The strength and resilience of the Antigua and Barbuda today is the envy of many small island states. And for Lester Bryant Bird who stood in the vanguard of the effort to transform our post colonial economy, the policy approach was the result of careful consideration:
“There was a specific philosophical basis on which we levied taxes…we wanted high disposable income for the people and efficient government providing excellent services with minimum taxes… so we carefully created this low tax jurisdiction to keep more money in the hands of people… As a result, there was rapid upward mobility from being an agriculture based people to being a new middle class…
“We were on course to create a knowledge based, IT driven economy and we were providing through the Youth Skills training programme an opportunity for people to participate in the economy… We were excited about the prospect for the University of Antigua designed to ensure world class training for our human resources particularly in the growth engines of the economy”.
Regrettably, in 2004 Baldwin Spencer, Errol Cort and the UPP turned the entire ABLP economic philosophy of ‘using government for the benefit of people’ into ‘the abuse of people for the benefit of government’.
The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party had consistently pursued a policy of low taxation in order to allow people to spend more of their own money as a primary driver to the sustainable growth of the economy. Over time, an imbalance developed between tax revenues and monthly expenditure. Government was spending more than it was receiving in taxes and therefore needed to make some adjustments.
The ABLP was told that the government’s payroll was too large and should be drastically reduced. But the ABLP refused to send home Antiguans and Barbudans because, especially given the difficult circumstances, it was better to pay most government employees late than to deprive some of them of income to feed their families
At that time, the ABLP was taking from the people of Antigua and Barbuda in taxes 16% of the total value of goods and services in the economy (GDP). And though it could have corrected the revenue expenditure imbalance and paid public officers on time by increasing taxes to 20% of GDP, the ABLP was concerned that a sudden rise in taxes would send the wrong signals and would have weakened investor and consumer confidence in the economy.
The ABLP lost the government at a time when measures were being put in place to increase revenues and decrease expenditure in ways that would not adversely impact the disposable income and living standards of the people.
Today, the UPP has given itself a whopping 400 million dollar annual increase in tax revenue which is 33% of GDP compared to the 25% benchmark set by the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union. And still, there are months when the salaries of public officers are late and banks are forced to bounce checks issued by the UPP government.
The ABLP systematically improved the lives of the people with less than 400 million dollars in taxes. The UPP is supervising a rapid decline in living standards with over 800 million dollars in taxes.
The low tax, high investment, pro employment policies of the Antigua Labour Party made this economy the biggest and strongest in the OECS and set the stage for the significant improvement in living standards experienced between 1976 and 2004.
Under the ABLP the economy was better for the people. Under the UPP the economy is better for the government. People are suffering. They have less money to spend, less job opportunities, more crime and violence to contend with and lower health and education standards for which they are paying a lot more money. While the people suffer, the UPP government boasts to its masters in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it has sent home public servants and has enough money to waste on projects without public tender, decorated side-walks and sending ministers travelling all around the world.
The ABLP built an economy for people to improve themselves and successfully develop their families. The UPPP is destroying that economy by imposing an additional 400 million dollar tax burden on the people every year and thereby depriving them of the little savings they were able to achieve prior to 2004 to secure their futures
Make no mistake about it. The high standard of living enjoyed by Antiguans and Barbudans over the years in comparison to their OECS brothers and sisters was no accident.
It was the direct result of the low-tax policies of the Antigua Labour Party which ensured more of the people’s money stayed in their pockets and the country was more attractive to local and foreign investments. The combination of higher spending power and higher volumes of investment, spurred sustained economic growth.
The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party will restore sanity to the financial affairs of Antigua and Barbuda by returning to the philosophical position that disposable income in the hands of the people is better than unjustified taxation to finance the excesses of big incompetent government.
The political posturing associated with this UPP policy approach is intended to institutionalize dependency on the state through the good graces of ruling party politicians. The ABLP will turn the nation back from this dangerous road to which it has been led by the UPP.