New Year’s Message – Premier of Montserrat – Hon. Joseph E. Farrell
Montserratians at home and abroad, residents and friends, at the opening of this new year, it gives me great pleasure to greet you and bestow best wishes to all of you and your families for a healthy, prosperous and happy new year – 2022.
As we reflect on the past year—the successes, the challenges, the lessons, the blessings; we can say confidently that God has been merciful to us.
The year 2021 began with a ray of hope for the world as it welcomed the introduction of several COVID-19 vaccines; the expectation was that this would have been the end of the pandemic and the peoples of the world would revert once again to normality, but in the midst of optimism there was also a level of skepticism over the vaccines, resulting in low uptake.
Today the world is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic but we are thankful that Montserrat has been spared the wrath of this pandemic when compared to other places around the world. As we welcome 2022, I am confident that as your Government and as a people we will work collectively to further curtail the spread of COVID-19 on island.
Importantly, the Government of Montserrat obtained COVID-19 vaccines in February of 2021 and began to administer the AstraZeneca Vaccine that same month.
Disappointedly though, after 10 months of offering vaccines to the population we have not reached our target of inoculating 90% of the eligible population. To date only 1477 persons of the eligible population is fully vaccinated and 98 persons partially vaccinated—this is a long way from us obtaining herd immunity.
During the implementation of the vaccination programme led by the Ministry of Health, members of the public voiced their desire to have other options for COVID-19 vaccines. As a responsive Government, we listened and notwithstanding the logistical and storage challenges associated with obtaining other vaccines, the Government of Montserrat in collaboration with the Governor’s Office and the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) received one ultra-lower temperature freezer and a first batch of the Pfizer vaccine amounting to 1170 doses.
As we observe the rise of COVID-19 cases across the globe and as the new highly transmissible Omicron variant continues to spread, persons who have received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine must also receive a booster shot given, using the Pfizer vaccine.
The booster shot is essential as the research has shown that the vaccines efficacy begins to decrease after six months. In addition, the booster shot will increase your protection against the Omicron variant.
As we start this new year, I must encourage everyone to continue practicing the safety and precautionary measures, which have so far worked in our favour.
We will continue to implement the quarantine and testing protocols for arriving passengers, which have been ably detecting cases on arrival, thereby bolstering our management of COVID-19 on island.
Fellow Montserratians, the island cannot remain closed indefinitely.
This pandemic will be with us for some time and we must be prepared to live with it, while at the same time undertaking our daily activities. Vaccination and precaution are two critical COVID-19 suppression measures which will help us as a nation to control the spread of the virus.
Your government’s goal remains unchanged:
To ensure the people of Montserrat are safe and healthy, while at the same time building the economy, providing opportunity for persons to work and have access to a descent standard of living.
Realizing that this goal has been made more complex by the health pandemic, we will continue to do our best to implement policies that will help us to achieve it.
MONTSERRAT’S ECONOMIC CONTEXT AND OUTLOOK
Montserrat’s economic indicators are showing and forecasting growth in most sectors. While this presents an optimistic vision of the current state and outlook, this is not the entire reality of the situation.
Government is aware that persons continue to be affected by the ongoing pandemic and the seemingly never-ending variants of COVID, and rising cost of living.
As your government we are concerned with the high fuel prices, issues affecting the supplying chain and higher freight charges, all of these resulting in higher than usual prices for basic food items. We are closely monitoring these developments and are currently working on the best way to alleviate the situation.
I am pleased to report, that it is not all bad news, the launch of the Enterprise Development Scheme (EDS) has seen many businesses and individuals benefit from much needed training and guidance. The first set of applications are being evaluated and there is still time for businesses that have not applied to submit applications and benefit from training and access to finance.
In 2021 we were able to successfully complete the resurfacing of the John A Osborne Airport Runway and we now look towards the completion of the Air Traffic Control Tower this year.
After the very successful installation of our fibre optic capability in 2020, the Government launched ‘Project Lightspeed’ in 2021 – an initiative to support the rapid roll-out of fibre broadband services to homes and businesses across the island. The Government has set an ambitious target to become the most fibre connected island in the Caribbean by 2022, and we are well on our way to see this becoming a reality as we embrace a new digital economy. I encourage all residents, home-owners and businesspeople to make the transition to the fibre optic capability as soon as possible, so you can benefit from this scheme.
Other key projects which will continue into this year include the improvement works at the Montserrat Secondary School (MSS) where we have already completed the staffroom refurbishment. Structural works to restore blocks L & M has already started and will continue this year as we work to provide much needed improvement to the educational facility to offer the best learning environment for our children.
The 750kw solar facility with battery storage has been successfully installed in Look Out as we make progress towards a greener Montserrat. This Government’s commitment to renewable energy and environmental protection remains unwavering with the completion of the first phase of the Solar Energy project.
I am pleased to also report that towards the end of last year, the CIPREG Steering Committee approved the commencement of maintenance works on the two existing geothermal wells—an enabling activity as we push forward towards harnessing our geothermal potential with renewed momentum. I look forward to further announcements on future partnerships in geothermal production during the year.
In the just concluded Financial Aid Mission, a case was made by the Montserrat Utilities Limited (MUL) with options to minimise the continuous outages which the island has experienced in the last quarter of 2021. Government will be working with MUL in solving the immediate problems while we continue to further develop the islands renewable energy strategy.
Healthcare remains paramount for the Government and people of Montserrat and you can expect to hear an announcement early this year on the award of a contract for the completion of the detailed Hospital Designs. It is my hope that work on the new Hospital can commence sometime this year
Once the Port and Hospital projects commence in the upcoming year, we will see immediate positive effects on the local economy. These are also foundational projects that will allow for synergies that can spur Montserrat’s long-term development.
With these initiatives, economic activity is expected to continue to be positive into 2022. This is a cautious outlook, as the impact of the global situation and the new variant may have a dragging effect on Montserrat’s own recovery. My government is monitoring the developing situation and preparing plans to mitigate effects wherever possible.
During the upcoming year your Government will continue, and commence the implementation of several projects/programmes. They include programmes that will help develop the evidence necessary to formulate policy and to advocate for Montserrat on a global level. These include:
- Youth Employment- My government would have recognised the situation regarding youth unemployment and has taken steps to correct it. We have continued funding for the youth programme with additional capital funds provided to ensure a greater number of young persons are gainfully employed while learning tangible skills.
- Increasing private sector entrepreneurial activity – The Enterprise Development Scheme continues to be rolled out and the impact should be felt into 2022. Government will also look at how to continue to provide assistance to the private sector in 2022.
- Strengthening economic resilience – Recognising that CIPREG is a five-year development capital funded project and is almost completed with only the hospital project left, the government is commencing discussions on CIPREG 2 and this will continue to focus on projects that will facilitate resilient long term economic growth, while providing jobs and economic boost in the short to medium term.
- The Census and Enhanced Country Poverty Assessment- These are both critical projects under my portfolio that will be implemented in 2022. They will provide the bedrock for all policies and development discussions going forward and are essential to Montserrat’s future.
- Government will continue to incentivise the construction industry through the allocation of housing lots where possible to allow for young persons to own their own home.
- Through a new incentive programme we will be encouraging Montserratians living abroad to invest in home ownership on island although they are not ready to retire: be it direct built, buying or retrofitting. This initiative will create jobs in the private sector.
Montserrat Social Security Fund
After three actuarial reports with recommendations as to how to make the fund more sustainable nothing has been done; Inaction is not a solution for the survival of the Fund at this time, bearing in mind that this might be the only source of income for some at the end of their working life.
During 2021 a series of consultations took place to apprise members of the public on the current status and what needs to be done.
I am aware that the past two years has been difficult for both employers and employees, and asking you to make the sacrifice and contribute a little more to safeguard a pension might seem difficult at this time, but it will be worth it in the end. This government with your interest at heart will be working in this new year to safeguard the Social Security Fund.
As your government, we will continue with all our efforts to advance Montserrat and we are making steady progress towards the sustainable development of the island.
We welcome 2022 with renewed vigour and renewed energy to advance Montserrat and our people. “Together we can!”
On behalf of the Government of Montserrat and my family, I wish everyone a happy, prosperous and healthy New Year.
May God continue to bless us all.
Joseph E. Farrell
Premier of Montserrat