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Opposition Leader Paul Lewis

Opposition Leader Says Government Decisions Jeopardizing Montserrat’s Future

Leader of the Opposition Paul Lewis has expressed concerns that recent decisions by the ruling MCAP administration is jeopardizing Montserrat’s future.

Speaking in a pre-recorded message on the local radio station, Lewis said the decision by Minister of Finance and Premier Joseph Farrell to stop the ferry service was done on the basis that it would save the island money as it had not been in regular use since March 2020. However, the Opposition leader said “after stopping the ferry you then said no savings were made. ..After all that talk about making savings from a parked ferry now you admit that no savings were made as the money will go to the airlines and cargo boat.  Cargo by ferry is now more expensive than cargo by ferry. Your cargo boat now adds the cost of brokerage times two, plus export warrants and tariff charges on everything from Antigua.”

Lewis also queried early statements from government officials that Antigua had no protocols in place for the ferry, which appeared to justify the need to remove the regular service.

The government terminated the regular ferry service with the Jaden Sun at the end of September, claiming that it was a cost saving measure. They had also stated that Antigua was not allowing ferry services to operate, but an August 9, 2020 travel advisory from their Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that the Antigua Port Authority was open to cargo vessels, pleasure craft and ferry services and required to follow Port Health protocols.

The leader of the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) said with the ferry contract, the government was guaranteed tax revenue of $1.2 million. He added that the decision to cancel the ferry has resulted in the loss of tax revenue and local economic activity, which Lewis valued at $10 million per month.

“Passengers  are now traveling by air and are paying more even with your controlling subsidy than they were paying by ferry. And we now know for sure that yachts and ships haven’t stopped coming to Antigua, but you told the nation, there were no protocols for ferry in Antigua. Mr. Premier because of your decision small businesses are paying more for freight which increase their overhead cost at a difficult time like this. You needed to manage the ferry Mr. Premier, not fire it,” the Opposition Leader stated.

He also charged that the MCAP administration was trying to kill small business and asked whether the government plans to provide subsidy on freight to reduce the burden for the sector.

Currently, the government subsidises the airline fares with $300 per round trip ticket.

Opposition Leader Paul Lewis

He challenged the premier and deputy premier Dr. Samuel Joseph’s commitment that there would be no budget cuts and that negotiations “to make up the budget shortfall are favorable.” Lewis said the government has not been able to get more than the $3.5 million committed by the UK government, while reducing the current budget by $18 million.

“ you realize the implications of going back on your word and making those large cuts halfway in the financial year? Your government after issuing contracts from maintenance budgets have now ask contractors not to complete the jobs because there is no money to pay them,” he said on ZJB Radio.

The Opposition Leader highlighted that while the local government was saying the British had their own problems, they were continuing to offer grants to other countries. He queried why the premier was reluctant to represent the people of Montserrat to the British government.

He charged that the premier was “punishing the people. Small businesses are losing sales and customers, unemployment is high many construction workers can’t find work. People in general can’t find work. Workers are being placed on a reduced work week; rents and bills are outstanding because there’s no money to pay and to add insult to injury you are not taking on any new applicants at social services department for assistance. Your government refuses to help in time of need.”

Lewis called the Farrell’s decision deceptive as they have not followed through on their promises. He made a call for them to wake up as the future looked dim based on the island’s recent losses.