With a headline commitment of “Restoring Growth, Expanding Opportunities, the Premier of Montserrat, the Honourable Reuben T Meade on Monday evening delivered his fifth budget and possibly his most significant to date.
This year is an election year in Montserrat with polls constitutionally due by September.
“This budget statement must therefore be a report of our stewardship over the past four and a half years and also an indication of our policies and programs to support our vision for the next five years,” Mr Meade told an audience listening mainly by radio and online as he spoke from temporary parliamentary facilities at the Montserrat Cultural Centre at Little Bay, the area being designated as the island’s new town centre.
Montserrat is in a phase of extensive rebuilding after several years of eruptions by the Soufriere Hills volcano which has obliterated the former capital Plymouth.
The planned new town centre at Little Bay, and a new harbour complex earmarked for the adjacent Carr’s Bay, were key features of Premier Meade’s budget presentation, as those, along with many other key aspects of the budget rely on funding from the British government.
In assessing the challenges facing the island whose population has dropped by about two-thirds, from around 14 thousand to just under 5 thousand, Premier Meade drew on the theme of Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Sir Dwight Venner’s Economic Review of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union which said : ‘Every adversity, every failure, and every heart break carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.’
“Montserrat”, Mr Meade said, “has faced many adversities and much heartbreak during recent decades.
In presenting this budget I am hopeful now more than ever that Montserrat and its people will be the beneficiaries of that ‘seed’.”
The 2014-2015 budget presented by the Montserrat premier and leader of the ruling Movement for Change and Prosperity (MVCAP) party, totals $EC 160 million.
He called it a ‘prudent’ budget.
“The total budget allocation for this fiscal year 2014-15 is $160.8 million. We are being prudent here.”
He explained that: “We have not included funds for which negotiations are still ongoing. Once the process is concluded we will then, as in the prior year, return to the Legislative Assembly to have these approved as a supplementary appropriation bill.”
Mr Meade was referring to ongoing talks with the British government’s Department for International Development (Dfid) which is largely responsible for the funding of the budget and a number of major infrastructural projects, ongoing and planned, as the island faces the enormous talk of rebuilding.
Outlining his MCAP government’s policy agenda for the next three years, Premier Meade stated that, “the primary goal over the next three years is a continuation of the economic growth and job creation agenda. We recognize that economic growth and jobs underpin a good quality of life for all.”
He also noted that, “between the years 2004 and 2008, the recurrent and capital budgets received were $136.9M and $438.4M respectively. During the MCAP Administration, 2009 to present, both recurrent and capital budgets have increased to $281.2 and $527.4M respectively. This has helped to stabilize economic growth and provide jobs for our people.
“We will continue to negotiate a package of funding to maintain the island and foster economic growth while our key infrastructure is replaced and the private sector can once again become the major contributor to economic activity on Montserrat.”
As a result of this, Mr Meade explained that the economic development agenda will continue to be led, “for the time being”, by public sector investments in key sectors of the economy supported by private sector investments made by local and foreign capital.
And he stressed that his government “will aggressively implement several key physical and economic infrastructure projects in order to increase economic activity with a view to becoming less reliant on the UK taxpayer by 2020.”
Among major projects in the pipeline are a project to develop geo-thermal energy and a new power plant, port development, a new town centre, and improving the island’s road network.
A universal healthcare plan and national insurance scheme, housing, the environment, education, a plan to promote fibre optics and agriculture are among other priority areas listed in the budget.
The Montserrat economy is projected to grow at a pace of 1.34% in 2014. Growth in 2013 was slow when compared to 2012 with preliminary data indicating a growth rate of 0.87 per cent. This, however still compares favourably to other member states of the East Caribbean Currency Union whose economies grew an average 0.7 per cent.
According to Premier Meade, “the main drivers of this growth (in Montserrat for 2014-2015) will be the implementation of a number of development projects such as the power generation plant, continuation of the work on the development of our geothermal resources, construction of additional government offices, continuation of the A01 road rehabilitation, hospital construction, upgrading of the Montserrat Secondary School campus, continuation of housing construction and rehabilitation, abattoir construction, and further work on the Little Bay and port development.”
He said these and other projects will continue to build a stable platform which will further encourage long term development of the island.
“These economic indicators reveal that our focus is broad based across both social and economic sectors,” Premier Meade declared.