Antigua and Barbuda is celebrating its 42ndanniversary of political independence from Britain on Wednesday with Prime Minister Gaston Browne saying that the past four decades have been “nothing short of extraordinary, marked by a myriad of challenges and continued progress.
“Our advancement amid these challenges is a result of our people’s resilience, determination, and their capacity never to surrender to natural and other forces; but to battle on, with “Each endeavouring, all achieving,” Browne said in a radio and television broadcast to mark the occasion.
Browne said that the population of Antigua and Barbuda are all aware of the numerous powerful and destructive storms that have rocked the country over these last four decades.
“We are all cognizant of the external economic shocks to our economy, including the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020; the numerous hurricanes we have suffered; and the impact on commodity prices of the Russian war on Ukraine,” Browne said, adding that the country has been able to overcome such setbacks.
“Collectively, we have never given up and we shall continue to labour unrelentingly, amidst the various challenges for the advancement of our nation. Just a few short years ago, we faced the daunting spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic, which wreaked havoc on our economy, causing us to lose a staggering 18 per cent of our GDP.
“It was a trying time for our nation, but we banded together, and with prudent economic stewardship, we have accomplished nothing short of a miracle. Over the past three years, our economy has soared, growing at an astounding average rate in excess of eight per cent annually, resulting in a truly remarkable 25 per cent aggregate growth.”
Browne said that the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has forecast growth this year at 9.5 per cent, second only to Guyana with its vast oil and gas resources.
He said ECLAC has already forecast the growth next year at over eight per cent, maintaining the position as the second fastest-growing economy in the Hemisphere.
“This growth has not only strengthened our economic stability but has empowered us to invest significantly in the well-being and future of our people. Our commitment to education has never been more resolute. We’ve made substantial advances in education, alongside a surge in scholarships for our nationals to pursue higher education.”
A confident Browne said that the “road ahead is not just bright; it is radiant with potential” and that new projects are nearing completion, and others are already on the horizon, promising “to expand economic growth and opportunities beyond our dreams”.
He said among these projects are the ongoing PLH and Paradise Found projects in Barbuda and the Sunwing Chic hotel which will become operational next season, creating over 800 new jobs. In addition, two new ultra-luxury resorts will commence construction in 2024 at Halfmoon Bay in Antigua & at the former Dulcina Hotel site in Barbuda.
But Browne said that not enough is said about the special qualities that promote and uphold political stability, democracy, and human rights to expression, dissent and media debate.
“We have no political prisoners, and we seek to silence no one, provided that no slander or libel is committed, the importance of this political stability should never be discounted. In other nations, where such stability does not exist, not only does local talent and expertise flee to other shores, but so too does investment both local and foreign.
“Therefore, we should take special pride in our commitment as a people to peace, democracy, the rule of law and human rights. They are an essential part of what has made our country attractive to investment for a major part of the last 42 years.
“Nonetheless, brothers and sisters, we acknowledge the challenges we still face. Water production and distribution, road infrastructure, and the need for more robust social welfare programmes for our most needy remain pressing issues,” he said, adding that “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is a recognition of the right of every person to a life, lived with respect and dignity”.