Fellow Citizens, Residents and friends on Montserrat and around the world, as we celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another, I want first to thank God for blessing and keeping us to see this day, the 1st of January 2018, and to wish you all a happy and healthy New Year.
In 2017 our nation faced many challenges, some of which we have overcome and others we believe we shall overcome. As we look back on this past year, may we do so with the understanding that brighter days are ahead, that while our challenges are great, each of us has a unique part to play, and that every one of us is equipped by God with the courage and determination to rise up and meet them.
This year marks our island’s 23rd year in our journey since volcanic eruptions began in July 1995. This year we must seize the opportunity for a breakthrough or paradigm shift. This will require us all, as citizens, residents and friends of Montserrat, to come together as a single community with an overarching unity of purpose.
Unity of purpose and action, above and beyond our differences, will be vital to Montserrat’s progress, now and in the years ahead. It is still my conviction that if we citizens, residents and friends of Montserrat, choose with God’s help, to pursue unity of purpose and mutual respect as a permanent lifestyle for the New Year and beyond, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
It is that very agreement of purpose that achieved, as I perceive, a step in the right direction for both the UK Government and the UK Overseas Territories just over a month ago.
After the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria last September, the British Overseas Territories (BOTs) which were severely affected, joined with other British Overseas Territories in presenting our case to the world and to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG). As a result, at the end of November’s Joint Ministerial Council meetings in London, the UK joined with its Overseas Territories in a communique to declare that, in accordance with UN law (Article 73), we must ensure that the development needs of Montserrat and other BOTs are to be treated as a priority.
This change of thinking happened because Montserrat was no longer making the argument alone, as we have done year after year for twenty-plus years. This time, working together with other OTs we were able to meet and make a strong case to UK Prime Minister Theresa May, as well as to Secretaries of State and other Ministers of the UK Government. Also, this time around, the UK media were already agitating on our behalf by challenging the UK Government to be prompt and adequate in its assistance to British Overseas Territories in desperate need.
For over 20 years, UK Prime minister after UK Prime Minister, and Chief Minister after Chief Minister on Montserrat along with their administrations have fought to accomplish the things pertinent to Montserrat’s sustainable development; things needed to take Montserrat out of a 20-year dependency on UK tax payers. Today, Montserrat still needs urgent action to have basic and key infrastructure lost to the volcano replaced, and to address our hurricane-worthiness, just as is the case for three BOTs recently devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
We in Montserrat have learnt it the hard way; to be effective, aid must be both adequate and timely. As I said in my appeal at the United Nations in November, we must not let what has happened to Montserrat over the past 20 years continue, and we must not let what has happened to Montserrat happen to our fellow Territories. The world now knows that Montserrat still needs and deserves an urgent response.
Any day now, we expect to be signing the financial agreement with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for the long-needed breakwater and berthing that will allow tourist and cargo vessels to dock safely at our Port in Little Bay. Similarly, the Department for International Development (DFID) has recently assured Government of Montserrat (GoM) of their continued commitment to the Subsea Fiber Optic Project, and the Government of Montserrat is on track to present a funding model that meets their new requirements in January. Significant progress on the project is expected to take place in 2018.
The financial agreement for the European Union Development Fund (EDF 11) of 18.4 million Euros for 2018 to 2020 is to be signed in a few weeks. The first tranche of these moneys should be available as part of the 2018 March budget. Thanks to the European Union these 18.4 million Euros will fund energy, tourism, infrastructure and projects in other sectors.
As we all know, January to March are generally slow months for our economy, so it is important for the people of Montserrat to be aware of what is in the pipeline to create employment over the next few weeks and months.
This year we expect several projects for the remaining portion of this year’s capital budget to start shortly. Many of the following will be completed or well underway by March:
- The four, two-bedroom social needs houses went out to tender in December. Bids have come back in and are being evaluated with the hope of having a winning tender and contract in place shortly.
- A contract has been awarded for the installation of a new roof on the Montserrat Port Authority building while the extension to the Ferry terminal building in Little Bay is in its final stage of design before procurement. Construction is expected to start very soon.
- As a result of the damage across the island caused by the recent hurricanes Irma & Maria, we will continue, over the coming weeks and months, to spend relief funds to assist our farmers and fishermen, and to carry out urgent repairs and rehabilitation to several tourist attraction sites, clear roads, cut verges, as well as urgent works on the Carrs Bay Bridge – due to start in the first quarter of this year.
- The drilling of the third well as well as short and long term testing is to be completed by DFID in 2018. GoM has taken the initiative to conduct early market engagement for the development of the Geothermal surface plant.
- The public service is presently the principal driver of Montserrat’s economy. We therefore hope that funding a major reform and modernisation programme for the public service will also be approved in the coming months.
- During the coming months, we will approve an Economic Growth Strategy and Delivery Plan following further consultation. The Economic Growth Strategy aims to accomplish two critical goals regarding the development of the private sector.
The first is to have a continuous and open dialogue with the private sector on critical issues for moving Montserrat forward.
The second is to get the private sector fully involved in creating sustainable and inclusive economic growth for all Montserratians.
Montserrat’s economy must and shall be transformed for the better of all.
I am convinced that even after 20 years of dependency it is not too late to put corrective measures in place for our resilient and sustainable growth and development. 2018 offers the British Government and the Government and people of Montserrat a unique chance to show the world what can be done, when good will and unity of purpose, backed by adequate funding, are finally applied to our own volcano-devastated island.
This does not mean that we are going to depend solely on HMG who have an important part to play in funding the replacement of key infrastructure and other development needs, for which we are thankful. Â With that foundation we must build a modern and vibrant Montserrat with our creativity, entrepreneurship and the hard work of all, young and old.
We must all, Government, and people of Montserrat near and far, be committed to the vision of the sustainable development Plan for Montserrat which speaks of a thriving, modern economy with a friendly, vibrant community in which all of our people through enterprise and initiative can fulfil their hopes in a truly democratic and God-fearing society.
I believe that our vision of a democratic and God-fearing Montserrat that is resilient, modern, lively, prosperous, yet peaceful, safe and welcoming is shared by all who love this island. With all hands on deck, and all pulling in the same direction, Montserrat will not remain a welfare-dependent state for long and our vision of a Montserrat standing on its own two feet could soon be a reality.
There is a time for everything and it is now time to let Montserrat Grow. We are all called for such a time and purpose as this.
Fellow Citizens, Residents and friends of Montserrat as we begin 2018, I want once again, to thank you for your cooperation, hard work and contribution over the past year. Finally, on behalf of myself, my family, and the Government of Montserrat, to those of us here on Island as well as the many overseas I wish each and every one a New Year of restored hope and faith in Montserrat’s future under God.
God bless you all and God bless Montserrat.