Montserrat 2018 Budget Review: Timid, Tepid and Vague

By Mike Jarvis

The 2018-2019 budget presentation in my view was long on hope, short on detail and rather vague overall.
I would want to tell the Premier that government doesn’t hope for things to happen. Governments make things happen and set the stage for things to happen.
However, I must say that for the amount of time and detail he spent on social affairs, especially welfare, shows that Montserrat is indeed a caring society – and that the Premier at heart genuinely cares about people. That despite those areas not being in his direct portfolio.

This is my overview and snapshot review:

PORT: It was good to hear again that the breakwater project is on its way with project mobilisation (what does that really mean?) sometime in the first half of next year.
The talk about how it will be beneficial to ferry, yachting, cruise tourism, fishing and cargo operations is all well and good but do we yet know about precisely what it is that we want and will be getting. Something is going out to tender, is that the conceptual design?
Then the Premier literally ruined it for me by being vague about a timeline for when the breakwater and port improvement is expected to be finished. One day soon is not good enough.

HOSPITAL: No timeline or detail yet on exactly what’s the situation currently with the planned new hospital. The government was to have given its response to the Mott McDonald report by the end of January. However, now we are hearing about regional experts to advise on it.
So when do we at least hope to get a new hospital then?

FIBRE OPTIC: Much talk about the possibilities once, or if and when it’s in place. The Premier reported that discussions on modalities are continuing with DfID. But I perhaps got a bit over-excited with the listing of possibilities of ICT server farms, a medical complex and business possibilities.
If indeed these are real investments being pursued and not just possibilities being touted, then it’s important for that distinction to be made, otherwise the Premier risks being accused of misinforming gullible people like me.

GEOTHERMAL: It would be good to at least have a timeline on approximately when an outcome from the ongoing geothermal exploration will happen. Listening to talk about Montserrat’s first electric car and charging point etc is nice to hear, but how realistic is it?

SOLAR: It was indeed encouraging to hear about progress being made on the solar initiative including plans for a 1 megawatt solar plant, but it would have been even better to get a line of detail on what exactly or how much it will contribute to the grid in layman’s terms. For example, how many houses on average will that power? Also, what target date is being looked at?

UNSPENT CAPITAL FUNDING: If I understood it correctly only 45% of the capital budget was spent. The other 55% was unspent due to the effects of the hurricane season on completing other approved projects. That may warrant further explanation on exactly what projects have been affected as it’s generally accepted that Montserrat escaped the brunt of last year’s storms. In fact, when one considers the extent of works being carried out and are ongoing by the Public Works Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, it does make one wonder what projects have been affected that so much of those funds were unspent and in which ministries. On the surface this seems to be more of a local government management problem that blaming the hurricane season.

ZJB: It’s almost as if I heard the same update as I did last year barring the effect of the storms on the transmitter site. ZJB has been back on the air and they are still at the same location, and will be for the foreseeable future. Despite the Premier speaking about new equipment etc, there is still no date or even projected date on when that building will be occupied.

TOURISM: Still no announcement of a Director or some specifically assigned to be in charge of tourism management and delivering on the, or a tourism strategy. But it was good to note the acknowledge of the March festival and other festival events as identifiable pillars of the economy and tourism .
That raises the question though; if they are acknowledged as being so important especially for tourism, how many people do they attract – diaspora visitors in particular, and how much revenue does these events contribute to the economy?

THE PRIVATE SECTOR STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK: Is it me or is everything about Montserrat now based around a strategic framework? I recently heard the Governor caution about the avalanche (my term) of reports which are then reviewed just for another report to be written?
We just had the Mott McDonald economic report in which the private sector was consulted and other previous reports reviewed so are we going over the same ground again with the new CEO – whoever that will be.

AIRPORT: The possibility of night flights was floated as the Premier spoke about improvements to the airport. But when are we likely to have night flights or at least a target period to look forward to or work towards?

PLYMOUTH RESERVE AND GEO PARK: A good idea and great for tourism.But once again no timeline for possible implementation although EU funding is already being allocated for it.

CONCESSIONS AND INCENTIVES FOR BUILD-TO-RENT/TOURISM ACCOMMODATION PROPERTIES: It was indeed encouraging to hear that the government has dropped the amount for qualifying properties by almost 50%. But while that is encouraging, it suggests that there was a low uptake on the initial roll-out. If that’s the case then credit to the government for being responsive.

ZONE C BULDING CONCESSIONS: I’m still not in favour of encouraging property owners to invest in rebuilding in properties in the Cork Hill, Delvins, Foxes Bay and Weekes areas for reasons I’d previously stated. Furthermore, the government needs to outline its plan for restoring the infrastructure in those areas including roads, water and electricity plus an escape route in the event those areas become cut-off – which is a real possibility.

Those are the main points for me.
Of course there are other areas to look at including agriculture, education, youth and sports etc.
The budget presentation started with out confidence, but to me it subsequently waned in presentation as it waned in detail especially on dates and timelines.

A more detailed review of the budget will be done during the Budget Debate on Thursday 26th April.