A crowd clad in blue and several thousand strong welcomed the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) Political Leader’s declaration of an electoral “war” as the party officially launched its campaign for the March 21 general election.
“We are here to sound the gong and declare that the war is on!” Harold Lovell declared when he took the stage during the launch at the Rising Sun ground Sunday night.
“We going to trample down the lies and cramp down the wickedness! Together we are the rescue Antigua and Barbuda needs! We will rescue this country and restore pride!” the political leader said.
Amidst the deliveries of speeches by six other UPP candidates, namely Shawn Nicholas, Dr McChesney Emanuel, Richard Lewis, Chester Hughes, Johnathon Joseph and Wilmoth Daniel, the highlight of the launch was the announcement of a suite of promised tax reductions and fee cuts aimed at reducing the cost of living.
After at least two years of criticising the ruling Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) over the cost of fuel the UPP has promised to reduce the cost of gasoline to EC $10.00 per gallon and to reduce diesel to $9.90 per gallon.
Lovell then promised that the party would slash the Antigua Public Utilities Authority’s (APUA’s) fuel variation charge – which is a component of electricity bills – by 25 percent. He also committed to “peg the price of energy locally to the price of oil internationally.” This, according to him, was intended to ensure that when international oil prices decreased, Antiguans and Barbuda felt the benefit.
Then came several promises of removing or reducing taxes; the UPP, according to its leader, proposes to “remove all taxes on prescription reading glasses” and to “remove all taxes on funeral expenses” as well as to “remove [Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax] on all cell phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers for private use.”
Next, the UPP leader touted a reduction in other fees thought to be burdensome to the public. He pledged that a Lovell administration would “reduce the annual vehicle licensing fee by 50 percent” and would then target farmers with a “50 percent reduction on water rates for [Central Marketing Corporation] certified farmers.”
There was an unspecific promise made to “expand list of goods under price control” and a promise to pensioners to implement an “inflation-indexed social security pensions plan” which would cause pensions to be increased depending on rises in inflation and the cost of living.
Public servants were not forgotten in the party’s promises, with Lovell declaring that a government under his leadership would conclude salary increase negotiations with the public sector unions “within 90 days of being elected” and further, would clear “all outstanding back pay” by December of 2018.
It was only in February that Gaston Browne, the prime minister, announced a 5 percent general salary increase for public sector workers effective from January 2018.
The UPP has also targeted the business community with a pledge to reduce corporation tax from 25 percent “to as low as 12 percent in the first term” – a promise in direct rivalry with one made by the ABLP’s 2018 manifesto promise to reduce corporation taxes from 25 percent to 20 percent.
Lovell added that his party will create four new duty-free zones; English Harbour, Jolly Harbour, Redcliffe Quay, and Barbuda – changes which, he proposed, would stimulate commerce and in Barbuda’s case, reduce the cost of living.
The UPP’s campaign was launched under the theme “delivering hope.” It comes more than a week after the prime minister’s February 24 announcement of the March 21 snap election at his party’s campaign launch.