We are not out of the woods just yet. Global cases for coronavirus may be dropping, but more nations are reporting variant strains emerging. While the world steadily climbs out of the 2020 recession, it’s unclear whether all jobs, especially in tourism and hospitality industries such as food service, will ever be fully restored. Now more than ever, there is increased pressure on our political leaders to assuage our concerns. Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, is under that pressure especially. Tourism accounts for over 60% of the islands’ GDP and accounts for the lion’s share of employment as well. Arrivals dropped by 65% for Antigua and Barbuda this year, which had a harrowing effect on the livelihoods of Brown’s constituents. In spite of this major hit to tourism, in his 2021 Budget Statement, Gaston Browne made optimistic promises in regards to private investment in hospitality on the island, and growth unimpeded by the current global crisis. Asot Michael, the MP of St. Peters, understands and appreciates the value of optimism, but urged a more sensible mentality during his speech in the debate over the 2021 Budget Statement given in the House of Representatives of Antigua and Barbuda on February 11th, 2021.
Asot Michael on a Realistic Plan
The representative of St. Peters showed a keen understanding of the current state of the world, saying in his speech that the 2021 budget “features some unrealistic economic growth measures that are likely to set up the false hope of objectives we will pursue but never attain.” 2020 was a year of ever-changing goalposts, with lockdowns delayed, then ended, only to begin again in the event of a resurgence. Politicians around the world offered promises of a return to normalcy as early as Easter of 2020, that bore no fruit. Antigua and Barbuda reopened for tourism as early as June of 2020 and is now experiencing a major surge in cases after a summer of having some of the lowest infection rates in the Caribbean. The desire for a swift return to normalcy is strongly felt, but a level head is needed now more than ever.
“Let us be realistic. Let us stay within the walls of Labour Party pragmatism and practicality that have served us well through the years. Yes – the pandemic will not last forever. Yes – people around the world will travel again. Yes – Lost jobs will return. Yes – The economy will rebound. But there are some exceedingly difficult years ahead of us before that happens. And fooling ourselves with tall tales of government promises that cannot be fulfilled adds no value and gets us nowhere fast.”
Increasingly, in a world where tourism is no longer a foregone conclusion, even in the Caribbean, MP Michael insisted that the budget focus on manufacturing jobs and diversifying away from a dependence on a hospitality industry whose future is uncertain. With no consensus as to when the pandemic will be over, Asot Michael emphasized a prioritization of food security and exports in order to not only ensure the safety of his constituents but a viable economic future for Antigua and Barbuda when the dust has settled and the pandemic is over.
Where to Go From Here
Echoing his New Years’ speech from last December, Asot Michael reiterated that the best practice for Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the world at large, was a re-prioritization of needs and values saying, “Our battle with Covid 19 brought us face to face with the extent to which materialism has encouraged a lack of appreciation for the value of healthy food, clean water, comfortable clothes, and proper shelter.” While tourism may be the lifeblood of Caribbean islands like Antigua and Barbuda, it’s shortsighted to plan for tourism over the ongoing pandemic and cater to tourists over constituents. Having witnessed a recent surge of cases after welcoming back tourists, MP Michael urged fellow representatives to consider a lockdown when vaccines are readily available, arguing that a quarantine immediately following the vaccine would be the most surefire way to ensure the people of Antigua and Barbuda are properly immunized against the virus.
While this call for realism and attainable goals may seem like a pessimistic message, Asot Michael gave it a note of triumph expressing gratitude for the fortitude of his constituency and the relentless efforts of frontline workers. Just as in his New Years’ speech, he commended the people of Antigua and Barbuda not only for surviving an unprecedented year, but for rising to the occasion. Until very recently, Antigua and Barbuda had especially low case numbers compared with the rest of the Caribbean. Michael attributed this once again to his people’s commitment to cleanliness, respiratory health, and social distancing. It takes herculean effort on the part of a community to give up their social norms and the comforts they have become accustomed to in order to keep the most vulnerable among them safe from harm. It is the kind of steadfast resolve that so many have faltered at maintaining. MP Michael had a challenging year in 2020, as detailed in his New Year’s speech, and he’s well aware of the losses of friends, family, and livelihood that have occurred during these dangerous times. It’s why he insists on not insulting his constituency with easy answers or promises of investment from abroad that may never come.
The Takeaway from Asot Michael’s Approach
Asot Michael is an MP committed to his people. The growth of the agricultural sector is endemic to the survival of his constituents in St. Peters as well as the rest of Antigua and Barbuda. Advocating for the completion of projects that began in 2020 that will increase the islands’ manufacturing capabilities and exports not only makes plain Michael’s commitment to constituents over tourists, but his lessons learned from nearly a year and a half living through a global pandemic. Tourism will return. Eventually, life as we know it will resume. In the meantime, the people of Antigua and Barbuda come first. MP Michael knows their needs, unlike those of the tourism industry, are not hypothetical.