2023 New Year’s Day Address By the Honourable Gaston Browne Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
My fellow Citizens and Residents.
Together, we are about to embark upon a New Year that will rapidly move our beloved county to the Next Level of social progress and economic prosperity.
While global growth is projected to be 2.6 percent for 2022, the United Nations Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC has calculated that Antigua and Barbuda’s economy has grown by a whopping 8.3 percent.
That is a marvelous achievement by our nation, and my government congratulates all citizens and residents for their contribution to this success.
We have surpassed every other Caribbean country, except Guyana with its newly found wealth in oil and gas.
This greater economic growth is confirmation that our economy has generated new investments, more jobs, and greater business activity in a range of sectors, including construction and tourism services.
As a people, we have every right to be proud that our small country has performed so well.
Through sound government and creative policies, along with the resilience we have demonstrated as a people, our country is emerging successfully from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which gravely impacted the entire world.
We are still confronting the protracted consequences of COVID 19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that resulted in shortages of food products and agricultural inputs.
Through a number of interventions by our Government, we have steadied the price petroleum products to everyone in our country.
Further, unlike other countries, we have not imposed additional taxes on our people and duties on imports.
The government has absorbed these additional costs and implemented measures to increase revenues by incentivizing and expanding business in the country.
It is through economic growth and astute partnerships with the private sector, as well as our Government’s own intervention and participation in various investments that we have passed on savings and earnings to families.
However, the world has not yet stabilized.
The IMF has just published a report in which it says the following:
“Global economic activity is experiencing a broad-based and sharper-than-expected slowdown, with inflation higher than seen in several decades.
The cost-of-living crisis, tightening financial conditions in most regions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, all weigh heavily on the outlook.
Global growth is forecast to slow from 6.0 percent in 2021 to 3.2 percent in 2022 and 2.7 percent in 2023. This is the weakest growth profile since 2001 except for the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
My friends, naturally, these circumstances impact our country.
Yet, we have performed better than many others.
While global growth was 6.0 percent in 2021, we enjoyed greater growth of 7.43 percent.
In 2022, as growth in the world is projected to decline by 3.2 percent, we defied the odds and are forecast, by international financial institutions, to grow by 8.3 percent.
Therefore, in these troubling global circumstances, our country requires tried, tested and successful leadership and government.
As a nation, we are at a pivotal moment.
We have before us a fork in the road, and a decision of which path to take.
One path was risked before with disastrous consequences, including economic failure, represented by a 25 percent decline in the economy and high unemployment; bank failure which cost taxpayers over $300 million to resolve; fiscal failure that included burdensome debt with over 50 percent in arrears; the imposition of personal income tax; late payments of salaries & wages, and social security pensions; and expanded poverty.
That was the UPP government with Harold Lovell as the Minister of Finance.
The other path is the one that has always taken our nation to higher heights of employment, economic growth, and development; that has attracted investments; improved health services; expanded education facilities; increased home, car and business ownership; more than doubled water production; delivered high speed broadband facilities; created opportunities for all; and – most significantly – successfully lifted us up as a nation.
That is your High performance – Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party Administration.
In a few days into the New Year, our electorate will have to make a choice between the established economic success of the ABLP administration and the proven financial failure of the UPP and Harold Lovell.
Only this time, the UPP choice is worse.
Not one of the UPP aspirants to office, has any proven successful track record in government, in financial administration and in economic competence.
Risking the UPP, is risking retrogression and your future, as well as, the future of your children.
For just as it took years to recover the country from the last UPP government, so it will take years to rebuild what we would lose.
Do any of us want to return to losing our savings, to high employment, to losing our homes and cars, to high debt, to IMF harsh conditionalities, and to economic catastrophe?
I say to you definitely not.
That is why as I address you on the cusp of a New Year, I want to explain that our own ambition for our country is to achieve greater economic growth in 2023 than the remarkable growth of 8.3 percent in 2022.
We all have very good reasons to be assured that we will achieve further high growth, many more jobs and greater revenues in 2023, with consequential benefits for all.
A survey of projects and programmes, which are already underway because of confidence in our government, and which will be implemented in 2023, underscore our realistic expectations.
I will mention just a few of these exciting projects in the interest of time:
• Global Ports Holdings will spend at least $100 million at the Newgate Street coast line, to construct a modern Terminal building, shops, restaurants, casino, health spa, boardwalks, and entertainment facilities including an amphitheater. This project will provide hundreds of jobs in the construction phase, and hundreds of permanent jobs and business opportunities for our people. That project is about to start.
• Cruise tourism will be bolstered by the investment of another $270 million by one of the world’s largest cruise ship companies, Royal Caribbean International (RCI).
• An agreement had been signed with RCI in March 2019, to establish a Beach Club at Fort James to be utilized by the passengers on their ships, calling at Antigua, as well as by our local people. The project was deferred because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which crippled the Cruise Industry until 2022. However, RCI is now ready to proceed, and this project will be constructed and operationalised in 2023. Again, jobs will be provided in construction and in the provision of a wide range of services by our people.
The private sector, both local and foreign, has displayed great confidence and trust in our government, and in the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
Over the last 8 years, they have invested almost a billion dollars in our economy through new and expanded businesses.
The private sector has retained this confidence and they are proving it by further investment in 2023, that will catapult Antigua and Barbuda’s rise to the next higher level of development.
Our sister island Barbuda, now ranks among the fastest growing island communities in the world boasting a renewable energy plant, new air and seaports to be completed by June 2023.
Other investments on Barbuda include
• the over $650 million by Robert De Niro and James Packer in a new resort
• The Peace Love & Happiness (PLH) Resort which will complete its first 60 luxury homes and condominiums on Barbuda in 2023; and
• A $350 million luxury resort, being developed by a group of local and foreign investors, will continue development on Barbuda.
The private sector has also demonstrated a high level of confidence in your administration on Antigua. Next level developments include:
• Moon Gate Antigua, which will continue construction of a 49-suite all-inclusive boutique hotel and spa at Half Moon Bay.
• Nikki Beach, a luxury beach club will be constructed at Jolly Beach; and
• Royalton Chic, a 350-room luxury 5-star property will open in November 2023 on Dickenson Bay providing over 800 new jobs.
Additionally, several hotel properties will be expanded in 2023.
• Sandals Grande Antigua, which will begin expansion of its property in early 2023, employing an additional 300 persons, and
• Hawksbill Hotel, which will be fully refurbished and enhanced with added facilities to reopen on 1st November 2023.
These facilities will all provide new and more jobs for Antiguans and Barbudans, growing our economy, increasing the contributions to Social Security, Medical Benefits and Education Levy and strengthening the capacity to satisfy pension payments, and bolster our health and education services.
For its part, our Government intends to continue the significant investment of $1.4 billion in infrastructural projects and social development that it has made over the last 8 years in the interest of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. You will note that we have paid up all pensions. We have also paid back-pay. We are making progress.
In 2023, there will be substantially more investment to accelerate development to move us up the next higher level of progress and development.
High on our priority list, is to further satisfy the water needs of our nation, and to ensure that no area, home or business is deprived of water.
Our Government regards access to water as a right.
But we inherited years of neglect of the water system, and continuing and worsened drought conditions that plagues our county.
We were not content with it.
That is why our government invested $130 million in purchasing and installing Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants throughout the country.
No other administration in the history of our nation has invested more in water infrastructure than our Government of the last 8 years.
I am aware that, despite our Government’s best efforts, there are still gaps in the delivery of water. The addition of another water 3M gallons a day, water plant in Bethesda by second quarter of this year, would satisfy the full demand for water.
I assure you that we have made the necessary investments and that we will not rest until this matter is satisfactorily resolved.
Other priorities will result in the further modernization of our country.
The overall objective is to attain and sustain GDP growth over the next 5 years of at least 6%, which is inclusive, generates jobs, and reduces vulnerability and poverty.
To do this, we will continue to invest in Education, Health and other sectors.
The sum of $216 million has already been secured from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to continue the physical build out and equipping of the UWI Five Islands campus, as well as, its capacity to educate our people and those in the region, to a higher level.
In health, we are now constructing a Renal Clinic, which will make our hospital capable of advancing the quality and quantity of Dialysis treatment and kidney replacements.
We will make a Cardiac unit operational at Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre in 2023, to treat heart conditions, and we will also perform hip and knee replacement surgeries.=
My dear people, we have made significant progress.
In adapting for the impact of Climate Change, we will continue to invest in climate resilient infrastructure.
This will include utilities, roads, housing and information/communication technology – all of which will generate new and more employment opportunities and increased revenues.
Our government will also continue to promote digital innovation by further enhancing the provision of affordable high-speed Internet.
We have already built out fibre optic cables to every area of the country, and with the investment by APUA in its own undersea cable, we will deliver widespread use of affordable high-speed broadband in schools and for health, education and business.
Importantly, in 2023, we will accelerate the process of digitization of government ministries, departments, and statutory bodies.
The objective is two-fold.
One, to maintain records in a digital form, and to facilitate expanded e-government allowing the public to complete forms, applications, pay bills and secure receipts via the internet covering more public services.
This will avoid persons having to travel to government offices, enduring long waiting times.
Second, is to permit anyone in the public to go on the Internet and monitor government income and expenditure, including government purchasing and award of contracts. This is all about increasing transparency in government.
This latter initiative is an essential ingredient in making the government more accountable to the people, by giving every person access to government transactions and follow progress.
My friends, Antigua and Barbuda must modernize to remain competitive in the global economy and to give our people a share in the world market.
The development of digital business, giving individuals and companies access to high-speed digital technologies, will modernize their business models and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities.
These exciting new opportunities will incorporate traditional businesses, but it will also include persons in Antigua and Barbuda who want to market their creative work and services across the globe. This is important and will generate thousands of jobs for our people.
My administration has outperformed the previous UPP administration in all sectors, and in every aspect of our development.
Currently, we are in the midst of a housing revolution that will continue in 2023 and beyond.
We will expand the housing programme that has provided hundreds of Antiguans and Barbudans with homes for the first time in their lives, or has improved their living conditions considerably. Our urban renewal and beautification program will target the renewal of homes and beautification of communities surrounding the central business district, to include Point & Villa, Gays Farm/Green Bay, Ottos, Clare Hall, Fort Road, among others.
My fellow Citizens and Residents, I have given you a taste of what 2023 holds for our country and for each of you.
The prospects are real, and the future is bright if sound government and visionary leadership continue.
Personally, I believe in our country and our people.
And I am dedicated to working diligently with you to take our people forward; to provide them with living standards second to none, for them to be equal to all, with dignity and pride of who we are and what we achieved.
So, as we enter a New Year, together, we can do this.
We can show that our priorities are job creation, empowerment of our people, giving opportunities to our Youth; respecting and honouring our women, beautifying and saving our environment, fighting for our country’s rights, and claiming global respect by standing up for fairness, justice and principles.
Together, we can look lies and deception directly in the eye and rightly reject them.
We can rejoice in our remarkable success in managing COVID-19, and our courage in opening our borders before all others, so that our people could come out of their shutters and walk boldly into earning incomes.
We can view the bright heights that are so evidently before us, and have faith that, together, we can reach them for the benefit of all.
I remind you that at the end of the day, despite our differences, we one nation, one people with a common destiny.
We must be inclusionary in all that we do.
No one must be left behind, not even those persons with whom there may now be political differences.
We have a country to continue to build for the benefit of all.
Let us unite behind that noble, worthy and fruitful purpose.
My friends, I wish you all a very Happy New Year with God’s blessings on you, your families and our beloved Antigua and Barbuda.