Prime Minister Gaston Browne on Thursday unveiled several programmes geared towards helping public sector employees.
Some of the programmes include a housing grant and vehicle concessions
“There will be a housing grant of EC$10 thousand (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) to public servants to assist with the down payment and the purchase price of a home from the National Housing and Urban Renewal Company.Vehicle concessions will be given once every five years beginning the February 28, public servants will receive 50 to 100 percent waiver on import duty on new and used vehicles.”
Concerning home ownership, the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister of Finance, said public servants including teachers, nurses and members of the police force will be given priority access to homes provided by National Housing.
“For those who do not wish to purchase a home from National Housing, a special window will be established through the Construct Antigua Barbuda Initiative that will allow fast-track access to the incentives offered through this programme.
Additionally, public servants will be eligible to receive concessions on the importation of household furnishings and major appliances to furnish their new homes.
The Government wants as many public servants as possible to take advantage of these empowering programmes.”
On the issue of health insurance for public servants, the Prime Minister said the feasibility of establishing a group health insurance plan is being examined.
“This plan would be optional with the premium being paid by the employee and the government. Ultimately, the practicality of this venture will depend on the number of public servants who choose to participate.”
The Prime Minister had more in store for the public sector workers and announced 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.
The Prime Minister also 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 Dec 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. .
The Prime Minister also announced a relief initiative for the needy and said that his administration will provide come to the aid of households where arrears have led to the disconnection of electricity, water or telephone service.
“ These families should not have to be deprived of a basic service indefinitely simply because of their socio-economic circumstances. If, as at December 31, 2017, a household has been without either electricity, water or telephone service for more than 90 days, the Government will wipe-off the arrears and, once the reconnection fee is paid, the service will be restored. This relief programme is only for households; will take effect from February 14, 2018 and will run until May 18, 2018.
Concerning plans to fight crime, Browne said the government will increase the number of trained and armed law enforcement officers who will pursue those who are “committed to a life of crime.”
“In terms of promoting justice, both for the accused and the victim, we will improve the equity and effectiveness of our judicial and custodial systems.To this end, we will accelerate plans to establish a new forensics laboratory in Antigua and Barbuda, so that critical forensic examinations can be conducted locally.”
The Prime Minister said that in the aftermath of the devastation from hurricanes, the government is not daunted and where Barbuda is concerned, the reconstruction of the island will be advanced this year.
“We are determined to rebuild Barbuda better and for good.
For the good of the residents of Barbuda; for the good of the island’s economic sustainability; for the good of resilience to future hurricanes.With the support of many bilateral and multilateral donors and creditors…”
Concerning the budget projections for 2018, the Prime Minister said Recurrent expenditure including principal payments is estimated at EC$1.22 billion, which is about 5 percent above the EC$1.16 billion estimated in Budget 2017.
With regard to revenue projections, Recurrent Revenue for Fiscal Year 2018 is budgeted at EC$877 million – this is 8 percent above the EC$809 million collected in 2017.
The Prime Minister said Revenue in 2018 is expected to be higher than the amount collected in 2017 because of a considerable increase in economic activity.
“This will be supported by improvements in tax administration and implementation of initiatives to enhance compliance.Tax revenue, comprising of direct and indirect taxes, will account for about 81 percent or $708 million, while non-tax revenue of EC$169 million will make up the remaining 19 percent. Direct taxes are expected to yield EC $102.8 million in 2018.
As it relates to budgetary allocations, Browne said the Ministry of Health and the Environment received the highest sum, followed by the Ministry of Justice.
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