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Budget cuts hurt, but necessary says TCI Deputy Premier in parliamentary debate on hurricane funds

Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands – February 7, 2018 – Budget cuts to accommodate new spending demands were painful as government projects and departments had to fiscally re-calibrate in order to accommodate important costs associated with repatriation of illegal migrants and the September 2017 hurricanes.

Deputy Premier, Hon Sean Astwood aimed to roll back the curtain on what was happening behind the scenes as the PDM Administration led the re-organization of the already passed 2017-2018 National Budget.

The Government has been heavily criticized as having had a slow response to reconstruction in the aftermath of the ferocious storms.  However, the Deputy Premier, also the Border Control Minister disagrees with that characterization.

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“We have heard how this country has bounced back to our new normalcy in record time, and we have also heard how many – not just the political opposite – but many have tried to discredit the works of this Government and our direct involvement in making sure that persons who can now sit at home in the comforts of air condition, who can now pick up their mobile cell phones and WhatsApp any derogatory criticism or comment that they may decide to make – I would like for all of them to stop for just one second Mr.  Speaker and take a full assessment of what it took to restore such comforts back to them.”

Almost four months to the day of the dismal encounter all of the Turks and Caicos Islands with Hurricane Irma, the Border Control Minister during House of Assembly debate on the changes to the budget, shared his experience while visiting another territory smashed by Irma:  Antigua and Barbuda.  Barbuda was so badly damaged in the historic hurricane, which measured well above 200 mph wind speeds, that it remains evacuated, completely inhabitable.

“Two weeks ago I went to Antigua and Barbuda for a Summit on 21st Century Governance.  Mr. Speaker the island of Barbuda is still a disaster zone. One cannot enter the island without direct government permission because of the current state of that island.  Yet we here in the Turks and Caicos, we moan and we groan when the wind don’t blow, when the sun is too hot, when it rains the extra day, when the phone calls drop for a second, Mr. Speaker, we ought to be careful.  This supplementary is a response to all that I have just mentioned, it is a response of this Government to set new priorities to deal with the new realities.”

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Hon Astwood said the Supplementary, which includes a $600,000 increase to his Ministry for illegal migrant repatriation expenditure is a response to the needs of the country, evidence that the PDM Administration is paying attention and rightly responding to hurricane reconstruction and border protection.

“My same ministry would have gotten cuts in other areas and it hurts… to lose even a dollar we don’t want to lose it but we understand the needs and overall objective of the Ministry of Finance.  We know they did not just sit down and arbitrarily decide to get rid of a project, to cut spending by ‘x’ percentage that is not an easy decision to make.  I don’t think that the Premier, her PS or anybody, the Budget Director – anyone sits down having a good time in that exercise.  So for persons to characterize this as some simple exercise, some ‘willy-nilly’ approach to governance where decisions are being made that affects the lives of our people, Mr. Speaker I don’t understand how anyone could think that’s a trivial matter that somehow the politics of things is more important than the lives of our people….  Mr. Speaker this supplementary is no politics.”

The Deputy further exposed that there were professional rows between ministers, permanent secretaries and departments as the country re-prioritised spending to pay for three exceptional areas of expense, namely:  hurricane Irma and Maria clean up, overage in health care abroad costs and the budget busting repatriation of illegal migrants.

“I am sure the Permanent Secretary of Finance was hearing from other PSes that, ‘you can’t so that, you can’t take this from me!’ because that is what Ministers were saying to the Premier, you can’t take this from me, I need that.  But collectively Mr. Speaker, with prudent leadership and a focus on where this country is now and where it needs to go we are here today in full support of the premier and her ministry of this Supplementary.”

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Deputy Premier Astwood wrapped up his contribution on with a declaration of support of the proposed budgetary changes, making the statement that the PDM Administration is not only working hard, but producing.

“This supplementary is a short term measure to get us through the rest of this financial year and I commend the Premier and her staff for doing a good job.”

The Budget Supplementary passed through the Turks and Caicos House of Assembly on Tuesday February 6, 2018 on the eve of the four month anniversary of Hurricane Irma.

 

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