Category: Island Talk Created on Thursday, 29 March 2012 07:19
What is the role of government in a developing society?
In recent years, governments have come under increasing scrutiny, and their roles have been called into question with much vigour, since the global economic downturn led many economies down a dark path. It is against this backdrop that I look to examine the recent budget presentation by the Honourable Premier of Montserrat and the responses to it as presented in the recent sitting of the Legislative Assembly on the island.
I listened intently earlier this week to the presentations from the gathered members in the Honourable House, and although there derived a measure of occasional cheer resulting from some statements made, at the end of it all, I came away with an overriding sense that what I mostly listened to from many members were in effect campaign mode presentations in response to the Honourable Premier’s budget speech the week before.
Sifting through the 28-page budget document, there are a few things that stood out that I wish to expand upon. The Premier very early in his presentation stated, “This budget is presented in a challenging but hopeful time not only locally but more so globally. We cannot deny that economic uncertainty is looming around us and will linger for some time.”
The world has for some time been in a perpetual state of flux, that cannot be doubted. What it would appear though, having listened to the Premier speak on numerous occasions, is that this is being trumpeted as an excuse to Montserratians regarding the current state of the local economy. If this is in fact the strategy at play, then surely this justification will soon expire.
In response to the global economic challenge, many developing economies are in fact performing quite well. Many of these developing countries have diversified their economies away from traditional sectors, and have started their own party, seeking growth from within where creative and innovative programmes act as a catalyst for growth. These developing economies did not sit back and say to their people that the world is bad so bare with us as we too will be doing badly until our traditional benefactors rediscover their generosity.
Additionally, Montserrat is being funded by DFID, whose generosity to the island cannot be brought into question. DFID seems very committed towards providing Montserrat with what it needs to develop and grow, Minister Duncan himself said so recently. So the question I pose to the Premier is that for two and half years since taking office, what are the barriers that have made economic growth on Montserrat seem not much beyond marginal? What are the factors that have halted your government’s delivery of visible progress and prosperity for our island’s people?
The UK government has committed towards ensuring that DFID’s budget for aid is at 0.7% of UK GDP. So when the Premier mentioned to the Honourable House on Monday that DFID is moving offices to a cheaper location because of the economic environment - yes there is some truth to it - but DFID moving offices does not affect their commitment towards delivering aid.
Chairman of the International Development Committee, Malcolm Bruce MP, in response to a recent Department for International Development Annual Report and Resource Accounts 2010–11 and Business Plan 2011–15 stated, “The effectiveness of UK aid must not be compromised by an attempt to reduce costs whatever the consequences.”
The Honourable gentleman further went on to state that DFID needs to ensure that aid money gets to those who need it and not being frittered away along the delivery chain in a series of “unknown administration fees and charges.” There are watchdogs in place to ensure that DFID’s aid budget is doing what it was intended to do, and that is to deliver aid.
It is often said that politicians are perpetually in a state of campaigning, always seeking to sway public opinion in their favour. On Monday, I wondered for long moments if this was the case coming out of the Legislative Assembly.
One individual close to the political establishment stated, “Every time I listen to these guys, it’s the same. Nothing new on offer, just more promises.”
Were the politicians on Monday in fact filling the ears of the listening public with expectations and lofty speeches with little to show by way of robust and tangible delivery?
Another commentator responded, “Look, we hear talk about geothermal energy to come on stream and I think it is a d***n good idea Reuben pushing but he needs to be frank with the people of Montserrat and tell us what is the realistic time frame for the delivery on this project, and will it mean a significant reduction in energy costs for Montserrat residents and business owners who live here?”
I hastily examined the 28 pages of the Budget Presentation for a sound explanation, forecast or greater details of plans for geothermal. The mentions made towards geothermal energy and what it would mean for the people of Montserrat were sparse and non specific.
It is these issues that are concerning the ‘everyday Joe’ on Montserrat - those persons who are earning just enough to keep their households afloat and are yet saddled with rising costs. One person expressed to MNI Alive their shock upon receiving a recent electricity bill. In a written letter this person stated, “So imagine my shock when I received my recent electricity bill! My bill for actual electricity consumed was $197.15; that is not too bad! HOWEVER, my fuel surcharge was an additional $334.88 to make my TOTAL electricity bill $532.03 PLUS another $47.00 for my water, to make my GRAND TOTAL bill from Montserrat Utilities Limited, $579.03.”
Long term planning is critical for Montserrat’s sustainable future, no doubt, but where are the cheese sticks for those people who have pressing economic concerns affecting their bottom lines at this very instance?
These are some of the issues Montserratians seek answers towards and such were glaringly missing from this budget presentation.
The Premier stated, “In the short term, with support from our development partners, we will continue to invest in a wide range of infrastructure projects, for example additional government accommodation buildings, road improvement, a new hospital and geothermal development. These projects will continue to provide jobs and stimulate economic activity.”
Where are the specifics?
The planning for the Little Bay and Carr’s Bay project seems to finally be receiving some impetus, which is good news. The Premier stated in his budget presentation, “Our ultimate goal is to have private sector activities that contribute at least 50% of GDP by 2020. This transformation will not happen overnight, and will require us to initiate some reforms in many areas.”
I have heard the Premier speak on many occasions about Montserrat’s future development and there is always a recurring theme I have noted - that of the reforms Montserrat will need to make. There is knowledge of initial reforms that have been completed but how aware is the public of what further reforms will be required? The budget offered little to no details as to what these additional reforms would be.
I wish to ask the Honourable Premier, will you inform the public fully what these further reforms will be, even if there may be some uncomfortable compromises so enshrined? Will you fight, Honourable Premier, to ensure that Montserrat gets the development deserved without having to give away too much to get the island on to the path of sustainability?
There is a boast I often hear repeated and that is, ‘we have no poor people in Montserrat.” True, the depths of poverty are not commonplace to Montserrat, but is it imaginary that people are finding it hard to meet their monthly responsibilities? Should we not have a government so versed in change and prosperity that produces an enabling environment for Montserratians to prosper?
The role of government in developing societies should not be one of constantly pushing smaller government on the people and yet not give them the means to empower themselves in so doing. Government must perform, and should perform, as they are demanded to perform by the electorate who put them in power.
Budget Statement 2012
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