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Opposition Member Calls for the Premier to Reprioritise Budget Spending to Fix Montserrat Secondary

Dr Samuel Joseph, Opposition member for MCAP

Opposition Member Dr Samuel Joseph said he is in support of the Minister of Education’s request for funds to be allocated to fix the issues at the island’s lone secondary school.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly on Monday, Joseph gave the government’s 2019/20 202.2 Million XCD Budget an F calling it one “of fluff, fiction, fairytales, falsehood and fibs. A budget that prioritizes spending over results. A budget that puts PR stunts and vanity projects over people.”

Minister of Education Delmaude Ryan had earlier expressed that she had brought a proposal to her government to make the Montserrat Secondary School a priority for the recently approved 30 million pound UK aid package. However, it had been rejected. Last week’s Budget Speech by Premier and Minister of Finance Donaldson Romeo revealed that fixing the school was not included in the plans for the capital programme he had recently signed off on with the Department for International Development (DFID). This prompted the schools’ Parent Teacher’s Association to speak out, private sector uproar, and an online petition with more than 500 signatures calling for the reversal of this decision.

“If the Minister of Education does not have money for schools, it means that somebody else has the money. That’s how it works. We do not have an infinite amount of money,” Dr Joseph said in his presentation to the house. “MSS campus is complaining that they have no classrooms, that they have no place to go, that they don’t have equipment, that children are falling and breaking their hands and having to be rushed to the hospital, that children are getting wet when they have to be walking across from one classroom to the other, when they are going up unsafe steps, where you do not have enough equipment to conduct labs etc. and teachers have to be taking the money out of their own pocket to conduct some of these labs, where there are not enough chairs in classrooms and have to be coming to a class and borrowing a chair from another class to get your classroom done. … reallocate this money to education and I support you 100% on this.”

Joseph said the government continued to make the same mistake each year which is to focus on vanity projects such as the roads which are not in a state of disrepair rather than fix the school. The added benefit of tearing down and rebuilding the two blocks which were shut down in 2018 and equipping the school correctly, would be the long term impact and investment in the future of the island’s children.

The parliamentarian, who co-founded the island’s first tech software firm Lavabits and now mentors other techpreneurs said despite the announcement that a contract for laying fibre optic cables to the island was imminent, there were no government-led programmes to ensure that Montserrat’s children could make use of the increased broadband capacity. He said the budget allocation in 2018 for ICT programmes in schools was $15,000.

“Building the buildings and the roads will give you a short term economic boost…people will get jobs for a while, then the project will end. What is going to happen after the three years, what’s going to happen after the five years? The issue of fibre has been on the table for five years. After five years what plans are put in place to take advantage of the fibre when it comes?” Saying it will open up a digital sector are not plans. “It’s just talk.”

He chastised the government for sending the economy into a recession since it took office in2014 and despite Premier Romeo’s announcement that growth projections should be between 3% to 3.5% this year, will be taking the country back to where they met it…”no progress has been made Madame Speaker.”

Joseph said the current administration’s focus on UK aid is an implicit admission that they have no plans beyond hoping that England is kind to us. He said the budget clearly shows that they have “no ideas and confidence in the people of Montserrat.” Montserrat’s legacy of being one of the first in the region to export limes, have its own airline, among other achievements has become a state where we “must wait on an aid agency to tell us what to do.”

He continued to say that the people of Montserrat do not have disposable income. Beyond the short term benefits of projects which will end, the budget lacked any proposals for getting more money to the people.

He expressed disappointment that the Minister of Trade David Osborne did not share any concrete policies on how his government will get more money to the people and become more export-driven. Joseph said, what is needed is a focus on creating significant opportunities for export development through the creative industries, such as software development, music, and festivals, development of ICTs and cottage industries which is backed by cash.

“This budget should articulate clearer support for micro small and medium enterprises,” he added. While new policies for ICT and finance were mentioned, there was no small business policy.  He said in the more than four years the government has been in office they have not met with the business community, which is a contradiction to their talk that they support the private sector.

Joseph said “unfriendly procedures, archaic forms and processes, nuisance fees,” continue to make it a hindrance for businesses on island to function effectively.

The budget was one of shiny things, he declared, and it does not deliver any fiscal incentives or priority industries which the government plans to focus on.

To hear the Day 1 presentations of the ministers and opposition listen here –>

Budget Speech- Budget-Speech-2019-20

Budget Estimates- Budget-Estimates-2019-22