Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne said salaries and wages for public sector workers will be paid on time but admitted that “it is becoming increasingly difficult” as the country continues to feel the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
His statements come amidst criticism of his administration by the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) that it should be more compassionate towards pensioners, who have not been paid for the months of July and August.
In an interview with the Director-General of the Government Communications Office, Maurice Merchant, Prime Minister Browne reiterated calls for the population to get vaccinated so as to allow for a re-opening of the economy.
“Perhaps people do not understand the linkage that as we continue to deal with the escalation in COVID cases and the increased hospitalizations, it creates a problem because we have very limited health infrastructure and we have to make sure that we contain COVID to the extent that our health infrastructure does not become overwhelmed”.
Browne said that in order to contain the pandemic, there is a need to impose curfews and a lockdown, among other measures.
“Every time curfew hours are increased or you go into a lockdown then it reduces the viability of the economy and creates fundamental problems. In fact, the strain to pay salaries and wages continues to increase month by month, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the payment of salaries and wages and we all know too the payment of pensions by Social Security has been grossly affected.
“We have failed to return to normalcy in order to put people back to work and the longer the COVID situation protracts, the longer our people takes to get vaccinated then those challenges will persist,” Browne said.
He warned that as a result “a lot of people will remain unemployed and fundamentally more people will get ill, more people will die of COVID.”
Prime Minister Browne said that the government has met salaries to public servants every month so far this year and is confident of doing so until the end of the year.
“But at the same time you have to understand the situation is becoming more and more tenuous,” he said, adding that he is “pretty sure” that August salaries will be paid by Tuesday “and we will continue to press forward to make sure that we are in apposition to meet our obligations.”