17 February 2011

No new UK Aid for Montserrat, Government Salaries Delayed

Still recovering from the economic impacts of the natural disaster, Montserrat to receive no new financial support.

BRADES, Montserrat (GIU) -- “Montserrat must live within its means,” said Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development, who was on a one-day visit to the island on Thursday.

Accompanying the UK official was Susan Wardell, DFID Director for SHMECOT (Security, Humanitarian, Middle East, Caribbean and Overseas Territories), and Mitchell’s Assistant Private Secretary Amanda McLoughlin.

During the short visit, Mitchell held meetings with Chief Minister of Montserrat Reuben Meade, Governor Peter Waterworth, Financial Secretary John Skerritt, Minister of Communications & Works Charles Kirnon, Parliamentary Secretary Jermaine Wade, and Permanent Secretary Angela Greenaway.

He also visited the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and took a helicopter tour of the Exclusion Zone to view the devastation caused by the Soufriere Hills Volcano. The tour ended in Little Bay where there was an onsite presentation from members of the project team working on the new town development at Little Bay.

The secretary of state said during a press conference that he was quite “moved” by his first hand look at the Exclusion Zone. Adding, the scale of the devastation is something that you have to see to really believe. However, he said his government was already providing more than 50 percent of Montserrat’s recurrent budget and were unwilling to increase the subsidy.

“It is the wrong approach to wait for the mother bird to bring food to the nest. What we want to see is a real partnership and see Montserrat begin to stand on its own two feet,” said Mitchell. “As a former banker I can acknowledge Montserrat’s successful past prior to the volcano. There are new opportunities that should be embraced and we want to move rapidly to a partnership approach, which will move the island forward to greater success.”

The secretary of state said he considered his government’s stance of no additional aid for the island as “absolutely fair” as it relates to the treatment given to the Overseas Territories. He said the UK government has had to make extremely tough decisions to curtail its spending and expected Montserrat would do the same. “Tough decisions are never popular but in the end people will respect you for it.”

He commended Chief Minister Meade’s willingness to do just that and said his government embraced the vision of the Road Map and its request for the UK to assist in helping the island access development funds from other international donor agencies. “We will do every possible to support this request,” Mitchell told the media.

The official said history has shown that the surest way to economic sustainability was not from receiving continued aid but for a vibrant private sector, which encourages trade and job creation.

The government of Montserrat’s recurrent budget for 2010/2011 is EC$98,015,100, with UK grant subsidy of EC$52,920,000. An estimated $45,095,100 was to be raised from local tax revenue but the Ministry of Finance has said it still needs to raise about $9,000,000 to close out the financial year by March 31, 2011.

Meade has called for government departments to curb spending and prioritize programmes to utilise the available resources.


Low revenues in recurrent expenditure cause delay in government monthly salaries and payments

Public servants and welfare recipients wait on edge for late payments

by B. Roach
Montserrat Reporter

Following another month end scare of non-receipt of salary payments public servants eventually received their payments, while unconfirmed reports claim that between 90 to 100 of them may eventually lose their permanent jobs with the government not long from now.

While most persons with very few exceptions in the Ministry of Health, most public servants eventually received their pay, while some heads of departments advanced payment to some of their staff from their pocket.

Late in the day on February 1, 2011, The Montserrat Reporter editor assisted a little old lady who said she was just told she could go and collect her pay at Government Headquarters. That little lady expressed gratitude, but also annoyance that she had to wait for the opportunity to be able to pay her bills.

Up to Tuesday morning there was still some uncertainty before the government began the payment of social welfare benefits. Following the delay the Minister with responsibility for Community Services the Hon. Collin Riley explained in a ZJB report, “I don’t know if its lack of funds or the timing of the flow of funds….”

He said, “I think that the better definition for what is happing right is the timing of flow of funds.” He said the funding is available but there is a timing issue and it’s being worked on.

The Hon. Financial Secretary (FS), John Skerritt admitted: “revenues are flat, expenditures are increasing, so we do have a fiscal problem.”

He explained that “…the case for this month, it was simply that the departments did not have sufficient money in their vote…” adding, “…because we are issuing the general warrants by the quarter, we’re not giving the full year’s allocations so they did not have sufficiency in their vote – we have since addressed that… the recurrent budget is done quarterly and the budgetary aid comes in quarterly.”

He explained further, that government, because we had the storm damage expenditure. “We have had to try and fix those, so we used quite a bit of revenue,” he said, while adding that there was delay, “…as we needed to justify what we have spent …”

Meanwhile the Community Services Minister Riley believes, “…overtime, we’ll catch up because there is a big project about to break, those will generate tax revenue, and we will see a better 2011, I know.”

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