Categorized | Features, General, Local, Opinions, Politics

Statement on the regeneration of Montserrat’s economy

by Donaldson Romeo, MP

Donaldson Romeo (right) speaks with a member of the charrette team

There are many troubling issues facing the people of Montserrat.  Many who work, from the single mother and the elderly to the small business man, struggle from month to month, pay cheque to pay cheque to pay huge electricity bills, rent, mortgages and provide for their children.

Contractors and those who depend mainly on construction jobs sometimes work for a day, a

week or — if they are lucky, a month or two; then, must walk around for weeks and months before finding another job.

In the secondary school, under pressure to cut budgets to the bone, the government ended up with 92% of the budget being to pay salaries, but only 8% for supplies and materials etc.  So, on a visit at the MSS, I saw that there are 2 computers to 27 children in an IT class. The chemistry lab lacks needed chemicals. The woodwork shop has some old hand tools and some power tools that are in need of repair.

The elderly, the sick, and those on welfare, struggle to survive on $ 600/month Social welfare support when we know they need twice that.  Sometimes, a working single mother — after paying bills, bus fare and rent — ends up with less than $500 to feed, clothe and care for herself and two or three children. And, such a struggling mother does not qualify for the regular monthly benefit.

Because of the huge medevac and overseas medical bills, our Community Services sometimes struggles to cope with the ever increasing cry for help from single mothers, the sick, the elderly and even working people.

I could go on and on, Department after Department.

As an opposition member, every day I hear the cry of the people but I am not surprised at all.  The present hardship should be no surprise to the GoM, DfID or HMG.  Why?  Because all of this hardship was predicted long ago; long before the world crisis.  Way back in 2005, DfID made a statement which warned against what has been happening to us on Montserrat over the past 6 years:

Without substantial external support there is no likelihood of Montserrat achieving its ambitions, the population will decline further and more people will become more heavily dependent on public services that the Government would increasingly struggle to fundand implement.  This will lead inexorably to the collapse of the Island’s social, economic and governance structures. [Country Policy Plan]

Then, just a few weeks ago our Governor stated that the previous UK Labour Party government focussed on maintaining Montserrat while the present UK Coalition government’s focus is on the development of Montserrat.

If we add these two statements together– made six years apart – they tell us plainly that the moneys spent on Montserrat each year since the crisis began were not meant to be a stimulus to transform our economy and make it grow rapidly, creating lasting jobs.  Instead, Montserrat was put on drips and life support in the economy emergency room.  No wonder we got an undersized, economically choking Airport and still have a temporary sea port with no breakwater; no wonder the delay on the boring of the hole to prove and advance geothermal energy, a key hope for development.  No wonder the many consultancies and the ambitious sustainable development plans over the last 10 years have had little result.

So the big question that must be asked is: what must our government do to turn things around, and how?

The London Telegraph of Nov 22 2011 quotes the Prime Minister of England as saying that the British government is on an “all-out mission” to “kick-start” the UK economy; announcing the use of “nearly £1 billion of public money” to create “some 35,000” new jobs.  The Telegraph says that the Prime Minister is obsessed with “shovel-ready” projects that could make a difference “in the near-term.”  According to the London Telegraph, he has pushed to make sure that jobs are created for today and that every muscle was strained to get the economy moving quickly.   That is why The Telegraph spoke of Charles Hendry’s drive to approve the construction of two new power stations in Yorkshire that would create more than 1,000 jobs and enough energy to power more than two million homes.  To do this, the backlog of planning applications and tangles of bureaucratic red tape had to be snipped away so projects could move ahead steadily and not stop and go . . . as too often happens on Montserrat.

But we too on Montserrat need “shovel ready projects” to put our people to work, as soon as possible so the horse does not starve while the grass is growing.

Why not fast track a grant or other schemes to get needed permanent hurricane resistant houses built for over 150 evacuees still waiting for 15 yrs with no end in sight?  Why not fix both our major and key back- roads, giving contractors and workers “shovel-ready” jobs as is to be done in Britain? Why not “fast-track” the boring the hole to prove our geothermal potential?

It is high time for our Government to lead and champion the cause for geothermal, which has long since been identified as the key to hopes for real development.   We desperately need a new power plant, but we must make sure that our chances of long term benefits from geothermal power are not blocked; benefits that are sustainable and can help us to stand on our own two feet again, even amidst the world crisis.

It is important to commend the new British coalition government for opening the door of economic opportunity to Montserrat and all BOT’s.  We must also commend our new Governor who has brought hope and spoke frankly and convincingly of his personal commitment to see to the purchasing of a ferry to address the access problem, and to seeing geothermal development advance rapidly.  As an economist our governor realises what geothermal energy can do to regenerate a growing economy that would attract Montserratians back.

The Charrette exercise has raised hopes of action.  A US$ 250 million town, hotel, villa and port development are welcome plans.  However, the real challenge is not just where the needed investments and money to get our economy going again will come from?  The other big question is when and how will we survive till then?

For once again, while the grass is promised the horse is starving.  Unfulfilled promises and delayed hopes cannot feed hungry children, pay bus fare or rent, nor can they meet mortgages, light bills and medical bills.  Unlike in England, we have no established regular unemployment benefits to keep us going until the new projects come in.  In any case, Montserratians prefer to work.  So, what we need is fast-track projects that give “shovel-ready” work, for our men and our women. And, the damage done by years of slow drips, low maintenance budgets needs to be fixed: in our schools, the hospital, general maintenance of equipment and facilities, etc. The recurrent budget must be increased to a realistic level.

So our present GoM, after campaigning and gaining power, ought to have known that the major challenge they faced was to influence HMG to genuinely move from the survival, slow drips emergency room mode to development mode.  Instead, what has happened is that our government has been pressured to agree to more and more cuts in the already low maintenance budget; cuts in exchange for promises of Development aid.

Why not simply follow the example of the Prime Minister and government of England and end the red tape delays which continue to tangle us up in knots. Why not have DfID and our government set up an agreed mechanism and set timelines and deadlines to get projects moving and completed on time.   Instead of the back and forth blame game, delays and stop and go, go and stop . . . ,  the time has come for DfID and our government to work as partners with the same agenda, and get on an “all-out mission” to “kick-start” Montserrat’s economy.

Since the new British government’s drive is truly to develop and not just maintain Montserrat on slow-drips life support, then those of us who remain here should get needed work to keep us going until the new industries come in to take advantage of geothermal power.  We need a good new port, to take advantage of our location on the Caribbean Yachting highway; we must attract cruise ship tourism not only because of the volcano but for cultural, art and sporting events.  We need good agriculture projects, some light industry, and more.

Blaming DfID, civil servants and the poor state of the British and world economy can no longer work. What we need now is a workable vision, plan and action steps on a timeline to revive our economy.  The local government budget being over ¾ of what our economy produces per year, over half being paid for by a subsidy from the UK. Such a plan will take at least ten years of 6% per year economic growth for us to see its full effects. That means, we cannot afford further delays in getting started.

Just as the British Government are getting rid of red tape acting and acting with urgency to kick-start their economy, the same can and must be done to get us back on our economic feet again. Why?  Because, as our governor states, this new British government has committed to fulfilling its legal responsibility to development and not just maintaining Montserrat.  This right and opportunity has been watching us all in the face since the beginning of the crisis.

So our destiny of a prosperous future is in our hands.  The GoM needs to respectfully rise to the occasion, claim our legal rights and boldly, respectfully and wisely negotiate.  With the Government and people of Montserrat working together in genuine partnership with DfID and our new Governor, we can overcome our economic challenges even amidst the world economic crisis.

To this end the opposition stands ready to support our government.

 

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

by Donaldson Romeo, MP

Donaldson Romeo (right) speaks with a member of the charrette team

There are many troubling issues facing the people of Montserrat.  Many who work, from the single mother and the elderly to the small business man, struggle from month to month, pay cheque to pay cheque to pay huge electricity bills, rent, mortgages and provide for their children.

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Contractors and those who depend mainly on construction jobs sometimes work for a day, a

week or — if they are lucky, a month or two; then, must walk around for weeks and months before finding another job.

In the secondary school, under pressure to cut budgets to the bone, the government ended up with 92% of the budget being to pay salaries, but only 8% for supplies and materials etc.  So, on a visit at the MSS, I saw that there are 2 computers to 27 children in an IT class. The chemistry lab lacks needed chemicals. The woodwork shop has some old hand tools and some power tools that are in need of repair.

The elderly, the sick, and those on welfare, struggle to survive on $ 600/month Social welfare support when we know they need twice that.  Sometimes, a working single mother — after paying bills, bus fare and rent — ends up with less than $500 to feed, clothe and care for herself and two or three children. And, such a struggling mother does not qualify for the regular monthly benefit.

Because of the huge medevac and overseas medical bills, our Community Services sometimes struggles to cope with the ever increasing cry for help from single mothers, the sick, the elderly and even working people.

I could go on and on, Department after Department.

As an opposition member, every day I hear the cry of the people but I am not surprised at all.  The present hardship should be no surprise to the GoM, DfID or HMG.  Why?  Because all of this hardship was predicted long ago; long before the world crisis.  Way back in 2005, DfID made a statement which warned against what has been happening to us on Montserrat over the past 6 years:

Without substantial external support there is no likelihood of Montserrat achieving its ambitions, the population will decline further and more people will become more heavily dependent on public services that the Government would increasingly struggle to fundand implement.  This will lead inexorably to the collapse of the Island’s social, economic and governance structures. [Country Policy Plan]

Then, just a few weeks ago our Governor stated that the previous UK Labour Party government focussed on maintaining Montserrat while the present UK Coalition government’s focus is on the development of Montserrat.

If we add these two statements together– made six years apart – they tell us plainly that the moneys spent on Montserrat each year since the crisis began were not meant to be a stimulus to transform our economy and make it grow rapidly, creating lasting jobs.  Instead, Montserrat was put on drips and life support in the economy emergency room.  No wonder we got an undersized, economically choking Airport and still have a temporary sea port with no breakwater; no wonder the delay on the boring of the hole to prove and advance geothermal energy, a key hope for development.  No wonder the many consultancies and the ambitious sustainable development plans over the last 10 years have had little result.

So the big question that must be asked is: what must our government do to turn things around, and how?

The London Telegraph of Nov 22 2011 quotes the Prime Minister of England as saying that the British government is on an “all-out mission” to “kick-start” the UK economy; announcing the use of “nearly £1 billion of public money” to create “some 35,000” new jobs.  The Telegraph says that the Prime Minister is obsessed with “shovel-ready” projects that could make a difference “in the near-term.”  According to the London Telegraph, he has pushed to make sure that jobs are created for today and that every muscle was strained to get the economy moving quickly.   That is why The Telegraph spoke of Charles Hendry’s drive to approve the construction of two new power stations in Yorkshire that would create more than 1,000 jobs and enough energy to power more than two million homes.  To do this, the backlog of planning applications and tangles of bureaucratic red tape had to be snipped away so projects could move ahead steadily and not stop and go . . . as too often happens on Montserrat.

But we too on Montserrat need “shovel ready projects” to put our people to work, as soon as possible so the horse does not starve while the grass is growing.

Why not fast track a grant or other schemes to get needed permanent hurricane resistant houses built for over 150 evacuees still waiting for 15 yrs with no end in sight?  Why not fix both our major and key back- roads, giving contractors and workers “shovel-ready” jobs as is to be done in Britain? Why not “fast-track” the boring the hole to prove our geothermal potential?

It is high time for our Government to lead and champion the cause for geothermal, which has long since been identified as the key to hopes for real development.   We desperately need a new power plant, but we must make sure that our chances of long term benefits from geothermal power are not blocked; benefits that are sustainable and can help us to stand on our own two feet again, even amidst the world crisis.

It is important to commend the new British coalition government for opening the door of economic opportunity to Montserrat and all BOT’s.  We must also commend our new Governor who has brought hope and spoke frankly and convincingly of his personal commitment to see to the purchasing of a ferry to address the access problem, and to seeing geothermal development advance rapidly.  As an economist our governor realises what geothermal energy can do to regenerate a growing economy that would attract Montserratians back.

The Charrette exercise has raised hopes of action.  A US$ 250 million town, hotel, villa and port development are welcome plans.  However, the real challenge is not just where the needed investments and money to get our economy going again will come from?  The other big question is when and how will we survive till then?

For once again, while the grass is promised the horse is starving.  Unfulfilled promises and delayed hopes cannot feed hungry children, pay bus fare or rent, nor can they meet mortgages, light bills and medical bills.  Unlike in England, we have no established regular unemployment benefits to keep us going until the new projects come in.  In any case, Montserratians prefer to work.  So, what we need is fast-track projects that give “shovel-ready” work, for our men and our women. And, the damage done by years of slow drips, low maintenance budgets needs to be fixed: in our schools, the hospital, general maintenance of equipment and facilities, etc. The recurrent budget must be increased to a realistic level.

So our present GoM, after campaigning and gaining power, ought to have known that the major challenge they faced was to influence HMG to genuinely move from the survival, slow drips emergency room mode to development mode.  Instead, what has happened is that our government has been pressured to agree to more and more cuts in the already low maintenance budget; cuts in exchange for promises of Development aid.

Why not simply follow the example of the Prime Minister and government of England and end the red tape delays which continue to tangle us up in knots. Why not have DfID and our government set up an agreed mechanism and set timelines and deadlines to get projects moving and completed on time.   Instead of the back and forth blame game, delays and stop and go, go and stop . . . ,  the time has come for DfID and our government to work as partners with the same agenda, and get on an “all-out mission” to “kick-start” Montserrat’s economy.

Since the new British government’s drive is truly to develop and not just maintain Montserrat on slow-drips life support, then those of us who remain here should get needed work to keep us going until the new industries come in to take advantage of geothermal power.  We need a good new port, to take advantage of our location on the Caribbean Yachting highway; we must attract cruise ship tourism not only because of the volcano but for cultural, art and sporting events.  We need good agriculture projects, some light industry, and more.

Blaming DfID, civil servants and the poor state of the British and world economy can no longer work. What we need now is a workable vision, plan and action steps on a timeline to revive our economy.  The local government budget being over ¾ of what our economy produces per year, over half being paid for by a subsidy from the UK. Such a plan will take at least ten years of 6% per year economic growth for us to see its full effects. That means, we cannot afford further delays in getting started.

Just as the British Government are getting rid of red tape acting and acting with urgency to kick-start their economy, the same can and must be done to get us back on our economic feet again. Why?  Because, as our governor states, this new British government has committed to fulfilling its legal responsibility to development and not just maintaining Montserrat.  This right and opportunity has been watching us all in the face since the beginning of the crisis.

So our destiny of a prosperous future is in our hands.  The GoM needs to respectfully rise to the occasion, claim our legal rights and boldly, respectfully and wisely negotiate.  With the Government and people of Montserrat working together in genuine partnership with DfID and our new Governor, we can overcome our economic challenges even amidst the world economic crisis.

To this end the opposition stands ready to support our government.