ST JOHN’S, Antigua– Just hours before residents of Antigua and Barbuda went to the polls this morning, Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced that his administration had fully paid off the twin-island nation’s debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
At a press conference held ahead of the general election, he said his government had given instructions to the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank to make the final payment of EC$12 million (US$4.4 million) to “retire that EC$320 million (US$118.5 million) loan in its entirety”.
“It means therefore that from today we will no longer be indebted to the IMF and that would have signalled to the international community and to investors that the Antiguan economy is strong,” Browne told reporters.
The IMF loan was approved back in 2010, under a United Progressive Party (UPP) administration – led by Baldwin Spencer and in which current UPP leader Harold Lovell was Finance Minister – to support the government’s plan to address rising debt, weak economic growth, and the effects of the economic crisis.
Questioned about the timing of the debt repayment, Prime Minister Browne was forthright about it potentially benefitting his Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) going into today’s poll.
“It so happens that we would have paid it down to $12 million on the eve of elections, so why not pay it off and get the credit going into elections? So I will accept that it is politically opportune to do it at this time; I’m not going to hide from that. But the reality is it was done and it will ultimately benefit the people of Antigua and Barbuda,” he said.
“So I want to ask the people of Antigua and Barbuda a very simple question: I want to know if they’re going to support the leader and the party who took them to the IMF or the leader and the party who took them out of the IMF?”
Browne also announced that Venezuela would be writing off a significant portion of Antigua and Barbuda’s PetroCaribe debt, which stands at half a billion dollars.
He said he had received confirmation that a letter would soon be sent confirming “the forgiveness of up to 50 per cent of the PetroCaribe debt.”