Antigua and Barbuda Mission
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Spotlight on the Mission: STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS 2016
Fellow Citizens and Residents of Antigua and Barbuda. I wish you all a happy, productive and most prosperous, 2016.
On Christmas Eve Day, several of my Cabinet colleagues and I,
gave a comprehensive review of my government’s stewardship of this nation’s affairs
over the last year.
In the first public account of its kind, we reported to the people in a broadcast carried live by all but a couple entities of the electronic media.
Apart from welcoming questions from every journalist, we also accepted calls from members of the public without restriction. My government intends to make an annual event of live, public, interactive reviews of our administration of the nation’s affairs.
We do so in conformity with our firm commitment to good, transparent, accountable and responsive governance.
Having so recently provided a wide-ranging description of our management in 2015, in this New Year’s Address, I propose only to deal with a few important matters of the last year and to provide insights to the prospects for 2016.
New Year starts better than in 10 years
I am proud to say, as a nation, we begin this New Year better than we started each of the previous ten.
During the last five years of the previous government, the economy rapidly declined with unparalleled business failure, foreclosures and job losses. Unemployment rose exponentially, poverty rates expanded, crime escalated, corruption was rampant, the financial system was unhealthy and the welfare of our people was sadly neglected.
In truth, our nation endured five years of misery and underdevelopment. Our economic and social development was set back by 25 per cent and in excess of 10,000 citizens and residents were relegated to the breadline.
My government acted immediately and aggressively to avert an impending disaster that was so profound and so imminent, everyone without exception, experienced it. Eighteen months later, we are well on the way to stabilizing our country. We have turned it from the fear of despair to the prospect of hope; from pessimism to optimism.
Spencer/Lovell combination broke the Economy
Our most urgent task upon taking office was to pull back the economy from the precipice of disaster on which it was dangerously hanging.
The country was not just broken; it was broke. My government inherited conditions of extremely high debt and delinquent loans from the Baldwin Spencer/Harold Lovell administration. Spencer and Lovell were joined at the hip in their maladministration of the country’s financial affairs. While Spencer was in his slumber, his neophyte finance minister, Harold Lovell, appropriated unto himself the leadership responsibility of the nation and literally wrecked our country.
He now holds the unenviably record of the worst performing finance minister of all time. Under Lovell’s stewardship, the economic and financial systems were in virtual meltdown.
They had no answers to the problems of their own creation. Had they stayed in office any longer, unemployment would have doubled; loans would have remained unpaid; creditors, including the IMF would have applied crippling sanctions upon this nation; more businesses would certainly have closed than those that had already done so; and more people would have lost their homes. During our first six months in office, we had to raise approximately EC$70M to bring the IMF and Chinese Loans up to date.
Had we not brought the Chinese loan up to date, the loan to finish the VC Bird International Airport would have been terminated and the Port Expansion Loan commitment cancelled. WIOC was owed $89 million and it was threatening to cut off oil supplies to APUA that would have left the country with severe disruption of electricity. SEMBCORP Water Antigua Ltd was owed $22 million and they too were about to cut off all water supplies. APUA owed Antigua Power Company in excess of $40 million for electricity, they too intended to cut off supply. ABI Bank was already bankrupt and on the point of collapse that would have seen Antiguan and Barbudan deprived of at least 90 percent of their deposit value. The Spencer/Lovell maladministration had no strategy in place to resolve the problem, they left the bank to hemorrhage for three years. After three years They had not provided one red cent to resolve ABIB.
They were content to deprive depositors of their money and to allow the entire banking system in Antigua and Barbuda and the other OECS countries to collapse. My Government secured EC$300M in financial commitments to resolve ABI Bank thereby protecting all depositors. In the case of Social Security, it was owed EC$543 million by the government, escalated to that huge sum by non-payments by the Spencer/Lovell regime.
The ABLP’s financial rescue
I will deal in some detail with the neglect of the Social Security Scheme and Medical Benefits later in this presentation. But, I emphasize now that my government immediately launched a rescue programme, and it has been both transparent and accountable.
The appointment of an enhanced Audit Unit consisting of 9 of the best young accountants in Antigua and Barbuda will ensure the scrupulous review of government’s income and expenditure and account for every cent. With regard to the ABI Bank resolution: through a creative mix of public and private sector investment, we have re-capitalized and stabilized the new bank thereby saving Antiguan and Barbudan depositors from losing their money. We have also ensured that every ABI employee will receive their due severance and Thrift Fund payments. Resolving ABI Bank also had the effect of removing the threat of destabilization of the banking sector in Antigua and Barbuda and the other OECS countries to which we are interlinked.>
We cleared the arrears on the Chinese loans and made payments that allowed the funds for the completion of the VC Bird International Airport, in time for this winter’s tourist season. This winter season will be the among the strongest in decades. We also negotiated Chinese assistance for the funds to dredge the St. John’s Harbour, allowing more Cruise Ships to call in Antigua. I will speak to this with more particulars later in this statement. Because of the botched approach to acquisition of the Half Moon Bay Hotel valued at US$23M and the failure of the Spencer/Lovell regime to find a real investor, the country ended-up owing the owners of the property some US$43 million. US$20 million in value was destroyed by the former administration