesmen were told to dust off their tools and be prepared to work in a matter of weeks.

In the absence of unemployment numbers, we can only judge by anecdotal accounts. But it does appear that this particular group is still waiting, almost three years later, for the inflow of jobs, and as they say, are barely eking out an existence.

The tagline of having to pay fewer taxes is another promise that is causing a sour taste. As of this month, Social Security payments have increased both for the employer and the employee.  Although the increase has been referred to as a 1 per cent increase, employees are actually paying 25% more in contributions as the rate goes from 4 to 5 percent.   And this increase is expected to continue for a few more years, until it gets to a combined 15 per cent. Despite this increase, pensioners have been complaining of cheques being delayed unduly and the hardships they are experiencing as a result.

The case has not gotten any better with the implementation of the Unincorporated Business Tax. According to the prime minister, this tax replaces the income tax. This is not sitting well with “the little people” who now must fill the breach left by the much better off.

And, so, we detect a rumbling, the warning signal of beating drums, as the natives grow restless. Two weeks ago, opposition elements staged a march, which by all accounts garnered a sizable group of supporters. Sharp on its heels was protest action by parents, athletes and coaches who had grown tired of the excuses they have been given why the principal sporting complex has not received the promised renovation.

They had been promised upgrade after upgrade, but nothing happened. They took their grievance to the streets and solicited funds from passersby. As was expected, their cause was deemed political. They nevertheless persisted, and last we heard they had received an audience with the man who could make a difference to their plight. We await the outcome of any intervention likely to bring an end to their distress.

Another sign that all is not well in Denmark was the work stoppage of workers at the Ministry of Works. This particular set is responsible for road works. They complained of lack of proper gear, to include boots and uniforms, outstanding back pay and overtime. They have been promised that their concern over boots will be addressed immediately.   As for overtime and back pay, their vouchers, they were told, will be placed on the desk of the PS for forwarding to the Treasury.

If we were to hazard a guess, road repairs could easily be at the top of the list of priorities of what is wrong here, for motorists, pedestrians and regular householders. We can ill-afford to upset the people responsible for road repairs. We would rather them happy to continue their jobs.

Frustration was further evident this week when workers at the Central Medical Stores showed their displeasure with their work environment by way of protest action. They complain of vermin running loose amongst the medication and the air condition unit responsible for keeping certain medicines at a constant temperature being non-functional; a most distressing state of affairs indeed.

And, as if that were not enough, workers at the Vector Control Department, part of the Ministry of Health, flexed their collective muscles refusing to work on account of their dismal working conditions and poor pay.

Here again, we do not want to have the people responsible for keeping vector borne diseases at bay, unhappy.  Memories of Chik-V and Zika might have faded, but who knows what’s on the horizon by way of mosquito-borne diseases.

With all that is going on, we are at least heartened by the fact that people have not lost their sense of humour.  On the ‘fake news’ front, we heard a story that Prime Minister Gaston Browne was inspired by this new era of wall-building and was considering constructing one around his office to keep the restless natives at bay.  No details yet on who will be paying for construction.

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