Dr. (h.c.) The Hon. Winston Baldwin Spencer
NEW YEAR’S ADDRESS 2010
My Fellow Antiguans and Barbudans;
Residents and Friends of Antigua and Barbuda:
Today, Antigua and Barbuda stands at the dawn of a New Year – A New Year of challenges and opportunities.
2010 brings with it fresh possibilities for personal and collective achievement. It carries the potential for us to rise to new heights of endeavours for our country, our communities, our families and ourselves.
Although 2009 was a year of challenge, the resilience of the people of Antigua and Barbuda working in tandem with the government enabled our nation to remain on a firm footing.
I must extend my government’s commendation to those public servants and members of the public and business community who were true patriots of Antigua and Barbuda during the past year.
The doctors, teachers, police and security officers, nurses, sanitation workers, care givers, hotel workers, immigration officers, farmers and all those who provide a service to this nation, your government says thank you for putting your country first.
As we embark on the New Year, let us be fortified by the struggles of the past and the victories of the year just ended. As a country which is setting a new course of sustainable economic management and social development, the path ahead should be illuminated by the lessons we have learned.
As the Government has indicated in the Budget which we presented in December, 2010 promises to be another challenging year. But the challenges can, and must be overcome.
As a member of the regional grouping of CARICOM and the OECS, Antigua and Barbuda is called upon to play meaningful roles in the advancement of the people of Antigua and Barbuda and the region.
As a government and people, we are not only called upon to address the challenges brought on by a global recession as one nation, but we are called upon to work as a unit with our Caribbean brothers and sisters.
A few days ago, as Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, I joined my OECS counterparts in initialing a Draft Treaty to signal our intent to establish an Economic Union within the sub-region by June 2010.
It is my government’s belief that if we are to face the future with resolute confidence, OECS Economic Union is the best vehicle to secure our growth and development.
During the coming weeks, the Ministry of Trade will continue its programme of education to further enlighten the citizens and residents of this nation on the benefits of an OECS Economic Union.
An OECS Economic Union is a positive step in adding value to the already functioning structures of cooperation that exist within the OECS. We are all called upon to play our part in ensuring that we create vibrant, flexible, adaptable, innovative economies in the sub-region that are competitive both regionally and internationally. This is all possible through OECS Economic Union.
Early in this year, we expect to conclude an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to support our country’s economic programme of sustainable development.
We intend to improve the collection of revenues to finance the social programmes and infrastructure upgrading that the Government will undertake on behalf of the people.
The Antigua and Barbuda Investment Authority, which we have established, must secure new, high quality local and foreign investments to boost the economy.
Government will continue to work with the business community in the provision of incentives and the development of strategies to further stimulate the economy.
In this regard, tourism and related services, agriculture, financial services sector and the construction and energy sectors will be given maximum attention.
The Government’s programme of divestment will also be advanced on a level playing field that opens up opportunities for both local and foreign investors. This must involve economic participation by the ordinary people of Antigua and Barbuda.
Further opportunities will be created through public sector transformation, which will build on the foundations laid by the Small Business Development Act.
Small local business people will be able to access Government contracts to provide goods and services in a fair and transparent manner.
Meanwhile, in the New Year, the Government will give priority to Public Sector Transformation. My government will announce shortly the launching of a Public Sector Transformation National Public Speaking and Debate Competition as part of an extensive education and consultation process on the issue.
In the field of health care, my government recognizes that the development of the economy is intrinsically linked to the delivery of modern and efficient health care services twinned with best practices.
It is the government’s intention in the New Year to commence a reform programme of the Medical Benefits Act to make it more efficient in providing health care to the most vulnerable in our society.
This process will commence with the repealing of the current Medical Benefits Act, paving the way for the establishment of the Medical Benefits Board of Control as a body corporate.
This will allow for the provision of policy guidelines which will ensure that the actions of the Board are consistent with Cabinet directives.
It is our intention to ensure that this new Act, will not only set out the functions and powers of the Board but will also make provision for the registration of persons and the participation of individuals in the Medical Benefits Scheme along with the necessary regulations.
In addition, the new Act will set out the criteria for the eligibility of beneficiaries, the payment of contributions and allow for the regulations to facilitate the proper implementation and execution of benefits. It will also introduce a number of additional illnesses that will be covered under the scheme.
Opportunities for Our Youth
The Government is committed to creating an economic environment that provides jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for our young people.
We are starting from the foundation of ensuring a solid education at all levels.
Concessionary loans will continue to be made available for tertiary education.
The Information and Communications Technology revolution is on in earnest, equipping our youth with valuable life skills.
We are refocusing skills training for our youth through ABICE.
We have to work harder to link trained young people with the skilled jobs that exist.
During the New Year, the Government will embark on a series of Youth Opportunity Expos across the country. These expos are designed to highlight opportunities that exist for education, training, employment, entrepreneurship and the general development of our youth.
We know that many young Antiguans and Barbudans have been excelling in various areas of national life without being adequately recognized and applauded for their efforts.
It is my intention to introduce in 2010, a National Youth Award for Excellence initiative. This will highlight the achievements of the nation’s young talent and to identify and harness young leadership in the process of nation development.
Safety and National Security
Last year the issue of crime and violence continued to raise its ugly head in our nation and across the region.
The State has a duty to ensure the safety of our country and has a solemn responsibility for the security of all our citizens, residents and visitors. The Government takes this responsibility very seriously.
In addition to ongoing crime fighting efforts, the Government remains committed to introducing a National Commission on Law and Order.
The Commission will include representatives of all sectors of civil society, together with members of the Protective Services. It will assist with a plan for reducing crime and helping youth at risk.
Last year we introduced the Evidence Act 2009 which allows for DNA evidence, witness protection, and electronic surveillance to fight serious crime including rapes and physical abuse.
Because of the seriousness that the Government attaches to the issues of public safety and security, we have approached the United Nations and other international donors to secure funding for a comprehensive three year Citizens Security Programme for Antigua and Barbuda.
The programme is based on the recognition that our security challenges are driven primarily by drug-related crime and violence.
Through this programme the Government is working to ensure that our citizens enjoy a secure and violence-free environment in which to live and work.
Special attention will be paid to young people, who make up the majority of both victims and perpetrators of crime. Women, who continue to bear a large burden from the effects of crime and violence, will also benefit from the programme.
The security programme includes justice reform, coordination of public security, training and equipping the security forces. It will also involve social intervention, a Peace Ambassadors project and the rehabilitation of criminals and drug users.
The Government is being tough on crime and is also tackling the causes of crime.
I call on all citizens and residents to join in this campaign to ensure a safe and peaceful Antigua and Barbuda.
Immigration Management and Control
The issue of immigration is closely connected to the issues of national security and social and economic development of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Government is committed to implementing an enlightened immigration policy that honours our regional commitments under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas; welcomes the introduction of scarce skills necessary to aid our national development; opens our arms to short term visitors and investors; while securing our borders against abuse and illegal activities.
Non-nationals, especially those from other Caribbean countries, continue to contribute to the diversity of our society and are important participants in the economic and social development of Antigua and Barbuda.
We will treat with respect all those who arrive at our ports of entry, and will ensure that our security arrangements to facilitate legal entry, and deter unlawful access, meet the highest international standards.
It is a solemn promise of this government that immigration policy will not be used, as it has been in the past, as a political football, nor will it be manipulated for political gain.
Information and Broadcasting
As new and rapid developments take place in our country and around the world, it becomes more essential that Antigua and Barbuda has an effective system of public information in place.
The government signaled in the Throne Speech that as part of the modernization of the public sector, the system of public information in Antigua and Barbuda will undergo important changes in 2010.
These changes will form an integral part of our commitment to providing timely, useful information and culturally relevant entertainment to our people.
In doing so, the time has come to raise the quality of service to the people in these respects.
Cabinet will shortly consider for approval, the structure of a new entity to improve the flow of public information in Antigua and Barbuda.
The new entity, which is expected to become operational early in the year, will provide better coordination for the existing state information and broadcasting system. It will be established with a management framework designed to ensure commercial viability, improved service delivery and reduced reliance on the Treasury for financial support.
Constitutional and Electoral Reform
This year too, we hope to commence consultations on the 2002 Constitutional Review Report as part of the Government’s intention to undertake a programme of Constitutional and Electoral reform.
The time has come for us as It is high time that as a nation we discuss and agree on measures to strengthen our constitutional democracy and improve our electoral process.
It is also my government’s intention to continue to govern by adhering to the highest possible established and acceptable international standards ensuring fairness, transparency and financial responsibility in all our dealings.
In this light, my government will move quickly to introduce a Procurement and Contract Administration Act which will reform the law relating to procurement by Government so that it would comply with acceptable standards. A standard that requires public competition wherever possible and the award of contracts based on fair competition.
This thrust will see the establishment of a Procurement Unit within the Ministry of Public Works which would further the training and development of a core of procurement professionals and thereby maximize economy and effectiveness in procurement.
Under the new arrangements, the actions of the Procurement unit would be subject to the approval of the Procurement Board which will ensure greater transparency of the selection and award process.
There is no doubt that the time has come for us as a nation to look seriously at addressing the issue of energy sustainability.
Current trends show that the world’s energy supply is fast decreasing and there is the need for governments and nations to develop plans to not only ensure adequate supply of energy to its people, but energy that will create the least impact on our environment.
With all of this in mind, It is the government’s intention to establish a Sustainable Energy Desk within the Office of the Prime Minister to ensure energy efficiency and develop a Sustainable Energy Plan for Antigua and Barbuda.
If we are to ensure that we develop an effective sustainable energy plan, we all are called upon to act now.
It is evident that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has a formidable agenda of work to accomplish during the New Year.
The people of this country can rest assured that they have a government that is not afraid of hard work. We are committed to pursuing responsible social and economic policies for the security and prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda.
We use this opportunity too, to renew our pledge to perform our tasks with transparency, honesty and integrity in public life.
The Government will not betray the trust which the people have placed in us. Let us all as citizens and residents of Antigua and Barbuda, shoulder our share of the responsibility so that we can all share in the fruits of the opportunities that abound in our country.
On a personal note, I thank all who have expressed kind sentiments and mentioned me in their prayers during the Christmas Season and throughout the past year.
I ask for your continued prayers and guidance in the New Year not only for your government but for the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
I wish for everyone, a Happy New Year and pray God’s blessing on you and your loved ones for 2010. May God continue to bless our nation Antigua and Barbuda.
A happy New Year to One and All.