Wednesday, 09 May 2012 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Antigua St John's - Buoyed by what party officials say has been a very good turnout for the AT&LU/ALP Labour Day march, Antigua Labour Party Political leader Lester Bird is using the positive showing to ‘dis’ the governing United Progressive Party’s “Safe Hands” campaign.
The UPP launched the new campaign as a lead-up to the Labour Week activities, as well as to mark a new program me of activism and mobilization. The campaign’s slogan is “Your in Safe Hands with Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer’’.
Bird was dismissive of the theme of the campaign and he identified a number of instances to indicate that in his view, the country is not in safe hands under the Spencer leadership.
The ALP Leader said the situation with unemployment in the country is one of the most apparent examples of the failings of the Spencer Administration.
“When we left office in 2004, unemployment in the country stood at about 5 percent, but under the UPP government it has jumped to 20 percent. This figure would have been even higher had it not been for the fact that many nationals have migrated to places like the United States and Canada,” he noted.
Bird next turned to the issue of taxes as another area where the government has failed the people. He said the UPP went against its stated promises of not introducing income tax on the people of the country. “The government is now
collecting more taxes than we did when we were in government. We had to run the country on income of $400 million annually, while the UPP has been collecting as much as $700 million per year,” he declared.
He said under the ALP Antigua and Barbuda had the highest standard of living in the OECS with the highest savings in the banking system, but under the UPP these have
reversed. “Where are the safe hands that Baldwin Spencer is talking about?” he asked.
He also pointed to what he called the government’s inability to attract foreign direct investment as indicated by the last survey provided by ECLAC. He said both foreign and local investments are critical for continued economic growth and expansion and that the government has failed to stimulate these sectors to jump-start the economy.
Bird said attracting investment and creating jobs are among the fundamental responsibilities of a government and he again questioned the validity of the UPP’s claim of safe hands.The full broadcast is printed below:
arrest of an officer attached to the fire department who was arrested and charged with possession of marihuana, in labour dayLet me begin this evening by thanking the large number of people who came out in support of the combined march by the Antigua Trades and Labour Union and the Antigua Labour Party yesterday.
Young and old came out. Healthy and ill were there. They came out despite the inclement weather.
They looked to the AT&LU and the ALP at this time of great strain in their lives.
They demonstrated that they reject the recent Spencer government slogan that they are “a safe pair of hands”.
The people spoke yesterday by turning out at the march and rally.
Hundreds of others supported them quietly.
They may not have marched to show their rejection of the UPP, but they spoke of it in their homes, at their gatherings and in their quiet support.
They know that the Spencer government is no “safe pair of hands”.
They know that many of them have lost their jobs.
They know that many of them have lost their homes because they cannot pay the mortgages.
They know that many of them have lost their cars because they cannot keep up the payments.
And, they know that all of this has happened because the UPP lied to them in 2004 when they said they would not impose income tax but went ahead and did so.
They know that the real take-home pay of many citizens and residents of this country was reduced significantly by income tax.
They also know that their spending power was also reduced by Spencer government’s imposition of a sales tax, even though they lied and said they would not do so.
The people also know that despite all the taxes that the UPP government imposed, no new jobs have been created.
How could this be a safe pair of hands?
The people know that every year close to 1,500 young persons are leaving school with no jobs in sight.
These young people have been deprived of the best years of their youth when they should be working, enjoying life and contributing to society.
Instead, they remain dependent on family.
Unemployment is now at the highest level it has been for over forty years.
When the Labour Party left office in 2004, it was 5 per cent. Today it is close to 20%.
And, the only reason it is not higher is that many of our people have emigrated over the last 8 years.
They have gone to seek jobs and opportunities in the US and Canada.
Had they stayed, unemployment would have been higher and so too would be the level of misery.
How could this be a safe pair of hands?
Not only have no new jobs been created, the UPP government has actually reduced the number of jobs by their policies.
Now they have turned to taxing people’s hard earned allowances – their travel and meal allowances.
Over the last eight years, the Spencer government has collected tens of millions of dollars of more taxes than was ever the case under the Labour Party.
We imposed no personal income tax and no government sales tax.
But we had close to full employment, and our people had the second highest per capita income in the Caribbean, and the most savings in the banks.
The UPP government has nothing to show for all these additional taxes.
There are no new jobs, no sustainable development projects, and people have been forced to live off their savings.
Where is the safe pair of hands?
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has just revealed in an official report that foreign direct investment in Antigua and Barbuda has declined steadily every year since the ALP left office.
It went from US$361 million to US$101 million in 2010 and a very low figure of US64 million last year, 2011.
This means that foreign investors do not trust this government.
This is the same government that sued investors to stop their projects, and blocked the roads to stop the supply of material to work sites. Even arson was condoned.
And, there is no point in them blaming the international economy.
For, despite the international economy foreign investment increased in several neighbouring Caribbean countries.
Foreign Direct investment increased in St Kitts-Nevis; it increased in St Vincent and the Grenadines; it increased in the Bahamas; it increased in the Dominican Republic; it increased in Guyana; it increased in Suriname; and it increased in Haiti.
It is complete distrust of the Spencer government that has caused this steady and continuous decline in foreign investment in Antigua and Barbuda.
There is simply no safe pair of hands.
We also do not know the extent of the decline in local investment because the government hides the figures.
But we know from our own eyes that many local businesses have closed and some have reduced the size of their operations.
Consequently, even they have been forced to reduce the number of people they employ.
And, the worst sufferers are young people, and single mothers.
All of this is happening amid increases in the cost of living.
We have all cut back on electricity and water; we have cut back on the number of times we put gas in our cars; we have all cut back on the foods we eat.
Yet, it is difficult if not impossible to make ends meet. This situation cannot and must not continue.
Income tax must be repealed. The Government sales tax must be reduced. Pensions for elderly people must be increased.
People must have money in their pockets.
Foreign direct investment must be encouraged by radically new policies and by confidence in a new government.
Local business people must be given incentives to invest and to employ. People must have jobs.
A new government must lead the way in encouraging high-end tourism and other services industry; in revolutionizing the way the internet and telecommunications can make Antigua and Barbuda a centre for back-office work for the world.
Neither the present affairs of the country nor its future is in a safe pair of hands.
Our country has been - and is being - seriously damaged.
It is time to recapture it and recover it for the good of all citizens and residents of our beloved country.