Good day Citizens and residents of St. Kitts and Nevis. I hereby provide you with an update on a number of Cabinet decisions taken recently.
EXTENSION OF VAT TRANSITIONAL MEASURES
In 2010, in an attempt to boost growth in the construction sector and to provide an opportunity for first-time home owners to construct their own homes at relatively low cost, government introduced a policy of tax concession on building materials for residential construction purposes. Over the last two and a half years, government has extended the policy which was originally due to come to an end in April of 2012. Since then, this policy to assist poor and middle class families has been further extended on two occasions and ought to have expired in July 2013.
At Cabinet meeting recently, the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Denzil Douglas, expressed tremendous pride and satisfaction in seeing the government’s policy assist nearly 400 new homeowners over the last two years who have been able to benefit from this progressive policy of the Labour Party government. The Hon. Prime Minister revealed that there were still many families waiting to take advantage of the tax concession policy on building materials and therefore urged the Cabinet to support its further extension until December 2013. Cabinet was pleased to support the Prime Minister’s proposal.
SIDF SELLS ITS SHARE IN KITTITIAN HILL PROJECT
On the closure of the sugar industry in 2005, government entered into a development agreement with Belmont Resorts Limited for the development of an upscale 5-Star resort consisting of a cottage hotel, villa apartments, a major championship golf course and a creative arts centre at Kittitian Hill.
With the onset of the global financial crisis, including the CLICO fiasco, the project experienced significant difficulty and as a result the SIDF made a decision to buy a stake in the project to save hundreds of jobs for persons who were formerly employed in the sugar industry and to further ensure the successful implementation of the project which itself would create hundreds of long-term employment and business opportunities. Government was concerned that potential opportunities for farmers, landscapers, builders, electricians, plumbers and many others would not come to fruition. Moreover, the long-term benefits that would accrue to many persons who would work in the tourism and hospitality sector would be lost. Further, the vision to build a firm base for tourism, and sports tourism additionally, could have been severely undermined if the hotel, golf course and villas were not constructed. Hence, the SIDF made the wise decision to support the project and save it from collapse.
The government is pleased to report that the first phase of the resort at Kittitian Hill is expected to be open for business in the next six to eight months. The SIDF has indicated that it does not wish to be involved long-termly in the resort project, and having now seen the implementation of the construction phase of the project, has recently agreed to sell its share in the project to a resort out of Switzerland investor for in excess of EC$50 million. Government is also pleased to report additionally that the famous Golden Lemon Hotel has been purchased by Belmont Resort Ltd who will redevelop the hotel into an upscale beachfront property to complement its 5-Star resort project at Kittitian Hill.
Phase 2 of the Kittitian Hill development is to start shortly and will feature another hotel and many more villas and properties. This phase will ensure even more employment and business opportunities for our local people and will further boost the development of the tourism sector for the long term.
ST. KITTS AND NEVIS NATIONAL DISASTER MITIGATION COUNCIL
Following the devastating impact of Hurricane Georges in 1998, government agreed to establish a Disaster Mitigation Council in an attempt to reduce the impact of hazards resulting from hurricanes and other natural disasters. The specific objectives of the Council included among them:
• Working out a post-disaster recovery programme
• Reviewing proposals for post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation
• Coordinating government’s ongoing programme for reducing vulnerability to disasters
• Recommend economic preparedness planning and policy for the government
With the hurricane season upon us, Cabinet reviewed the membership of the Disaster Mitigation Council and appointed Dr. Hon. Earl Asim Martin as Chair, and Hon. Patrice Nisbett as Deputy Chair. Cabinet also advised that there be ongoing dialogue with the Hon. Premier’s Office in Nevis and the Nevis Disaster Committee to ensure a well-coordinated strategy in our disaster mitigation efforts this hurricane season.
FACILITATION OF TRAVEL INTO AND WITHIN THE OECS
Governments of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have agreed that one of the critical factors in promoting competitiveness and success in the tourism sector is the facilitation of free movement of people within the OECS sub-region. Tourism Minister, the Hon. Richard Skerritt, insisted at Cabinet that harmonizing systems alongside reducing procedures at customs and immigration is the biggest step that can and should be taken to facilitate the free movement of people among the OECS member states.
Cognisant of the government’s responsibility to further grow the tourism sector to provide year-round business and employment opportunities for thousands of Kittitians and Nevisians – taxi drivers, hoteliers, vendors, hotel workers, farmers and more – and to earn foreign exchange for our country, accordingly, government has agreed to the implementation of the following over a period of time:
1. Granting full OECS-wide clearance to visitors to the OECS at their initial port of entry, and not requiring any further unnecessary clearance as they move throughout the OECS
2. Standardising information requirements throughout the OECS including using a single immigration and customs card throughout the entire OECS
3. Reducing the requirements for departure clearance to speed up the process, reduce waiting times and improve visitor experience
4. Sharing intelligence and standardising risk management systems pertinent to customs and immigration
5. Harmonizing procedures for the collection of departure taxes
6. Improving airport infrastructure, facilities and conveniences
7. Improving and standardizing quality of service at airports, and
8. Creating and updating domestics laws to facilitate the foregoing requirements
To further open up our OECS countries to visitors and to expand the tourism sector to our long-term benefit as a tourism destination, Cabinet has also endorsed the OECS recommendation to harmonise and liberalise visa policies to achieve the following:
1. Granting tourism visa waivers to nationals of emerging tourism markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China
2. Accepting from our visitors third-party visas that have been issued by the US, UK, Canada and the European Schengen Region
Prime Minister the Rt. Hon Dr. Denzil Douglas highlighted the many developments taking place that will radically improve the tourism sector and made specific reference to the construction of the Hyatt Hotel, the overall development of the South East Peninsula project, the impending opening of the 5-Star Hotel at Kittitian Hill and the construction of the Koi resort at Half Moon Bay. These, the Hon. Prime Minister assured, would significantly grow the tourism sector and multiply job and investment opportunities for the people of our great Federation.
This has been the Post-Cabinet briefing of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis.