Press Release: Statement by IMF Deputy Managing Director Agustín Carstens at Conclusion of his Visit to Antigua and Barbuda

December 6, 2005

The following statement was released today in St. John's by IMF Deputy Managing Director Agustín Carstens:

"I am pleased to begin my first trip to countries of the Eastern Caribbean region in St. John's. I hope to learn more about the region's challenges, to listen to views of governments and civil society on how to address them, and to discuss how best the IMF can be of assistance.

"I have had a very cordial and informative exchange of views with Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, Finance Minister Errol Cort and other cabinet members, Financial Secretary Whitfield Harris, and members of the National Economic and Social Council. I am impressed with the extensive reform effort that is underway to deliver sustained growth and better harness the benefits from globalization.

"Structural measures are being proposed to enhance the business climate and growth. Much of my discussions with PM Spencer and the Cabinet this morning centered on the impediments to private sector growth and what can be done to overcome them. The experience in other countries underscores the importance of these efforts.

"Legislative changes have been introduced in the past year to improve governance and transparency. The Integrity in Public Life Act and the Anti-Corruption Act are important measures. It will be just as important to ensure that these measures are effective.

"Change is also taking place to anchor fiscal sustainability. Tax revenues are being strengthened with the reintroduction of the personal income tax, and the introduction of the sales tax next year will provide a further boost to revenues. But greater control is needed of overall government expenditures, including rationalizing the civil service. Better targeting of expenditures on social programs is also critical to ensure that those who truly need them are not left behind.

"Given still high levels of public debt, it is essential to continue to make progress on the debt strategy within a clear medium-term fiscal sustainability framework. Clearing longstanding arrears would go a long way toward normalizing—and facilitating access to—regular financing. This will also help private investment and spur growth.

"The near-term prospects for the economy appear to be quite strong, with tourism doing well and a construction boom underway from the preparations for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. I am confident that people and government of Antigua will take advantage of these good times to intensify the reform effort and set the basis for sustained growth over the longer term. We wish you every success."


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