UK Secretary of State says no additional grant aid for Montserrat’s recurrent budget

Montserrat must live within its means,” according to Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom, who was on a one-day visit to the island recently.

Chief Minister of Montserrat, Hon. Reuben T. Meade and UK Secretary of State for International Development, Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell walk the grounds of Olveston House following their morning meeting. The UK official was on a one-day visit to Montserrat. (GIU Photo)

Accompanying the UK official was Susan Wardell, DFID Director for SHMECOT (Security, Humanitarian, Middle East, Caribbean and Overseas Territories), Mr Mitchell’s Assistant Private Secretary Amanda McLoughlin. Karen McGeough, DFID’s Programme Manager for Montserrat and Dr. Kato Kimbugwe, Private Sector Development Specialist for DFID coordinated the one-day trip along with the Office of the Chief Minister.

During the short visit, Mitchell held meetings at Olveston House with Chief Minister of Montserrat Reuben Meade, HE; Governor Peter Waterworth, Financial Secretary Hon. John Skerritt, Minister of Communications & Works Hon. Charles Kirnon, Parliamentary Secretary Hon. 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% 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 Reuben 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,” the Rt. Hon. 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.

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

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