ELESHA GEORGE – The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) government has introduced a tax-free budget with EC $1.64 billion dollars needed in resources to accomplish what prime minister Gaston Browne expects to be an 8 per cent growth in GDP by the end of 2022.

It is almost double the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank’s projection of 4.7 per cent growth for the country.

In an effort to see it through, major allocations have been budgeted for national security, infrastructure, health and education – which received the highest amount in spending of $154.8 million dollars.

In addition to that amount, the government is planning to partner with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) on a US$15.8 million Education Quality Improvement Project (EQuIP) to expand several schools across the country.

The Ministry of Health received the second-highest sum of $114.1 million; followed by the Attorney General’s Office/Ministry of Justice $104.4 million; and $87.5 for the Ministry of Works which is expected to make major infrastructural improvements during the year.

But perhaps what was most enticing to the public was the pronouncements made during the budget, including a promise to increase the salaries of public servants or the offer of severance to Jolly Beach workers who have spent years not knowing whether they would be paid for their years of service.

To propel their rejuvenation plans for this year, Browne announced that the government needed an influx of labour and as a result has offered amnesty to unregulated residents. The offer runs from March 1st to April 30, 2022.

He also spoke of constructing a new facility for the government-run elderly care facility – the Fiennes Institute – whose staff coincidently were among handfuls of workers who protested outside the parliament during the budget speech on Thursday morning.

They formed part of at least four groups of workers who have years of back pay owed to them. This year’s budget is an increase of about $200.4 million dollars from last year and slightly lesser than that of 2020 which was $1.7 billion.

The country’s prime minister also announced the growth of the economy by 5.3 per cent in 2021 “as assessed Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB)”. He told House representatives that it represented the single largest rebound of the economy in a 12-month period.

This year’s budget’s theme was coined “Setting the Stage for Economic Rejuvenation” – an indication of what the government believes to be a rebounding economy from the Covid pandemic. The Budget provides for an overall resource requirement of $1.64 billion which represents an increase of 9 per cent, or approximately $130 million, over the estimated total spend of $1.51 billion in 2021.

Prime Minister Browne said that It indicates the Government’s targeted expansionary fiscal policy that is intended to stimulate the economy and propel a resurgence in domestic output.  

The budgetary and fiscal position points to an overall deficit of 2.6 per cent of GDP or $110 million with a marginal primary surplus for 2022.

Prime Minister Browne said that the primary balance is the overall fiscal balance less interest payments on public sector debt and is an indication of the  Government’s ability to meet its obligations in a fiscal year without incurring additional debt.

Recurrent Revenue is estimated at $975.6 million for 2022, which is a 23% increase over the $790.9 million generated in 2021. 

The components of recurrent revenue are:

•        Indirect Tax Revenue – $689.5 million

•        Direct Tax Revenue – $124.6 million

•        Non-Tax Revenue – $161.5 million

The amount budgeted for capital receipts is $7 million, while grant funding for Fiscal Year 2022 is budgeted at $50.2 million.

On the expenditure side, estimated recurrent expenditure, excluding principal payments, is $961.1 million. 

A current account surplus of $14.5 million is therefore projected for 2022. 

The components of recurrent expenditure are:

•        Wages and Salaries – $410.6 million

•        Transfers and Grants – $159 million

•        Pensions and Gratuities – $73.4 million

•        Goods and Services – $167.6 million

•        Interest Payments – $110.1 million

•        Statutory Contributions – $40.4 million

The Government’s Capital Budget for 2022 is $181.8 million.

The Prime Minister said that it more than doubles the almost $80 million spent on capital projects in 2021.

Cover photo courtesy Johnny Jno-Baptiste