Friday, 27 July 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St. John's - Chairman of the Antigua Labour Party Gaston Brown came under fire on Thursday as he appeared as a guest on the Observer Radio Voice of the People Program hosted by Observer Media Group (OMG) Chairman Winston Derrick who barraged the politician with a series of questions about ALP’s role in Antigua’s debt crisis and its proposed methods to rescue the financially embattled nation if it were to regain political power.
Brown, who tried to hold his own, was often overwhelmed, as new questions seemed to come faster than he could muster a response for the last.
Brown reiterated the ALP’s stance on the United Progress Party (UPP) Government’s inability to effectively manage the economy and its continued failure to close the fiscal gap even with notably sharp increases in taxes.
He said the Government continues to show signs of corruption in several capital projects with funds that could have been better utilized for the betterment of the country and the empowerment of the people.
Brown admitted that the UPP government did indeed inherit a “precarious financial situation” in 2004 when they first were elected to government with an overall financial deficit of some $160 million.
But he quickly pointed out that the Government failed to close that fiscal gap even after “rightfully” increasing tax to plug the deficit. This resulted in a $780 million revenue increase by 2008.
Brown opined that the tax hike happened way too soon, which is why the administration found it so difficult to manage it then and even now with the introduction of more taxes.
“That fiscal gap grew from an average of $160 million to about $300 million. By the end of 2009 the fiscal deficit that was chalked up by the UPP government was in the region of $600 million,” Brown said, pointing to the additional revenues that were raised within the first term of office.
Brown continued on his uninterrupted run of assaulting the government financial track record by pointing out that it had single-handedly managed to raise Antigua and Barbuda’s debt stock significantly from a net of $2.2 billion in 2004 to a net of $3.6 billion, after an Italian debt write-off.
Winston Derrick pointed out in the Government’s defense that if the administration “shifts its debt stock” from commercial borrowings to treasury bills or bonds; it does not necessarily qualify as new borrowings. He even suggested that another reason for the debt-sealing rise could be attributed to refinanced debts rather than completely new borrowing.
“I want to prevent any slight of hand here, that's all I am trying to do,” Derrick said, as Brown assured that 95 percent of all loans and advances during this period were “new debts” and not “debt-swaps”.
Today, the national debt stands around $3 billion, according to Brown.
The opposition deputy leader spilled a list of proposals the Antigua Labour Party has up its sleeves to recover the nation’s economy, all while accepting that there was indeed “wastage” under the Government that he was a part of.
“The problem is that the UPP spent 28 years in opposition. They had enough time to observe the downsides of the Antigua Labour Party government and I believe that by the time they came to government in 2004, that they ought to have known things that they should have avoided,” Brown pointed out, suggesting that the ALP did not loose office because it failed the people but rather because the people thought the time was right for a change in government.
This warranted a question from the talk show hosts about the inheritance of the government and the fact that they had to first deal with the dirty laundry of the past government before addressing matters of their own.
But Brown said that although the government had managed to control some of the excesses and wastage in expenditure recently, it entered the administration with the promise to right the wrongs of the past government but instead “wasted a significant amount of the country’s financial resources and made it more vulnerable.”
“There is no excuse for them to continue or even engage in any of the policies of the ALP that were considered bad.
“I am of the view that the UPP government has failed to focus on the economy,” Brown said, adding that there is no fiscal sustainability without growth and that government should have introduced policies early in the game to ensure constancy today.
He maintained that the global economic challenges and the Stanford debacle were insufficient excuses to carry the nation’s financial shortfalls for much longer.
Brown said the opposition did not just criticize the government but has over the years offered several programs for promoting the country aggressively in order to guarantee returns to grow the economy and generate hundreds of million in revenue injection and circulation.
These programs, which include the concept of a duty free port like neighboring St. Maarten, he said, will be employed by the ALP when it takes office.
Winston Derrick gave the opposition deputy leader a dose of reality by pointing out that the economic growth that his party is so proud of was “funded by debt” that was not being paid back. Brown did not respond to this point.