PM Browne castigates IMF in vision statement
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the previous United Progressive Party’s administration came under fire Monday, as Prime Minister Gaston Browne delivered his vision for Antigua & Barbuda’s economy.
In a no holds barred address as featured speaker at the Economic Business Forum, hosted jointly by the Antigua & Barbuda Chamber of Commerce and IMF Western Hemisphere Department, Browne blamed the IMF for contributing to economic stagnation in the country and harming the investment climate.
“The fiscal problems have not been resolved, but yet still we are being asked to pay back EC$320 million over the next four years,” Browne said. “When the IMF come and give us EC$320 million for four years it does not help us. They are the ones who would eventually be very critical about volatile investment flows, but what do you say about a temporary support programme, and you literally pull the plug. We have to pay you back even before the problem is solved.
“We have a problem; a major problem in the sense that you cannot intervene to solve a problem and perhaps make the problem bigger than it even is,” Browne declared.
The PM says he is not happy with the repayment terms for the US$120 million loan and called for the highest level of the IMF to review the terms. Browne said under no condition will the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration enter a second IMF programme.
“There has not been significant growth in this country as a result of the IMF’s intervention, and again not trying to irritate our international partners, but just speaking truth to power.
“The cash flow crisis has been worsened, because whereas during the past four years we were getting in about 80 million annually, we are now being asked to pay 80 million annually,” Browne said.
The Prime Minister added he has already asked Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for a loan to pay off the IMF in short order.
“I said to him, ‘look the IMF has us in a stranglehold and you know those countries in South America they nah love the IMF at all. So I said to him we need your help; we need US$100 million to pay them out. So he is now looking at opportunities to help us out,” Browne said.
The prime minister said he expects criticism from the IMF going forward, as he plans to increase the debt burden with a US$120-US$150 million loan from China.
He said it’s the only way to grow the economy and improve the debt situation in the long term as the taxable base has been exhausted. He said thus the ABLP administration decided to “borrow at the front end” to build capacity and grow the economy to sustainably reduce the debt to GDP ratio.
The UPP administration also came under criticism from Browne for bad decisions, as well as failing to stamp out corruption. He took the former administration to task for agreeing to the loan for the airport expansion with repayment terms as 12.5 per cent, suggesting better rates were available.
In his vision reveal, Browne said the administration would be gung-ho in an aggressive approach to seeking out foreign direct investment, as part of a four- pronged approach to growing the economy.
Those four approaches, he said, are stimulating domestic investments through incentives; attracting more foreign direct investment; increasing trade by bringing in more tourists and strengthen the governance framework to stamp out corruption.