My Fellow Nationals, Citizens and Residents, the date of the General Election of 2023 has been named and the time – the time of redemption – is at hand.
My colleagues and I – fondly known to you as The Redeem Team – are grateful that God has been our helper and brought us, successfully, to this day. We are also grateful for the support given to us by our Party, its Leadership and Executive, its Branches, and by the electorate who welcomed us and shared their longing for a change.
Well, the opportunity to make that change is here. The appointed time is now.
The Antigua Labour Party has rushed into an eleventh-hour campaign that is distinguished – not by tangible accomplishments of the past eight years, nor by credible plans and policies for the next five – but by money and excess that fly in the face of the people’s increasing deprivation, disappointment and disillusion.
With absolutely no shame – and with no apology – Prime Minister Gaston Browne is expecting you, the voter, to completely forget – or, at least, put aside – his failure over nearly nine years to deliver on his campaign promises.
From his early directive to you and your children to “cut cassie and bun coal; raise pigs, raise chickens,” he was telling you not to look to him to make your lives better. And he did not.
At the same time, he was exhorting and encouraging his Cabinet colleagues to use their positions and their contacts as avenues to “creatively enrich” themselves. And they did … as did he.
From the 2014 promise of “500 homes in 500 days,” and his call to construction industry workers to “sharpen your tools” and for 50 local contractors to step up to the plate to his most recent promise to settle the backpay owed to civil servants “by the end of the year,” Gaston Browne lied to you.
He promised you more than 30 major projects that would bring thousands of jobs and billions in investments, and what he delivered was nearly 100 loans – some still clouded in mystery. The question remains, how can a government be broke after such excessive borrowing and collecting more than $11 billion in taxes? Gaston Browne has failed you.
He has failed to improve our standard of living and sat on his hands as – deliberately, he watched our savings evaporate; our small businesses go under; as the former workers of Jolly Beach and LIAT slipped into anxiety and then desperation; as the still-too-high price of fuel at the pumps and the brutal hike in food prices pushes the middle-class into poverty and the poor into destitution… . Gaston Browne has been the audience to the tragedy of our lives.
In every sector, Gaston Browne has presided over the failure of his Ministers:
In Health, he boasts about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic – where he forced vaccines upon the reluctant and the fearful by issuing ultimatums about the jab or the job; and the jab or children’s education.
Where, like the tyrant whom he emulates, he served up teargas and rubber bullets to those who peacefully asserted their right to their own bodies, on bystanders, and even upon those who sat in their own homes on a Sunday night last August…
Where he spent untold sums on programs that simply did not work, like the monitoring bracelets, and on a satellite hospital that, up to now, millions of dollars later, sits as cold and empty as the heart of his Minister of Health.
Big boasts. But no pandemic allowance for the healthcare workers on the frontline – some of whom sacrificed their own health and lives. No pillows or sheets at the hospital; not enough supplies at the clinics; an underfunded CBH and an over-extended CBH, resulting in overgrown communities and roadways and stinking gutters in St. John’s City.
A filled-to-capacity public cemetery and the almost wholesale dispatch of burials to the countryside burial grounds. And, as Shakespeare put it – the “most unkindest cut of all:” the indignity visited upon the dead who were allowed to rot in a storage container outside Holberton Hospital. Not even in death were they safe from Gaston Browne’s and Sir Molwyn’s failure.
In Education, much the same. Children cheated out of an education because then Minister of Education Michael Browne could not see further than the word “fortune” in Fortuna Pix. And so, during the pandemic, when students most needed the multi-million-dollar E-books to access their virtual classrooms, the Ministry of Education was already planning the funeral for their burial at the Cooks Landfill… . And Gaston Browne was satisfied to preside over this failure of your children.
In Public Works, the nightmare continues. Which administration before this one ever got US$20 million in grant money for roadworks from the British or anyone else? And yet, portions of Friars Hill Road and Sir George Walter Highway – newly resurfaced – have fallen into potholes already. The Valley Road is incomplete. The Sir Sidney Walling Highway, going east, has been dug up again. The roadway at Crabbe Hill and at Cades Bay remains caved-in … as Southsiders cry, “How long, Lennox; how long?”
The Anchorage Road and the detour through Yorks; the incomplete bridge-work in Upper Fort Road; virtually all the community roads – from Crosbies to Follies – Gaston Browne has failed, failed, failed all of us.
What can I tell you about our utility services that you don’t already know; that you have not already felt; that you might be going through even as I speak, as electricity outages and low voltage play havoc with our appliances? And even as we suffer through the inconvenience and the expense, the Gaston Browne Administration has taken up acres and acres of our land with non-functional solar farms with not a single battery in operation. All heat but no light from that failure Gaston Browne!
Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop in your pipes – sometimes for weeks at a time! Reverse Osmosis on top of Reverse Osmosis Plant, and yet, the situation gets no better. Why? Who is profiting from your loss, My Fellow Citizens and Residents? Who? In fourteen days from June 2014, Gaston Browne promised you an improvement in the water situation. He casts blame on the hardworking staff of APUA, but it is he and the “Granny- can’t-bathe” Utilities Minister who have failed to deliver!
Never has an Administration seen as many protests and as much dissatisfaction from public-sector workers. Never! And, now, when this administration is down to crunch time; when the election gong is sounding; when civil servants have already made their plans for a good Christmas, Gaston Browne is scrambling to come up with their backpay – outstanding since 2018-19 – after the single weekend of reduced ABST. Shame, Gaston Browne, shame!
Social Security payments – for pensioners and other beneficiaries – a crying shame. And literally so! Because this administration has had our elders weeping at the indignity of being without and doing without, or of begging a hand-out here and there or suffering in silence. They do not deserve that!
Nor do the workers who, dutifully, pay in their contributions every month. And yet they are forced to wait five, six, seven months for their benefits. Babies already christened and looking to go to pre-school, and yet their mothers are still waiting for their maternity payments.
While you are lighting lamp to look for your benefits, Gaston Browne has failed to make regular payments on the bond. In fact the one truth that Lionel Hurst ever did tell was when he confessed that successive Labour Party governments took millions out of Social Security and did not put the money back …that deliberate act of criminal neglect is unforgivable.
And he took advantage of Medical Benefits, too. As soon as the ALP came to office, it raided the reserves of the MBS – your money; private-sector employers’ contributions; funds held in trust! And when the Hon. Jamale Pringle asked about it, what did Gaston Browne say: “Oh, that was a grant. We don’t have to pay it back… .” That is how this failure, Gaston Browne, writes off the debt he owes you.
Now, this past weekend, after all the showboating and grandstanding regarding the reopening of Jolly Beach Resort, what happened? Staff have gone home again, while guests have had to be carted off to other properties – running from mosquitoes and complaining of no water or electricity.
Meanwhile, down at the St. John’s Harbour, we are yet to see one OASIS-class ship dock here – after eight years of dredging at only-the-good-Lord-knows what cost, since NAMCO appears to be a secret society, taking our money but giving no account for it. And, while they want us to believe that the tourism cup is spilling over, the taxi drivers and Vendors Mall operators are telling a different story, because their saucer remains dry no matter how many ships are in Global Ports’ port.
Now, later this week, we are expecting more so-called tourists from West Africa; “tourists,” they say – but, in fact, job-seekers who are lining up for work alongside Antiguans, Barbudans, and Caribbean Brothers and Sisters.
Another fail from Gaston Browne and Max Fernandez – except, of course, for his success in offloading his cinema onto the backs of tax-payers.
With all these shortcomings and more – including in Agriculture, where he has no compunction or conscience about competing with the small farmer; in Lands, where, both in Antigua and Barbuda, Maria Browne has huffed, taken up, flipped, and given away our patrimony; and in social services, where we have not seen one new program – not even in these punishing times – and not one existing UPP program has been expanded in the ALP powerhouse. Next-level Fail is what you call Gaston Browne and Dean Jonas!
Now, I am aware that there are certain sectors or Ministries I have not mentioned; but the public is still not sure what work those Ministers actually do – and neither are we. So we will just leave them where they are for now… .
And, so, we come to the present. A present where Gaston Browne and the Labour Party want to come bearing gifts; slipping you money; splashing out on expensive concert after expensive concert; wining and dining you; and promising you swimming pools in cemeteries — expecting that their ill-gotten gains will buy them another election… .
But Brothers and Sisters, just like the Odebrecht Scandal was the “Mother of All Scandals,” so is this election the “Mother of All Elections.”
Just like 2004 was “The Year of Change,” this election must usher in the year and decade of GREATEST CHANGE!
Change! in our economic fortunes – with relief, recovery and shared prosperity – for ALL and not just the favoured few slobbering at Gaston Browne’s trough.
Change! for frustrated, stagnated, and underpaid nurses, teachers, police officers, and other public-sector workers.
Change! for minimum-wage earners, crushed by Cutie Benjamin’s $.80 cents an hour increase, to a living wage that allows them to see their way and care for their families.
Change! for Social Security pensioners and for struggling single mothers and for financially embarrassed fathers through the MOM Program.
Change! for the hungry and maltreated prisoners, who are still our brothers and sisters – half of whom could be outside, with alternative sentencing, like community service.
Change! for youth and young entrepreneurs; for sportsmen and women; for job-seekers with and without degrees.
Change! In fact, a REVOLUTION in education that will see all children given the chance to capitalize on their gifts, whether in academics, trades, sports, fine arts or the entertainment field. All must be given the chance to endeavour AND achieve, Darryl Matthew!
Change! for the farmers, disenchanted and dispossessed by Samantha Marshall, and for those waiting for an opportunity in a new fashion industry based on sea-island cotton. New agri-business ventures to add value to our mangoes, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.
Change ! for a meaningful and responsible medical marijuana industry, not just for a priveliged few to make money but for those who over the years have suffered the pain and the persecution to benefit from the economic opportunities and spin offs created by the cannabis industry.
Change! for first-time home-owners, including the disadvantaged residents of Booby Alley, and all the National Housing workers who deserve to be paid what they are worth.
Change! in relations with our Barbudan sisters and brothers, whose right to a say in their island’s development we respect and will guarantee.
Change! that will see the inclusion of the Antigua and Barbuda Diaspora in decisions about their homeland and prime opportunities for investment.
Change! from the exploitation that characterizes the Labour Party’s practices toward our Caribbean brothers and sisters, particularly the Spanish community.
Change that will see a United Progressive Party Administration and the Redeem Team transforming Antigua and Barbuda – from Old Road to Hodges Bay, from Freetown to Five Islands – community by community – steadily, with vision and planning and execution of policies, pns and projects that bear out our touchstone: “People First….”
We have spent the last two years and four months presenting ourselves, Candidate by Candidate, to you, the electorate. We have put before you solutions to problems this country faces. We have shared with you the ways in which we would ease the squeeze on all residents – especially the poor and small businesses – through the reduction or elimination of certain duties and taxes, through incentives, and by rooting out corruption and graft in government income and spending.
You know us, and, by now, we know most of you. And what you have said to us, across this Nation, is: “We need a change.”
Well, Brothers and Sisters, we listened; we heard. And it is time…the time is here…the time is now: Time for a change. And that change is yours to usher in – to sweep in like a mighty wave, a mighty Blue Wave – on Election Day, by voting the Right Choice – the ONLY Choice – the United Progressive Party.
So, go out and get your Voter’s ID Card if you haven’t collected it. Those who have it, secure it. And go out and vote on Election Day. Put your X next to the Sun! Vote like your life and your children’s lives depend on it…because they do!
Until I come again, there will be NO RETREAT and NO SURRENDER! See you on the campaign trail!