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First PDM Budget Presented without Clarity on Key issues for Montserrat

LITTLE BAY – The 2015/16 Budget for Montserrat was presented on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 with no surprises and without clarity on several hot-button issues for the Hon. Premier Donaldson Romeo-led government.

Premier Romeo presented a recurrent budget of EC$ 127,368,300 which is to cover salaries and other operating expenses and a capital budget of EC$ 43,421,800. This presents a total budget of EC$ 170,790,100 noting it excludes new capital projects still to be approved by the Department for International Development (DfID).

Missing from the presentation was mention of the Montserrat Development Corporation (MDC) which has come under fire in the past six months for lack of progress on its mandate to stimulate the private sector and questionable accountability practices which still have never been confirmed or clarified by the government.

budgetThe premier, who is also the Minister of Finance and Economic Management, said his government’s economic objective is to “revive our economy and put Montserrat back on a path for sustainable re-development and future growth.” The speech did not state if there is a future for the MDC in this objective.

He outlined a new approach to Economic Management and Development which involves “1) the creation of a modern and diversified economy, where the active promotion of inward investment and targeted foreign direct investment is the foundation. Additionally, we will leverage Montserrat’s particular mix of natural resources setting a clear path for sustainable re-development that will not be reliant on any one sector; 2) the development of strong fiscal, economic and environmental policies and processes needed to under-pin the development of a sustainable economy; and 3) Government’s role will be to facilitate a conducive business environment that encourages the efficient working of the private sector.”

While he identified seven key sectors for the diversification focus, which included luxury tourism, the premier did not mention what structural changes will take place to ensure the tourism division is able to deliver on this. Presently, the division is under the MDC but there have been discussions on shifting it back to an independent agency.

No figures were identified to push the revival of the villa, adventure, sports and volcano tourism markets.

The premier mentioned his government’s desire to have Plymouth become a World Heritage site, which they hope would add value to it as a tourism product.

The matter of health care reform which has been of primary concern to residents and nationals in the Diaspora was also mentioned in passing. The premier did note that his government’s preference was for a new hospital and not a refurbished one as proposed in the original hospital and health care improvement project, portions of which have now been put on hold.

He emphasised that work needs to be done to improve access to emergency and specialist care for residents and that the current arrangements for medical evacuation has to be reviewed. The ministry of health is to develop a multi-disciplinary team of health, social care and housing to ensure an “integrated approach as these three areas have significant impact on each other.”

The Ministry of Health and Social Services has been allocated $21 million or about 16.5 percent of the total budget. Portions of the health reform programme, which includes work in the area of Non-Communicable Diseases will come from the DFID Hospital and Health Care Improved Project.

The debate on the 2015/16 Budget is scheduled for Friday, March 27, 2015 at 9am.