Broadcast by Hon Lester Bird Sunday 7th March 2010

Broadcast by Hon Lester B  Bird MP

Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the ALP

On Sunday 7th March 2010

“UPP regime hell-bent on taxing the people and selling-off State Enterprises”

Fellow Citizens and Residents of Antigua and Barbuda

This past week we have again seen the dictatorial behaviour of the UPP regime in the highhanded manner that their henchpersons in the Senate and the House of Representatives have stifled discussion of the nation’s business.

First, in the Senate, the President savagely prohibited Senator Lennox Weston from making points that the Senators and the people of this country needed to hear.

Second, in the House of Representatives, the Speaker refused to allow a delay of seven days requested by me, as Leader of the Opposition, so that 30 amendments to legislation put forward by the UPP regime could be studied.

In making the request, I had made it clear that the Labour Party representatives were not being confrontational, but genuinely wished to contribute to consensus on the legislation since it would have an economic impact on the nation as a whole.

Further, I pointed out that this highly complex legislation was delivered to members of the Opposition only two days before the debate. 

It was not only unwise but reckless for anyone to push through any legislation without careful reflection on all its likely consequences.

As it is, I can guarantee the nation that not more than two representatives of the UPP in the House of Assembly have any clear understanding of the legislation for which they voted.  They voted because they were told to do so.

The Speaker, as she has done repeatedly in the past, ruled in favour of the UPP’s desire to steamroller the legislation through the House. 

The high standards set by previous Speakers and Presidents have been completely abandoned by the two present occupants of the offices who see themselves as paid agents of the ruling UPP.

The Speaker’s dictatorial behaviour at the behest of the UPP regime is a travesty of the parliamentary system, and an abuse of the slender majority which the UPP holds at this time under dubious circumstances.

The Labour Party could not sit by and allow our parliamentary system to be degraded and destroyed by the unlawful action of a government whose legitimacy is not established.  That is why we walked out.  We could not be silent partners to this continuing erosion of democracy in our nation.

I remind that this autocratic behaviour is a prime characteristic of the UPP regime.

This is why the Deputy Political Leader of the Labour Party, Gaston Brown, is right in his recent statement that there is no room around the table for the opposition to help the government to devise solutions for the country’s economic difficulties.

The UPP is not interested in the participation of the Labour Party.

What they want is the token involvement of the Labour Party so that they could claim that their ill-thought out policies have our support.

On behalf of the Labour Party, Gaston Browne revealed figures earlier this week that showed that while in 28 years under the ALP, with six hurricanes in five years, $2. 7 billion in debt was accumulated, in just six years the UPP will have pushed that debt to $4billion and they have not had a single natural disaster with which to cope.

The Labour Party remains opposed to the policies that the UPP is implementing without a mandate from the people.  In particular, we stress that the UPP pledged at the last election that it would not be entering an arrangement with the IMF.  So, it has no mandate from the people to do so.

Further, just a few months ago, Baldwin Spencer went on record to say that the UPP was devising its own “home-grown” programme to deal with the economy; it was not an IMF prescription.  But, it was not long before he told the nation that he would be signing-up to an IMF arrangement soon.

The Labour Party holds the view that the UPP’s policies of high taxation and selling-off assets belonging to the people are wrong.

The selling-off of State Insurance Corporation in a deal that started secretly months ago is especially troubling. 

The workers at State Insurance and their union are right to demand answers and assurances. 

They and the rest of the country are also right to reject the sham “consultations” that the UPP regime is now setting-up on this issue. It is evident that they have already done the deal, and like they do everything else, they will force it on the country.

The UPP is hell-bent on taxing the people and selling off State-owned enterprises.

The Labour Party will join the people in protesting against these autocratic policies; the UPP must not believe that they can hold on to office by force and intimidation, and that legitimate political voices will stay quiet.

It is instructive that just this week the Inter-American Development Bank (the IDB) issued a report that said “high taxes can reduce a company’s incentive to invest in technology and other productivity-enhancing strategies because taxes reduce the potential profits generated by those investments. As a result, productivity is reduced in the formal sector, hurting the overall long-term economic growth”, 

We all well know that higher taxation on individuals also decreases their spending power and creating a spiral of contraction of businesses that earn less, reduce employment and stop expansion.  In turn the government earns less revenue and also dismisses people and cuts back on services to the nation.

Yet, the UPP regime is hell-bent on expanding and increasing taxes, placing a heavier burden on the people and hurting the economy.

On another subject, you will recall that on February 23rd the Labour Party issued a statement rejecting the tactics of the former Stanford clients in issuing a class action suit against Antigua and the Eastern Caribbean Central bank.

At that time, the Labour Party also deplored the call by the former voluntary Stanford clients for a boycott of tourism to Antigua and Barbuda.  We urged the UPP regime to mount an information campaign with tour operators and travel agents in the United States to counter the propaganda of the so called Victims Coalition by presenting the facts of the matter.

Clearly the UPP did nothing, for on March 3rd, the former Stanford Clients hijacked a tourism promotion event in New York and launched their campaign for a global boycott of our country.

Picking on Antigua and Barbuda by the former Stanford voluntary clients when so many other countries and governments, including the United States, were far more involved is not only unfair, it is wrong.  But, the small are always fair game to bullies which is why we are the target.   It is also why the UPP regime should be acting on the advice the Labour Party has proffered.  They should have long organised and implemented a campaign to counter the propaganda of the Stanford clients.

Again, on behalf of the Labour Party, I call upon the UPP regime to do so swiftly.  For, in the absence of our voice, the attacks of the Stanford Clients will gain credibility and damage our people irreparably.

My friends, we are in the very sad situation in which:

      We have a government that is in office because it stole the last general elections;

 –      We have a government that lied to the people and broke all its promises on taxes;

      We have a government that no one trusts, and in which no one has any confidence;

      We have a government that has fully abandoned its own empty slogan of transparency and government in the sunshine;

      We have a government that openly refuses to give parliament information because it knows that information would expose them as a furtive government operating sneakily in the darkness;

      We have a government that before the last elections told the people that they would not go to the IMF; yet the same government wasted no time it rushing to the IMF with a plan that has already increased the cost of living; increased taxes; increased poverty; and increased crime.

    We have a government with no answers to the economic mess in which they have plunged our country, except to push us into an IMF programme of more taxes; more government sales tax; wage freezes and amended pension schemes.

It is time that we redeem our country from this government, and set it again on the road to progress and prosperity with investment, employment and economic buoyancy. 

Once again I thank you for listening and I pray God’s guidance for us all.

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