The Speech from the Throne, delivered by the Governor General, His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams, lacked essence; was a history lesson; gloated about perceived accomplishments; and was an apparent means to lecture the new parliamentarians, critics say.
The Speech, which signals the start of the new parliamentary year, was presented on Monday, February 20, and was expected to outline the Government’s plans and programmes for this year.
However, it dwelt on a number of projects that were put forward in previous speeches, including the conversion of a section of the Holberton Hospital compound into a renal-treatment centre; the COVID-19 pandemic and the Government’s handling of it; land for youth; and addressing the decades-long water crisis.
Mention was also made of The University of the West Indies (UWI) Five Island campus and the $216 million recently borrowed for its expansion, as well as the collective $17 million in grant funding for the expansion of the Antigua and Barbuda Institute of Continuing Studies (ABICE) and the Sir Novelle Richards Academy.
The deplorable road network was also mentioned, in addition to the local housing stock and plans for what the Administration considers affordable housing. The latter mention inspired outrage in some civil servants, who pointed out that most teachers, nurses and police officers still cannot qualify for a mortgage.
What came as a shock to many, however, was Sir Rodney’s history lesson about the Government’s acquisition of what were sugar-syndicate lands and – like the House Speaker last Friday, February 17 – lecturing the parliamentarians on how they should debate.
Further, in what some observers consider a condescending act, the Governor-General told the MPs that, by using evidence-based information and facts to support their arguments, they can strengthen their credibility and win the support of others.
One observer tells REAL News that Sir Rodney, “as the King’s representative, had absolutely no place lecturing the representatives of the people. He was out of order! Do you think Queen Elizabeth or King Charles could do that to the House of Commons?” she asks.
In the meantime, while mention was made of LIAT, the Caribbean Airline, there were no plans for the way forward for the still-struggling airline nor the future of its former staff.
Without directly addressing the rising cost of living and the increase in food prices, the Sir Rodney spoke of food security – despite farmers not being given the avenues to contribute significantly to local production.
Rounding out his government’s self-congratulations, Sir Rodney noted that public servants, in the last year, received their wages and salaries on time and pensioners had received their full payments.
What he neglected to acknowledge, however, was that the latter payments were seldom timely, a Social Security pensioner points out.
In 2021 and 2022, the Governor-General said, the country showed significant economic growth, which it expects to maintain this year and exceed the average 7 percent growth. This economic performance has been attributed, largely, to the Peace Love and Happiness (PLH) project in Barbuda.
Barbuda, meanwhile, is expected to drive growth in the country’s economy, with Sir Rodney saying the sister-island will continue to be a source of jobs and opportunities this year and going forward.