Cabinet’s amnesties on utilities, property tax, and hospital bills are seen as election ‘treating’ by unimpressed residents

Some residents are unimpressed by the waiver of electricity arrears announced by the Cabinet, and consider it to “treating” ahead of the General Elections, while others say this initiative could have been undertaken years ago, particularly at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne on the weekend on his affiliated radio station announced that the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) would be wiping off the arrears of delinquent customers on their utility bills, something which was never on offer during the pandemic.

According to the Cabinet Notes, on October 5, at its weekly sitting, the Cabinet “agreed that those APUA residential customers owing for electricity and water, who are in arrears before and up to December 31, 2021, will have their debts to APUA forgiven.”

According to the Executive, customers who benefit from this amnesty and who settle the current month’s obligation will be reconnected by November 1, 2022 (Independence Day).

One man calls this a great political move; but he asks why the Government cannot find the money to provide schools with 24-hour security when it is waiving millions of dollars for delinquent electricity and water accounts.

“All of a sudden, where is the money gonna come from now?” another resident wants to know – adding that the Browne Administration likes to ask where the money will come from for programmes announced by the United Progressive Party.

She is warning customers that they will receive high utility bills after the General Elections if the Antigua Labour Party should win again.

Browne has already promised that water rates will be increased after water production and distribution are improved.

Meanwhile, another skeptical resident says the Labour Party Government continues to take the people of this country for fools and is pleading with the Prime Minister to stop.

When people needed that assistance most, during the pandemic, it was withheld; and yet Labour Party politicians are seeking to use the same people, now, when an election is imminent, he complains.

Others see this move as desperation and an opportunity to score cheap political points, and are asking what rewards the prudent, frugal and regular taxpayers will get.

They say this Administration continues to exploit those who are struggling, while customers who are law-abiding and pay their bills on time do not receive any credit for doing so.

After the elections, they say, APUA will be in need of money to service its loans, and the burden will fall on the backs of all, especially those who are not benefitting from the wipe-off of arrears.

Meanwhile, in its slew of “election inducements,” the Cabinet has also agreed to waive property taxes that are unpaid up to December 31, 2021.  These households will benefit from the amnesty, provided they pay the current year’s taxes.

Further, the Notes announced that “residents and citizens with outstanding hospital bills, owed to the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre, and in arrears for more than 180 days, will have their balance forgiven also, under the amnesty programme rolled out by the Cabinet.”

According to one woman, she is surprised that the party which says it is leading at the polls and is confident of taking all 17 seats is going to such lengths to remain in power.

Citizens and residents are calling for the elections to be called now, while PM Browne has hinted that he could delay the polls until June next year.