Statement by the Political Leader of the ALP
Hon. Lester B. Bird, To The Nation
In response to Sunday’s address by Baldwin Spencer
Monday, April 12, 2010
My fellow Antiguans and Barbudans, Residents and Friends: Last Wednesday evening, following the decision by Judge Blenman in the election petition cases, I was unable to address you on the state-owned and taxpayer-funded ABS-TV and Radio. There is a standing and illegal order by the minority UPP regime to keep the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition off ABS-TV. The minority UPP regime has unfettered access to ABS-TV and has exercised its monopoly without shame.
Last night, Sunday April 11, 2010, Mr. Baldwin Spencer, whose election to parliament last March was voided, again exercised the unlawful UPP monopoly of ABS-TV and Radio. He subjected viewers and listeners to the same vicious lies about members of the Opposition, and slandered the Antigua Labour Party and its leadership. It is the formula which won him election in 2004. At any rate, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is unlawfully denied the right to respond on the state-owned and taxpayer-funded ABS-TV and Radio to Mr. Spencer’s many national broadcasts.
Mr. Spencer and his minority UPP regime have continued to abuse the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda; note, however, that he is anxious to invoke the same constitution in order to delay his inevitable departure from the Prime Minister’s office on Queen Elizabeth Highway.
On account of the illegal order of the outgoing and minority UPP regime, I am therefore compelled to use this radio station, ZDK- Liberty Radio, thankfully, to address the nation.
During the past six years, or since March 12 2004, the Antigua Labour Party has been defending against the onslaught by Mr. Spencer and his Attorney General of numerous lawsuits. Mr. Spencer has spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars in a futile effort to find wrongdoing while promising his diminishing supporters all manner of police action against ALP leaders. The ALP has been dutiful in its responsibilities as an opposition, protesting peacefully the actions of the Spencer regime that have brought hardship, pain, and suffering to the Antigua and Barbuda people.
The ALP did not institute a personal income tax of 25%; the ALP did not impose an ABST of 15%; the ALP did not invent a Customs Revenue Recovery Charge of 10%; the ALP did not increase property taxes and threaten to take poor people’s homes for tax default; nor did the ALP impose fees on sick people and pregnant mothers when they presented themselves for treatment at the Government-owned Hospital. The UPP has made life hard and burdensome for the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
It is the people of Antigua and Barbuda who now want to see the end of Mr. Spencer and his cohorts so that Antigua and Barbuda can return to the compassionate, prosperous and secure country that the ALP began constructing since 1946. The new and burdensome taxes have made many Antiguan and Barbudan families destitute, and even made beggars of some.
Mr. Spencer and his minority UPP have taken Antigua and Barbuda into the jaws of the IMF, a prospect that will bring untold hardship to the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
Mr. Spencer and his minority UPP have planned to sell-off the assets of the state, including State Insurance, APUA-PCS, APUA Telecoms, APUA Electricity, the Deepwater Harbour, the V.C. Bird Airport, West Indies Oil and other unidentified Government-owned assets.
The UPP sold the Royal Antigua Hotel to one of its friends shortly after taking power for a peppercorn amount, and then paid several of its lawyers $434,000 for work that was virtually worthless. The unlawful UPP regime traded the Rising Sun Grounds for a monstrosity of an unfinished car park that cost more than $150 million dollars.
The unlawful UPP regime has spent over $50 million dollars in purchasing several buildings for above market value. The Bencorp building, the Food City building, the Medical Benefits building, and other purchases have seen an enrichment of others at the expense of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. These and other harmful policy choices by the illegal UPP regime have impoverished the workers and families of Antigua and Barbuda.
Mr. Spencer, on Sunday night, publicly claimed that upon taking office in 2004 that “the Treasury was broke, government workers were not receiving their salaries. Medical Benefits and Social Security were not being paid by the government, and so workers could not claim any benefits,” Mr. Spencer said. These are all lies.
1. The unlawful UPP regime made a single payment of $50,000 each to Medical Benefits and Social Security since taking office in 2004. Their promises to make regular payments to these two statutory bodies have been no more than empty lies and unfilled promises.
At no time during the period of governance of the ALP were beneficiaries denied access to benefits. In fact, more than 20 poly-clinics were opened across Antigua and Barbuda during the ALP governance period, providing free healthcare to those in need. Social Security beneficiaries were paid on time, and the program did not face bankruptcy as is now the case under an unlawful UPP regime.
In 2003, the same lie which Mr. Spencer repeated last night about the inability of beneficiaries to claim benefits was aired by a BBC reporter. The BBC was sued by me, and the reporter retracted the statement in open court and paid 75,000 pounds Sterling which I distributed to several students from my constituency.
2. Mr. Spencer claimed on Sunday night that workers were not being paid when he took office in 2004. Though several government workers were paid a little late, all workers received their pay. Despite having raised taxes and increased revenue by more than $400 million dollars annually, since 2005, the unlawful UPP regime has not been able to meet its payroll obligations; and, payment to creditors have all but ceased under the unlawful UPP regime.
The unlawful UPP regime has raised taxes exorbitantly by nearly 2 billion dollars and then spent rather foolishly the resources that it has taken from the pockets of Antiguan and Barbudan taxpayers.
3. Mr. Spencer, during his broadcast on Sunday night, said that before 2004 “some children were not learning in school because they were hungry.” Each ALP administration ensured that parents and each head of household were employed; that approach to governance ensured that all households had an income and therefore would ensure that the most vulnerable, their children, were fed and clothed. Mr. Spencer cannot point to a single child by name to confirm his claim. He relies upon lies and innuendo, as has been his approach in order to gain government.
4. Mr. Spencer also claimed that in 2004 “Mount St. John was an empty shell.” That is another of Mr. Spencer’s lies. Mount St. John was more than 90% complete by March 2004. The equipment had been purchased and was placed in the rooms where they were to be used; the beds and other furniture were also in place. The ALP would never have charged patients for the use of the facility since it was built with taxpayers’ money. The illegitimate UPP regime has instituted all manner of charges for services, destroying the universal healthcare guarantee that has been in place in Antigua and Barbuda for more than three decades.
5. Mr. Spencer claimed that members of the ALP “…want to get back in to save themselves from prosecutions which the State had started against them…”; and this too is another lie by an illegitimate UPP regime.
With respect to the lands of Hon Gaston Browne, the illegitimate UPP regime sued for Misbehaviour in Public Office and Justice Harris, a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, in his judgment concluded, that there was absolutely no misfeasance on the part of the Hon. Gaston Browne. The judge however found that there was no consultation between the National Parks Authority and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. This oversight was determined as not criminal in nature by the judge.
With respect to the Hon Steadroy Benjamin in the High Court, the ALP is confident that the Judge erred and was wrong in law, when it ruled that the police could act contrary to the direction of the DPP, who is the sole authority that controls the conduct of criminal matters in the State. This is true especially in the circumstance where as part of a political vendetta, the illegitimate UPP regime went against the ruling of the DPP, who concluded that no criminal conduct was done by the Hon Steadroy Benjamin.
With respect to the “Beach Lands”, the illegitimate UPP regime led by the disgraced Baldwin Spencer, knows that the lands was not originally bought by Lester Bird, Robin Yearwood and Hugh Marshal. In fact it was initially purchased by Joe Mikes in partnership with a Jamaican entrepreneur, who then became our partners.
With respect to the search of Hon Asot Michael’s residence at Dry Hill, Justice Harris in his judgment ruled that the Honourable MP’s constitutional rights were breached, and that he was entitled to damages of $8,000. The judge was very clear that the “Police disclosed a lack of full understanding of the limits of their authority under Section 38 of the Magistrates Code of Procedure Act, and the warrant used there under”. Lastly, the search had nothing to do with the Commission of Enquiry as claimed by the illegitimate UPP regime led by Baldwin Spencer. The inquiry to which Baldwin Spencer refers was only commissioned in July 2009.
6. Mr. Spencer also claimed that “young bright Antiguans and Barbudans were denied scholarships and educational loans until the UPP came to office…” That lie is so blatant that it ought not to be dignified with an answer. In 1994, after the introduction of the Education Levy, the riotous UPP not only held a public march but violently threatened merchants who refused to close their doors. They promised to repeal the levy upon coming to office. I need hardly tell you that Mr. Spencer and his cohorts have not repealed any levy but have added enormous burdens to taxpayers in Antigua and Barbuda. But I can confirm that over the ten-year period following the introduction of the education levy, more than 500 scholarships were granted to deserving Antigua and Barbuda youth. These scholarships from the Education Levy do not include scholarships offered by the OAS, by friendly governments, and by UN agencies during the ALP administrations.
The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party has been focused upon re-building the state, now in shambles by reckless and misguided UPP policies. The unlawful UPP regime has been drunk on power and is seeking to remain in office by any means necessary. Every responsible authority figure in the OECS has advised Mr. Spencer to go back to the polls rather than delay the inevitable. The Prime Minister of St. Vincent has cautioned that Antigua and Barbuda’s share of the OECS economy is 25%; and the stability of Antigua and Barbuda’s economy is critical to the survival of the Currency Union. Recall, it was Prime Minister Gonsalves who cautioned late last year that the banking sector under the UPP regime was in crisis and that action was immediately required. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt announced that Dominica had come to Antigua and Barbuda’s rescue. Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts and Nevis cautioned his people against making the same mistake as did the Antiguan and Barbudan people. The unlawful UPP regime’s mis-management of the Antiguan and Barbudan economy was evident to the leaders of the OECS. Former Prime Minister James Mitchell has asked Mr. Spencer to demit office and to go back to the polls. Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth General Secretary, has also made it abundantly clear that Mr. Spencer ought to o back to the polls immediately.
The characterization by Mr. Spencer of these demands by well-informed and intelligent statesmen is shameful. He sees these as no more than a “grab for power;” when, in fact he no longer has a lawful mandate. Even Mr. Winston Derrick, a known supporter of the UPP regime, has called for him to step aside and to allow the will of the people to be exercised.
To call for an election now is in the best interest of the country. Testing the legal system is not the same as putting to the test the well-being of the Antiguan and Barbudan people. Holding on to power, by any means necessary, as Mr. Spencer is doing, is not the same as having a flawed election voided. Mr. Spencer should immediately call general elections or by-elections. He alone claims to have the authority so to do. If he continues to drag this matter out, he will imperil further an economy that contracted by 8.5% in 2009 and is likely to contract further in 2010.
The unlawful UPP regime has taken the country in the wrong direction. Rising crime, high unemployment, high taxes, high cost of living, high debt and the opened jaws of the IMF ready to consume generations of our people is not the right direction for Antigua and Barbuda.
The Antigua Labour Party has strengthened its resolve with the support of the people to say “never again” will we place our country in the hands of those who have little or no ability to manage. Those despots who rely on lies, innuendo and deceit are destined to be replaced by those whose record of performance remains unchallenged.
Under the Antigua Labour Party administration, the people of Antigua and Barbuda enjoyed the highest standard of living in the OECS. The Antigua Labour Party promises to rebuild our nation and to ensure that, once again, our experienced team can provide for the safety, security and the well-being of all our people.
I thank you for listening. May God bless you.