UPP Leader gives thumbs down to budget speech

Leader of the United Progressive Party, Harold Lovell (File photo)
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The leader of the main opposition party, the UPP, has accused the Prime Minister of presenting a budget that was more about political grandstanding than helping struggling people.

During the annual presentation on Thursday, PM Gaston Browne, who is also Finance Minister, introduced his $1.64 billion budget for 2022, with a promise of no new taxes for the next 12 months.

It was a marked increase on last year’s $1.4 billion budget but slightly lower than 2020’s $1.7 billion.

Yesterday, UPP Leader Harold Lovell shared his initial reaction with Observer.

He said his party had been looking forward to hearing about measures to be introduced for small business owners and those who are battling to make ends meet amid the Covid-19 pandemic, saying these matters were of major concern to residents.

“The real issue is, what new programmes are being funded, what are the new initiatives that are being funded? That to me speaks to the question of the direction you want to go.

“What new legislation, for example, for the benefit of small businesses? Have we seen that?” he questioned.

Lovell claimed that what the nation heard was a political speech, one he suggested was intended to do little more than boost the ruling administration’s profile.

“The budget ought to be about a vision for the next year, how you intend to deal with the current situation. And in particular, because we are in the pandemic, there has to be a new way of thinking and not just spouting political rhetoric which he thinks makes him look good,” Lovell, himself a former finance minister, remarked.

He claimed the “budget really sought to berate the UPP and Harold Lovell in particular. That’s not what a budget ought to be about”.

Lovell called for more to be done to improve the rising cost of living in Antigua and Barbuda, and particularly the cost of doing business.

Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Jamale Pringle, is expected to provide a more detailed review of the budget next week. It is also set for debate on February 10.

Observer media was unable to reach the leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) for its take on the 2022 budget.

During Thursday’s speech which lasted more than four hours, PM Browne spoke of 5.3 percent economic growth in 2021, and praised tourism officials for the role they played in boosting public coffers.

He acknowledged the administration’s difficulties in paying many public sector workers outstanding overtime but said, while wages, salaries and pensions absorbed almost 60 percent of government revenues, all staff had continued to receive their standard pay and none had been laid off.

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