Fellow citizens, residents and friends of Montserrat, it brings me great pleasure and humility to greet you today and bestow best wishes to all of you, for a healthy, prosperous and happy new year – 2021.
As we close the chapter on a year which will no doubt go down in the historical records as one of the most turbulent years worldwide, due to the COVID-19 pandemic; we remain optimistic and usher in this New Year knowing that our Lord does not give use more than we can bare.
Not a single day has passed without major news networks making reference to the coronavirus. In fact, COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of life – health, tourism, travel, economies, education, cultural traditions and norms and the list goes on.
Fortunately for us on Montserrat, we have been able to manage the local COVID-19 transmission, and we have not had any recorded cases since July 2020. This is something we hope to continue, and can only be done with all of us working together this year to protect each other. Therefore, we must continue to practice the safety and precautionary measures, which have so far worked in our favour.
Added to this, the Government of Montserrat is expected to obtain COVID-19 vaccines this year. I am aware that there is a level of skepticism about the vaccine. But, I wish to assure you that taking the vaccine will add an extra layer of protection for those who choose to be vaccinated.
Additionally, the Ministry of Health will provide guidance on the roll out of the vaccine when that time comes, including a public education campaign.
However, I will reiterate what the Minister of Health has previously announced:
- Vaccine Safety is our number 1 priority, and as such it must be approved by the appropriate regulatory authorities in the United Kingdom, before being accepted for use on Montserrat;
- Once declared safe, we anticipate that the first delivery of vaccines to Montserrat will be during the first quarter of this year;
- The Ministry of Health is developing a National Deployment and Vaccination Plan, inclusive of a policy on how persons will be prioritised. Healthcare Workers, the Elderly, High Risk Patients and other Essential Workers are expected to be high on the priority ranking, before the vaccine is administered to the wider population.
Your government has a clear goal:
To ensure the people of Montserrat are safe and healthy; while at the same time working to build the economy, providing opportunities for persons to work and have access to a decent standard of living.
Realising this goal has been made more complex by the health pandemic, but we will continue to do our best to implement policies that will help us to achieve this.
We are no strangers to difficult times as we have endured and risen above other obstacles and challenges over the years, and so I declare that 2021 will be a year of restoration, good health and overall a positive one for Montserrat.
The reality is that we cannot remain closed off from the rest of the world; our economy cannot grow if we remain closed. Therefore we must fully adjust our way of life, if we are to continue the advancement of this nation.
MONTSERRAT’S ECONOMIC CONTEXT AND OUTLOOK
Montserrat along with the rest of the Caribbean has seen their economies impacted by the COVID -19 pandemic. Businesses, especially those dependant on the tourism sector have experienced financial hardships due to the complete halt of all tourist activity, as well as the three month lockdown early in 2020.
I am pleased however, that my government with the help of the UK government, was able to provide some measure of relief to both individuals and businesses during that time. It was inevitable that the economy would experience a decline in activity during 2020. Therefore, the efforts of my government were focused on ensuring all residents were not only able to survive during the downturn, while at the same time putting plans in place to allow them to thrive in 2021 and beyond.
Economic activity is expected to see a significant uplift in 2021, as my Government’s planned programmes are initiated. They include projects and strategies both in immediate and medium terms, and are aimed at:
- Promoting renewable sources of energy which will improve our balance of payments, energy security, reduce the cost of doing business and protect our environment. Montserrat has made strides in the exploration of Geothermal Energy and Solar Energy and is taking steps to explore the feasibility of wind energy as well;
- Diversifying the economy – Tourism is a focus in this regard and efforts are already being made to improve the tourism product and identify our own unique market. This year will see a renewed energy in the delivery of tourism projects to enhance our unique and natural resources, supporting our transition to Montserrat’s eco-tourism vision. We will use this downtime in international and cruise travel to improve access and accommodation on the island, improve our trails and beaches, we will also progress the design and construction of the Volcano Interpretation Centre while at the same time advancing our digital marketing promotion of Montserrat. This is all in readiness for a revitalised tourism sector post COVID-19.
- Port Development Project –Shortly bids for the detailed design and build contract for the new jetty at Little Bay will be issued. We anticipate that a contract will be awarded for the construction phase by summer this year, with the contractor mobilising late 2021. Not only will this offer immediate benefits to the local supply chain during the construction phase, but the Project provides a new foundation for our cruise and cargo operations as well.
- Hospital—The new year will also witness the advancement of the critical project to construct a new, fit for purpose Hospital. Preliminary designs are nearing completion and it is anticipated that a contract for detailed design will be awarded during the 2nd quarter of this year. I wish to remind us all that it is our Hospital, and I ask for everyone to remain involved in the design phase, so that the finished project reflects the needs of those of us who live and visit Montserrat; providing us with a facility we can all be proud of .
- Air Traffic Control Tower – Mobilisation for the new Air Traffic Control Tower has begun and construction will begin shortly.
- Montserrat Secondary School – Construction restoration of blocks L & M at the MSS with improved staff room and library facility is scheduled to commence in the 2nd quarter of this year.
The first phase of the Fibre Optic project funded by the CIPREG programme has been completed and it is now up to the service providers on island to make good of this facility by improving the quality of services they provide to businesses and households, while the Government of Montserrat with the assistance of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will seek to use this commodity as a tool to attract investors to the island.
With a restructured Business Unit within the Office of the Premier, the revitalisation of the National Development Foundation loan facility, and the Government of Montserrat utilising some of its own resources the first round of lending that will focus on entrepreneurs in key areas such as ICT, manufacturing and tourism, will be initiated. It is through these expanded private sector activities that we will be able to provide additional jobs, stimulate growth in the economy and set the country on a path to sustainable development.
During the last sitting of the Legislative Assembly, the Remote Employment Bill was passed, signaling the start of a programme designed to attract persons from around the world who wish to work remotely using Montserrat as a choice destination. This programme will provide businesses, not only in the Real Estate and Vehicle Rental Sectors, but also provide increase business for the retail industry and other service providers.
All of these programmes are expected to have a positive impact on economic activity not only in 2021 but well into the medium term. They will have the dual effect of creating jobs and business opportunities while improving Montserrat’s economy, energy and disaster resilience.
We are making steady progress towards the island’s sustainable development. Despite the challenges which we may face, let us put aside our differences and work together to realise our goal for our beloved country.
Let me on behalf of the Government express sincere thanks to the many persons who through the challenges of 2020 gave very willingly of their time, talents and resources to assist all of us here:
- United Kingdom Government for budgetary and COVID-19 support;
- Health professionals and health workers;
- All essential workers;
- Public servants;
- Private sector owners and workers;
- Residents and friends of Montserrat, thank you for playing your part in keeping Montserrat a float and we look forward to your continued support in the years to come.
Residents and friends of Montserrat, as we welcome the New Year, let us do so with a sense of expectation, renewed vigour and renewed energy to advance the dreams and aspirations of Montserrat and our people.
On behalf of the Government of Montserrat and my family, I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
May God continue to bless all of us.