Montserratians at home and abroad, and residents, it brings me great joy to be able to usher in the new year with you; a new year filled with new opportunities and possibilities for us individually and as a Nation.
The New Year is a perfect time to reflect on the achievements of the previous year, while also visualizing and planning for the year ahead.
Allow me therefore, to briefly look back at some of the high points of my government during 2023, before I address the expectations for this year, 2024.
We began 2023 with a sense of renewed hope and optimism, specifically for the continued advancement and development of Montserrat and our peoples.
Certainly, as a Government we made ambitious plans in this regard; some of which have already started to materialize, providing employment opportunities for persons on island.
These include the commencement of work, valued at 1.2 million Eastern Caribbean dollars on rehabilitating the Old Salem Primary School, converting it into a community Centre for the peoples of Salem and its surroundings.
Work has also begun to refurbish the former Margetson Memorial Home which would accommodate most of the services which are currently offered on the hospital compound, such as the pharmacy, laundry, laboratory and the kitchen.
This work is in preparation for the demolition of existing buildings which would begin the construction phase of the new hospital.
I am also delighted that both projects are being undertaken by local construction companies.
Throughout 2023, work continued on our major projects, Montserrat’s National Hospital project and the Montserrat Port Development Project.
In the case of the Hospital project, we now have a final design and construction work on the main building is expected to commence this year.
However, it is important to highlight the fact that there has been ongoing work on our health transformation, a programme which is on the softer side of the hospital project.
During 2023, we acquired pieces of critical equipment which will be put into use long before the new hospital is completed.
The new CT Scanner is on island and the platform has been constructed as the base from where it will be operated. The housing for it, is expected on island shortly and once commissioned some patients would no longer be required to travel overseas for assessment.
The Mammography machine which was also acquired last year has already been housed and will also be commissioned and put into use during this New Year.
With respect to the port project, we are seeing the progress being made in Little Bay and the project is gaining momentum with the employment of more locals.
At the start of last year, I also promised a salary increase for public officers and the reintroduction of the ferry service; and these were delivered as promised.
All Public Officers received a 3% salary increase effective April 2023.
Additionally, my government adjusted the salary scales of all teachers, nurses and police officers by bringing their salaries in line with their peers in main stream public service.
We also recognized that some categories of public officers have been grossly underpaid such as housekeepers, orderly/drivers, kitchen staff, geriatric aids, office attendants and some clerical staff.
To address this, Government took the bold decision to abolish the lower salary scales allowing for a minimum salary within the public service of over $2,000 monthly.
We will continue as a Government to examine the salary scales across the public service, with the intention to align them with current regional and international trends.
With regard to improving access, the ferry service was reintroduced in November 2023. Although this service is currently temporary until March 31st this year, it is the Government’s intention to make arrangements for a more permanent solution as part of our access strategy for the island.
During the year in review, residents and businesses experienced significant disruptions in electricity supplies due to workload on the old generators which are in use at the Montserrat Utilities Limited (MUL).
In order to bring some stability to electricity generation, government secured funding and purchased two generators for the company along with spares to undertake repairs to other plants on the compound.
Our ability to purchase all of the above, was made possible through additional funding from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
As a result of our intervention we are now seeing stability in electricity supply
I must therefore express my gratitude to the governor and her staff for working with us to secure those funds, my colleagues, senior public officers, and the management and staff at MUL for working overtime to ensure that we now have stability in electricity supply. Thank you very much!
MUL as an organisation is currently in a fragile state, but we will continue to work with all of our partners to protect this critical service.
These are just a few of the successes last year for which we are grateful, and we anticipate more blessings and favour from God for this island, as we continue to place Him at the centre of all our plans.
Admittedly, we still experienced challenges in some areas last year, such as the rising cost of living, including increasing food prices. We must however, acknowledge and accept that we are a part of the global community, and unfortunately we are heavy importers.
Therefore, the impact of various socio-economic and political issues in one country will have a ripple effect on us.
Notwithstanding the above your Government will continue to explore ways to alleviate this cost, while also promoting self-sufficiency through efforts to bolster local food production.
Food security is one of my government’s priority agenda items and the Ministry of Agriculture has received support from central government to ensure that the island increases its food production.
In the last quarter of 2023, we started to see a decrease in the cost of fuel following months of increases due to instability in oil producing nations; the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and even our own local retailer challenges.
Closer to home, we have seen tensions rise between Guyana and Venezuela, over the oil rich region of Essequibo, which had the potential to cause instability in the region.
Thankfully, through the intervention of CARICOM in mid-December both leaders with a delegation from CARICOM held discussions in St Vincent, and at the end both leaders agreed not to resort to force.
CARICOM is committed to ensuring that the Caribbean region remains a ‘Zone of Peace’, and will ensure that the conversation which began in December continues into this new year.
While this is the desired outcome, we continue to monitor and be mindful of these situations given their far-reaching implications.
It is also important for all of us to understand that although Montserrat is small, we are not removed from the impacts of other political and social issues affecting others regionally and internationally.
Therefore, while we plan optimistically for the year ahead, it must be taken with the understanding that various factors can impact our ability to deliver on our promises.
The Growth outlook, while positive, will be influenced by geopolitical factors.
Growth across the economies of the world is forecasted to remain modest, slightly slower than the past year as:
Thankfully, the world will avoid falling into recession and global inflation is forecasted to decline this year.
As we look ahead, my government will continue to support private sector development and the socio-economic wellbeing of the citizens of Montserrat.
It is within this context that Montserrat’s economy is set to grow by more than 5% this year.
During 2024, Montserrat is expected to see its economy expand. This will be bolstered by continued investment in
These capital projects aim to not only improve living conditions but also lay the foundation for a more sustainable and inclusive economy.
As your government, we will work steadfastly to deliver on our plans to advance Montserrat.
We therefore welcome 2024 with open arms, renewed vigour and renewed energy to put in the necessary work for the advancement of Montserrat and our people.
But, as I emphasized in my Christmas message the spirit of togetherness is essential to our progress.
The only way we can achieve great things for Montserrat is by working together.
On behalf of the Government of Montserrat and my family, I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
May God continue to bless us all.
Joseph E. Farrell
Premier of Montserrat