Minister of Finance and Premier Joseph E. Farrell said Wednesday that his government has been able to reduce the 2020/21 budget deficit from 22 million to about three million.
Farrell was speaking to members of the press in a live streamed conference from government headquarters. He said the reduction has come from eliminating international travel expenditures for the year, halting the hiring of technical consultants and not filling vacant posts.
The premier said they are resolute that no cuts will be made to healthcare, education and social welfare. However, no new applicants will be accepted into the social welfare programme. He added that since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the social services department has received many requests for support. However, they are unable to increase the numbers able to access aid. This could change if the government’s financial outlook improves in the next six months.
To be able to access social welfare, applicants must undergo a means test.
Despite public outcry and that of the Opposition, plans to terminate the ferry service at the end of September remain. “Government is conscious that a ferry service has become a way of life for us as a people over these many years, but at times something has to be given up for the common good of all; and this is one of those decisions.
“The ferry has not been used for passenger travel from around the end of March 2020, due to the coronavirus outbreak and the closing of borders, coupled with a downturn in passenger travel and the situation is projected to remain this way for some time to come,” said Premier Farrell.
The minister said both SVG Air and Fly Montserrat currently receive a seat guarantee of $18,000 per month. In addition, the airlines are to invoice the government periodically for reimbursement based on the number of passengers at the rate of $150 for one way and $300 return fare for passengers. An agreement of a base fare has been reached, Farrell added.
The airlines are expected to provide some cargo support while a more substantial cargo arrangement is worked out.
The premier said a paper has been written to action the new rates but could not give clarity on what the base fare will be and when the new rates will go into effect.