In a presentation that was boycotted by opposition legislators, who staged a protest outside the Parliament building, Browne said his administration is projecting an EC$165 million current account surplus for fiscal year 2017, exceeding the EC$120 million outlined in the previous fiscal package.
“The anticipated increase in revenue compared to actual outturn in 2016 is based on a number of factors including further improvement in economic growth, strengthened revenue administration and enhanced tax collection,” Prime Minister Browne said.
The government also expects to yield revenue from the tax on the income of international banks and the Gambling Tax, both set to be implemented this year. Browne said that taxes, both direct and indirect, will account for about 79 per cent of the revenue, while non-tax revenue will make up the remaining 21.
He told legislators that the receipts from the controversial Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) will take up a significant portion of the anticipated non-tax revenue.
“Of the EC$193million budgeted for non-tax revenue, EC$117 million represents receipts from the Citizenship by Investment Programme, while EC$30 million represents surplus funds from the Citizenship by Investment Unit operating account,” Browne said.
Browne, who is also finance Minister, said that the island had experienced economic growth of 4.3 per cent) for 2016, telling Parliament that the country’s economy grew at the greatest rate of all of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.
“I report on the economy that outpaced the vast majority of countries in the world with an outstanding growth rate in 2016 of 4.3 percent,” Browne said.
In his presentation, Prime Minister Browne said that the government negotiating team (GNT) would be constituted “within a matter of weeks with a view to ensuring that we commence negotiations with the various bargaining agents for the various segments of the public service”.
He said his administration is determined to address the issue of increases within the public service, noting that “in addition, the government will commission a review of the segments of the public service that have not yet been re-classified.
The prime minister suggested that while the negotiations would begin this fiscal year, it might not be possible for any increase to be made to public servants salary until the next fiscal year and that other incentives will be offered to the workers.
“The government will make it easier for all those public servants who are travelling officers and desirous of purchasing a vehicle to do so by waving both the import duty and the RRC (Revenue Recovery Charge) on vehicles.”
Prime Minister Browne also announced that all outstanding wages to workers at the Barbuda Council are to be cleared.
“In 2014, the government owed the Barbuda Council workers over 22 weeks. I am pleased to announce that a cheque of EC$945,000 was paid into the Barbuda Council account and that all arrears will be paid,” Browne said.
He reminded legislators that when his Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) came into office in 2014, public servants and pensioners were paid late, saying this is no longer the case.
The biggest share of the budget goes to the Education Ministry which receives EC$98 million while the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Governance receives the second largest at EC$97 million.
Browne also used the budget presentation to outline several strategic areas of focus including the controversial CIP, boosting the number of registered Antigua and Barbuda flagship vessels, the development a Corporate Governance policy and implementing governance training programmes as well as an increase the monitoring and reporting on the performance of statutory corporations.
Meanwhile, the Speaker, Sir Gerald Watt has accused the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) leadership of showing disrespect to the Parliament by waiting until a day before the budget presentation to inform the clerk of their intended absence.
Sir Gerald said this is despite the picket being announced in the media a week earlier.
“Any member who is prevented from attending a sitting of the House or of any Committee thereof, shall acquaint the clerk as early as possible of his inability to attend,” Sir Gerald said, noting that the legislators had shown disrespect even for the delivery of the traditional throne Speech by their non-attendance.
The opposition, including Opposition leader Baldwin Spencer, who participated in the picket said they would make their contributions to the debate on the fiscal package.
“This administration has done absolutely nothing for the people of Antigua and Barbuda. We have received nothing but hot air for the past two and a half years,” said UPP leader, Harold Lovell, adding “we will participate in the budget debate, make no doubt about that.
“We will participate in the budget debate but we are not going to entertain the prime minister with his budget presentation,” said Lovell, a former finance minister.
“We need to make the point and we will make the point. So, the most important aspect of the picket is for us to show the people of Antigua and Barbuda that we are fed up and we have had enough,” he added.
- Countries: Antigua_Barbuda
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