Thursday, 26 April 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St John's - Minister of Finance and the Economy Harold Lovell on Wednesday reported that the government's recurrent revenue had increased by $13.1 M in the first quarter of 2012, compared to the same period in 2011.
This improvement, the finance minister said, was due to a $14.3 M increase in revenue collection from stamp duties. Lovell credited the rise primarily to an increase in the number of land title transfers executed during the first quarter of 2012.
Lovell spoke at the finance ministry's first Quarterly Press Conference. Intended to be a regular event henceforth, the conferences are designed to update the public on the government's financial progress and fiscal standing.
The finance minister also reported a $2.1 million increase in ABST receipts, taking that revenue item to a comfortable $53.2 million for the first quarter.
“These (increases) were however partially offset by a decline in some areas, with the primary area being a decline of $3.3 million in corporate income tax. The changes in the other revenue items were not significant,” Lovell explained.
He further reported that on the expenditure side, Antigua & Barbuda has recorded a notable improvement. The government was able to contain total expenditures at $163.3 million for the first quarter, saving some $4.3 million when compared to the same period in 2011.
“The whole thrust has been to improve our revenue base… while at the same time we have been able to contain our expenditure to reduce wasteful expenditure so that we bring our fiscal realities more in line with what is required at this time,” the finance minister said.
Wages and salaries represent 40 percent of the government's expenditure so far for the year, holding constant at $65 million total.
Expenditure on goods and services also remained constant, with a $20 million price tag. In addition, there has been a decline of $14.9 million total in Capital Expenditure, from over $16 million to under $2 million.
Lovell explained that in the absence of Japanese-funded capital projects, the $2 million in capital expenditure is all on the government's account. The amount represents work the government has been doing to improve drainage, buildings, roads, and other critical infrastructural work.
“Capital Expenditure plays a key role in stimulating economic activities. In spite of our cash constraints, the government has injected $2 million into capital projects for the first quarter. This is more than double what was spent in the first quarter of 2011," the minister said.
The government spent $949,000 of its own resources in capital projects in the first quarter of 2011.
Reporting on the current standing of the country's public debt, Minister Lovell noted that Antigua owes some $2.7 billion to creditors as of March 31. This represents more than 90 percent of the country's GDP, but also records a reduction from 140 percent two years ago.
Lovell explained that his ministry's move to provide quarterly updates to the public is the first of its kind in Antigua & Barbuda, and is not a popular practice around the world. However, he said, it is a necessary undertaking that looks to discuss issues of fiscal performance and the economy of Antigua & Barbuda.
“We want to bring this to a point where we involve the people of Antigua & Barbuda in a conversation about what is really happening with regards to the budget cycle and how government is utilizing resources…” the minister said.
The finance minister did not provide an update on the financial standing and performance of the individual ministries, crediting the setback to his ministry's inability to secure timely financial data from the respective ministries. He promised to make this information public in a timely manner.
Among those present at Wednesday presentation were Budget Director Carolyn Charles-Tonge, Accountant General Cleopatra Gittens, Comptroller of Customs Raju Boddu, and Deputy Financial Secretary John Edwards.
The proceedings were moderated by Gail Imhoff, who lectures in Economics at the Antigua State College.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Sean Cenac and Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Investment Authority (ABIA) Dr MacChesney Emanuel joined the minister of Finance, the Economy & Public Administration in addressing the gathering.
Dr Emanuel gave a progress report and presentation on the work of the ABIA in relation to the ongoing economic stimulus programme. He outlined medium and longer term objectives for investment activities into the first quarter or 2013.
Speaking about the changes to the structure of government services and the simplification, and in some cases the elimination of some processes, Lovell explained that the transformation process would continue indefinitely.
“We are on the cusp of change… We are trying to push the process of reform ahead… The changes will continue,” the minister asserted. He cited the obvious changes in the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) and the Customs and Excise Division," he said.
Lovell maintained that even though the government had taken some tough decisions over the past few months, they had been taken in the interest of the future of Antigua & Barbuda.