The main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) Friday described as a “pathetic presentation of a budget” the EC$1.2 billion (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) fiscal package presented to Parliament on Thursday by Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
UPP leader and former finance minister Harold Lovell said that Prime Minister Browne during his two and half hour presentation had blamed the passage of Hurricane Irma last September and the opposition party for the failure of his administration to report on any meaningful progress the twin island nation had made over the past 12 months.
“We do not accept the numbers he has presented. He twist the facts, he makes up the figures as he goes long, he blames the UPP and another name you can find for this budget is…blame Irma. That’s what he has done to everything, blame Irma or the UPP,” Lovell said.
“This was a pathetic presentation of a budget where it was all about trying to fool people, the desperation budget recognising that this is not an election that will be based on performance. This is an election that will be based on policies,” Lovell said.
In his budget presentation, Prime Minister Browne unveiled several programmes geared towards helping public sector employees, including a housing grant and vehicle concessions
He said that given that the negotiation process between the unions and the Government’s team will take sometime there will be an interim increase in basic salary for public servants.
“This is not intended to prejudice the negotiations, nor is it an indication of the government’s final offer as it relates to a wage increase. I promised in 2017, that public servants would receive an increase in pay and while the process for arriving at a negotiated my still be unfolding. I am to determine to deliver on that promise.”
The interim increase took effect on January 1 and Browne acknowledged that the government still owes some public sector workers in back pay.
“This government proposes to settle the outstanding back pay by offering every public servant who was employed to the government on December 31, 2002. One month of his or her basic salary free of all deductions. If this proposal is accepted, the government will focus on clearing the arrears immediately. “
But Lovell said the increase to public workers is inadequate and that the back pay to the public workers had been on the table for a long time.
“The (Antigua and Barbuda) Labour Party did that before in 1994 when they never paid any of that back pay and even now when they are talking about back pay. A little bit of that remains after the UPP made the payment in 2004 and 2005 and that is the back pay he is referring to and that dates back to a period when the Labour Party was in office and made those promises,” Lovell said.
Meanwhile, independent legislator, Joanne Massiah, has also criticised the fiscal package describing it as “a Houdini budget.
It is full of illusions, it is full of magic tricks and the people of this country, if they have never done it before, they have got to put on their analytical hats and their critical thinking skills and dissect this budget in a way a budget has never been dissected. It’s clearly an election budget.
“The increase to public servants, it’s done in a vacuum. He says five per cent, five per cent really, when you think about the recent increases to social security, when you think of … cost of living going up every single week. People in this country are bawling [and] the five per cent increase is going to have zero impact,” said Massiah, who heads the Democratic National Alliance (DNA).
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