Thursday, 24 May 2012 02:30
By press release
Antigua St John's - Former prime minister Lester Bird wants a referendum to decide on the UPP's track record on foreign direct investment and crime.
He made the call during a public broadcast on Wednesday.
In his message, Bird also tackled unemployment, and the prime minister's reported "death" of the offshore sector.
His full remarks are reprinted below.
"Better days not bitter days for the people"
Good evening fellow Citizens and Residents I want to talk to two things this evening.
First, I was disturbed to hear the Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer say that the offshore financial sector in this country is dead.
That was a mortal blow of “no confidence” in the offshore sector, and it will do untold harm to the existing banks and other financial institutions that have maintained loyalty to our country.
For, if the Prime Minister of a country says that its offshore sector is dead, why would anyone want to invest in it, or deposit money in its banks, or establish International Business Corporations in it?
And would those persons and companies, who now hold accounts in offshore banks, not be worried about their investments?
The reality is that the offshore financial sector in this country, which was vibrant and productive when the ALP left office in March 2004, has suffered and dwindled because of neglect and mismanagement by the Spencer government.
Every child knows that if you have a tree and you fail to water it, it will die. That is what happened to the offshore sector in Antigua and Barbuda.
The Spencer government did not promote it overseas; they did not join with the existing operators to clear-up doubts and present facts; and they did not put the instruments in place that would have nurtured and grown the sector.
Apart from not vigorously promoting the sector abroad, they also did not seek to sign Double Taxation Agreements with big countries so that investors from those countries would have no fear of their investments being taxed twice.
What the UPP did was sign many tax information disclosure agreements.
So while they created the environment in which investors’ tax information would be freely disclosed, they did not simultaneously establish double tax information agreements that would stop such investors from being taxed twice.
Therefore, there is no incentive to for investors to choose our jurisdiction over others as a place to invest.
The offshore financial sector is not dead in the Bahamas; it is not dead in Bermuda; it is not dead in Barbados; it is not dead in the British Virgin Islands; and it is not dead in the Cayman Islands.
It is not dead in any of those neighbouring Caribbean countries, because the governments continued to promote them and to create an environment that attracted them and helped them to grow.
Consequently, the sector in those countries continues to employ thousands of people, continues to pay them good wages, and continues to earn money for the governments.
When the ALP returns to office, one of the first steps we will take to reinvigorate the offshore sector is to negotiate Double Taxation Agreements with all the countries with which the Spencer administration has agreed to give tax information.
We will also put in place a regulatory regime whose standards will be high and will be respected.
In doing so, we will seek to join other jurisdictions such as St Kitts-Nevis, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in establishing a single high-calibre regulatory body for all our jurisdictions that would be recognized by the world.
Further, we will work with existing and new internet gaming operators and others to put Antigua and Barbuda back among the top locations worldwide for internet gaming and other sports book facilities.
I point out that while the Internet gaming sector has dwindled in Antigua and Barbuda resulting in hundreds of job losses, it has grown in Curacao and in Aruba in the Caribbean, and it has mushroomed in Gibraltar, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
This is because the business was diversified away from a dependence on the US market. Markets were opened-up in Europe and in Asia – home to hundreds of millions of people.
And, those markets were opened-up because the governments of Curacao, of Aruba, of Gibraltar and the Philippines (just to name a few) actively worked with the operators to promote their jurisdictions and to give them the incentives they needed to grow.
In those countries, employment in the sector is high. In Antigua and Barbuda, jobs are being lost every day as a result of the government’s neglect.
Incidentally, there is no doubt that the collapse of the Stanford enterprise in Antigua and Barbuda did damage to the offshore sector in Antigua, but it did not kill it.
If the Spencer government had taken immediate remedial actions to safeguard the jurisdiction, there were many other offshore financial institutions in this country that would have joined the effort.
And, lest it be said that the UPP would have been protecting the ALP’s friend, let me remind everyone that it was Baldwin Spencer who told the people of Antigua and Barbuda that he would dissolve his government and hold another general election in defence of Stanford.
The point is that the government failed to respond swiftly and decisively to preserve, protect and grow the thriving offshore financial sector they inherited from the ALP.
That is why we have lost hundreds of jobs, and tens of companies, and thousands of deposits from our offshore banks.
The industry is dead nowhere else. It is being killed here by neglect, and Baldwin Spencer’s injudicious pronouncement that it is dead, is helping to kill it even more.
This brings me to my second point this evening. The Minister of Finance, Harold Lovell, says he wants a national referendum on a suggested hotel project at Long Bay.
This is the same Harold Lovell, who led a group to block the road and stop the construction of the Carlisle Bay Hotel.
This is the same Harold Lovell who did not condemn arson at the site where the Carlisle Bay Hotel kept its material.
This is the same Harold Lovell who led a disorderly group to invade the Office of the Minister of Finance and to allegedly threaten him.
Well, I would like Harold Lovell to know that the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party would welcome a national referendum on the UPP’s policies.
Not only on whether or not the people should be deprived of their long-held rights to Long Bay, but on all the other UPP policies.
Let us have a referendum on the imposition of income taxes when the UPP said it would not do it; let us have a referendum on the imposition of Government Sales Tax when the UPP said it would not do it; let us have a referendum on the UPP's taxes on allowances.
Let us have a referendum on the UPP’s failure to attract local and foreign investment; on youth unemployment; on the high cost of living, and the suffering of pensioners and single mothers.
Let us have a referendum on violent crime and murders which, was unheard of, when the ALP left office in March 2004 and which has now become a plague on our people.
The ALP would welcome a referendum for we have no doubt the people of this country would give the government the clear message that it has failed them and is now suffocating them.
We have had enough with mismanagement; we want jobs, we want lower taxes; we want businesses to be given incentives; we want to reinvigorate our offshore sector and our tourism industry. We want better days not bitter days for our people.
The UPP has demonstrated without doubt that they cannot deliver.
The people would tell the UPP it’s time to say goodbye.