The Opposition Team of the Government of Montserrat is calling for quick action on use of available regional and international COVID-19 grants to alleviate poverty on island. They are also calling for the government to give salary support rather than sector-based grants.
This morning, the Montserrat team led by Opposition Leader Paul Lewis held what they termed “a very positive meeting” with the full Financial Assistance Team (FAM) of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The online meeting, with 12 attendees, was chaired by Governor Andrew Pearce.
During the last sitting of the Legislative Assembly, opposition members had complained they were left out of the recent Financial Aid Mission discussions on the upcoming GOM’s 2021/22 budget.
According to a statement from the Opposition, the meeting, which included Opposition members Claude Hogan, David Osborne and former premier Donaldson Romeo. proposed a number of immediate aid and strategic steps to help the people of Montserrat’s COVID-19 response.
“The FCDO accepted that it was wrong to give the impression that the Montserrat economy was performing well following a recent FAM mission to Montserrat. A more likely explanation lay in the absence of data expected from an ongoing poverty assessment survey and a labour market survey. The GoM had itself financed consumption as food packages as part of the first response to COVID-19. The data made available to the FCDO was also masked by using treasury receipts as opposed to real economic sector performance data; and public service salaries were the only consistent salary data that were available,” the statement read.
“The Montserrat Opposition was also able to explain that the DFID/FCDO business case for Montserrat of 2019 had captured what was already extreme cases of poverty, social dislocation and large numbers of people falling through the cracks in an economy challenged by being open and having limited resilience to cope with the impact of COVID-19.
The following courses of action were proposed to be taken forward with the Government of Montserrat as urgent. They were part of a strategy for the short, medium and long-term sustenance and support for the People of Montserrat.
1. The GoM should immediately programme and use the 900,000 Euros from EDF-11’s COVID-19 support funds made available under RESEMBID, the EC$500,000 from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, plus balances on the GoM accounts to support any short-term lockdown of the island.
2. That ‘lock-down means lock-down’ and the support measures should therefore be across the board covering workers in all sectors and the aid should be provided as soon as possible to avoid further economic risk and social issues.
3. The Opposition pressed for salary support to workers as opposed to sector grants; but also asked for strategic projects to support the medium and long-term survival of all sector workers in Montserrat. Special arrangements and measures will need to be made to forestall and address areas of poverty.
4. The Opposition proposed that there should be a re-look, with the GoM, at the transport strategy for Montserrat to include both a ferry and air operations. It was appreciated that more frequent transport connections for freight and cargo are critical elements of trade that could reduce the cost of living on Montserrat through savings that make goods and services affordable for the people of the island.
5. The merits of a strategic approach to ease and, where possible, reduce import taxes were discussed; so that, as the Opposition believed, the senior citizens and children of Montserrat could afford to have choices of healthy food and drinks at affordable prices. People need to eat healthy foods to survive COVID-19.
6. It was also agreed by the FCDO, His Excellency the Governor and the Opposition team that a strategic team effort would be needed to aid Montserrat going forward. The FCDO and the Opposition Team of Montserrat proposed to meet again periodically to discuss issues, concerns and suggestions.