Citizens, Residents and Visitors
The New Year dawns in the midst of truly memorable Carnival celebrations and revelry fuelled by a spirit of hope and optimism that has pervaded the entire social and economic landscape of Federation throughout last year, and has continued into the New Year. The brilliant performances of our many artists and cultural exponents during the Christmas and Carnival season have not only thrilled the huge crowds that came out to participate in the celebrations, but have also served to bolster our sense of national pride and to remind us of our capabilities as a people, notwithstanding the small size of our islands.
It is therefore quite fitting that I ask you to join with me in recognizing and commending the winners of the many competitions held during Carnival. Specifically, let us congratulate our National Carnival Queen, Miss Tishima Brown; the Calypso Monarch of the Federation, King Astro; Our victorious Talented Teen, Miss Rikki Blake-Brookes; the Junior Calypso Monarch, Mighty Sookie; the Soca Monarch for the Groovy, Mr. Janos Bagnall; and the Soca Monarch for the Power, Mr. Leslie “Sugar Bowl” Morton. Let us also congratulate all other participants in the Carnival shows, competitions and activities. Every contribution, large or small, has helped in making Carnival the outstanding success that it has been. We also look forward to embracing and commending the other winners that will emerge during the remaining carnival activities including the parade of troupes and bands, which we expect will transform Basseterre into a spectacle of colour, culture and pageantry.
The spirit of hope and optimism that pervades our society is founded on a record of solid performance in virtually all aspects of the social and economic life of our nation. It is based on the confidence of our people in the ability of the Government, through effective and creative policies, to continuously engineer real progress, real change. Our economy, like all other Caribbean economies, was pushed into a recession by the global financial crisis that started in the housing market in the USA in 2008. But we are among the first to recover, having achieved significant economic expansion in 2013 and again in 2014. Indeed by nearly all measures of economic performance, we are the top performer in the OECS and in many instances, in the Caribbean as a whole.
We are # 1 in economic growth, having achieved, in 2013, a growth rate of 3.8%,whichis higher than in any other OECS country; and having accelerated that pace of growth to achieve an estimated growth rate of 4.6% in 2014. This level of performance in economic growth is better than in any of the developedcountries listed as advanced countries in the World Economic Outlook.We are # 1 in debt management, havingachieved the almost impossible feat of reducing our public debt by $1.1 billion from 147% of GDP to 83% of GDP in some 3 years. We are #1 in relation to the external account, having achieved an overall balance of payments surplus of some 7.8% of GDP, which is higher than in any country in the Caribbean. We are # 1 in fiscal performance having achieved a primary surplus of $317.1 million or 15.2% of GDP and an overall surplus on the fiscal account of $252.6 million or 12.1% of GDP. No Caribbean Country, and indeed none of the advanced countries, comes close to this level of fiscal performance. We are # 1 in the OECS in Foreign Direct Investment, #1 in exports to the United States, #1 in cell phone ownership per capita, and # 1 in the percentage of our population that enjoys broadband internet access.
The performance of our country in social development is just as impressive. We have progressively moved our minimum wage so that it is now the highest in the Caribbean. We have distributed more houses per capita than any other Caribbean country. We have helped our people to shed the label of landlessness by implementing a massive land distribution programme that made it possible for every person who did not previously own real estate, to become a landowner.
We are perhaps the only country in the world that has provided every secondary school child a laptop computer thereby levelling the playing field in our schools such that rich and poor alike have access to the latest learning technologies and are given to the opportunity to reach for the highest levels of academic excellence. Our PEP programme has delivered many of our young people from the despair and hopelessness that the Global Recession brought to young people who bore a disproportionate share of the burden of unemployment and economic malaise in countries all over the world. It is not surprising that other countries have sought to copy this most creative programme that has generated incomefor our young people, has provided them valuable training and experience, and has given them the opportunity to secure a permanent place in the workplace for themselves. This small sample of social initiatives that I have mentioned is part of a comprehensive social and economic development programme that has helped to empower people in our various communities, generate wealth and income for all of our nationals, and root out poverty and deprivation.
Citizens and Residents, in 2010 the Labour Government asked you to renew our mandate because we felt that our experience was needed to see us through a global crisis that was already in full swing. We have delivered. Our Federation has come out of the crisis stronger and better than it was at the start of the crisis. Very few countries in the world, if any, can make a similar claim. The world we face today is still filled with uncertainties. Europe is still facing the risk of deflation and recession. Developing countries, including China, are encountering significant financial and economic challenges that could combine with the continuing economic malaise in Europe to depress global growth and exert a negative influence on the economic recovery that seems to be taking root in the United States of America.
Hence, here in our Federation, we still need safe hands, bold and creative strategies, and experienced leadership to secure our outstanding achievements as a people and to continue moving our country forward to an even brighter tomorrow for all.
The creativity of our strategies played a critical part in propelling our country to greater heights but just as critical is the manner in which we have been a been able to bring our experience to bear on the problems we faced, and thereby ensure the speedy implementation of the many strategic initiatives that we crafted. Indeed, our ability to draw upon the resources of the European Union and the IMF during difficult times was positively influenced by our outstanding capacity to implement and execute the plans we decided upon.
In 2005, in response to the demise of the sugar industry, we crafted our own ‘home grown’ National Adaptation Strategy to guide the development and transformation of our economy in the post-sugar years and to provide the avenue for the EU to fund important elements of the transformation agenda. As part of the National Adaptation Strategy we decided on some 340 actions to be implemented. Today we are proud that we have completed 70% of the actions agreed upon and we are in the process of implementing another 25% of the planned action. In other words, in under 10 years, some 95% of the planned actions were either completed or are in the process of being implemented.
Similarly, in 2011 we created our own ‘home grown’ economic recoveryprogramme to be monitored by the IMF as part of the Stand-by arrangement and today, just over three years, we have completed 21 of the 24 structural reform activities that we decided upon and we have met all quantitative performance criteria agreed upon with the IMF, although one of these benchmarks was completed shortly after the due date. I point to these achievements because it is the implementation of our strategies that has catapulted us to the position of top performer in Caribbean in so many areas, and while anybody can generate ideas and speak glibly about strategies it takes experienced leadership to implement them and bring about real progress, real change.
In view of these impressive achievements, it is not surprising that the world is taking notice of our achievements, even when some of our people, albeit a minority, continuously write negative and misleading trash about their own country in pursuit of narrow political objectives. Specifically US News and Report ranked St. Kitts and Nevis 3rd on the list of best islands in the world and the best Caribbean Vacations; Places to See in Your Lifetime ranked us 8th on the list of the Best Islands for a Holiday; and the Caribbean/Mexico Hotel Development Report ranked us 4th on the list of Destinations Leading the Caribbean in the Number of Hotel Rooms under Construction. The list of accolades goes on and on but the message is the same – St. Kitts and Nevis has overcome great odds to become a model of social and economic progress and an outstanding tourist destination. Let us on this New Year’s Day resolve to work together and keep St. Kitts and Nevis on the path of progress for the benefit of all.
But the job is not yet complete. There is still much to do to secure our outstanding accomplishments and to continue to build a haven of happiness and opportunity right here in St. Kitts and Nevis. When I returned from University in 1986 and decided to run as a candidate in the elections in 1989, my concern was with the plight of the poor. Moreover, when I felt the strong pull of my profession as a medical doctor and was forced to make a choice between medicine and politics I was incensed by a policy decision of the then Government to repair half of the island main road and leave the other half running through many poor communities in a state of disrepair. It would appear that in the opinion of the Government of the day, those communities could not be relied upon for political support so that they were to be left behind in the process of development. It was then I knew that the fight for the poor and helpless that had been so valiantly fought by the Right Excellent Sir Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw and the other Labour Leaders, had to be continued, with a view to bringing development to every community in St. Kitts and to protecting the poor and vulnerable wherever they were and whatever their political affiliation. I knew instinctively, in a moment of inspiration, that it was my task to rebuild the Labour Party and play a direct role in the development of our Federation. That is why I have fearlessly and boldly given of my time, energy and resources to rebuild our Party and to play a catalytic and leadership role in the development process. I understood that our Federation still needed, and even now continues to need, a strong and vibrant Labour Party to advance the cause of lower income groups and create new opportunities for income generation and wealth creation for all.
I am proud of what Labour in Government has achieved since we took over the reins of political leadership in 1995. I am proud that every Kittitian and Nevisian can now beat his or her chest with a sense of national pride and state definitively that, in the context of the Caribbean, we are # 1 in so many areas of social and economic development. But the job is not done. We are in a rapidly changing world in which there is still considerable uncertainty and risks that could undermine our achievements overnight. We must therefore protect our achievements as a nation and continue to build on them. We desire Consistency, Continuity, and stability in government and in our Progressive Country. We must continue to engineer real progress, real change.
If we are to finish the job we must continue to take development to every community in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. We are pleased that the development of the Whitegate area is well on the way with the opening of Kittitian Hill, the refurbishing of the Golden Lemon, and with the planned construction of the Heldons Estate Condominium Resort and Residences. We are also pleased that in the Frigate Bay and Southeast Peninsula areas, the Park Hyatt, the Koi Resort, Pirate’s Nest, Rendezvous Hill and Christophe Harbour are under construction.
At the same time we are actively pursuing the development of a major tourist resort facility at La Vallee Green and have launched “Destination Sandy Point” in the Sandy Point Town area and thereis a number of approved projects including Montebello Residences and Golden Rock Commercial Park in the Basseterre area. Over the next five years, we will attract major investment to other rural communities such that the residents of Cayon, Ottley’s, Molineux, and Tabernacle, Old Road, Challengers, Lamberts, Middle Island and Half Way Tree could find employment and entrepreneurial opportunities closer to where they live. We will provide extra incentives to investors who are interested in pursuing developments in these areas and we will build and modernize the infrastructure in these areas to support major developments.The proposed highway from Basseterre to the Whitegate Area would play a critical role in this regard and will provide Old Road and Sandy Point Towns with the well needed by-passes to ease traffic congestion at critical times.
The island of Nevis is also benefitting very substantially from a number of major developments approved under the Citizenship by Investment Programme but I am persuaded that we need to establish a proper framework for cooperation between St. Kitts and Nevis that does not depend on which Party is in office in the Nevis Island Administration or in the Federal Government. From 1983 my Government has posited the view that the Constitution is seriously flawed especially as it relates to the relationship between the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. The flaws are becoming even more glaring now because the same personalities in Federal Parliament that are seeking to bring down the Federal Government must at the same time look to the Federal Government for assistance and support in order to properly discharge their functions as leaders in the Nevis Island Administration.
Of course, in keeping with my responsibility as Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, I have done everything possible to ensure that the people of Nevis are not put at a disadvantage. The Federal Government have signed guarantees, have offered assistance in respect of salaries and bonuses, and have paid loans for the Nevis Island Administration when they could not afford to do so. Indeed as of 31st March 2014 the amounts paid by the Federal Government on behalf of the Nevis Island Administration amounted to $18.2 million.
But we need a framework whereby the Federal Government can provide more resources to the island of Nevis, in a structured, equitable and automatic fashion. I am of the view the people of Nevis, like those in St. Kitts, have the right to determine which Party they would like hold office and they have done that in their local elections.
They now need to send a clear signal to the Administration that they wish to cooperate with the Federal Government through a mechanism that is administrative in nature, free of politics, and does not depend on the personalities in Government in either of the islands. As I indicated previously, when I entered politics I was incensed by the imbalance in relation to the development of the various communities in our Federation. I am still strongly of the view that development in our country must be balanced and must give every citizen, whether in Gingerland or Sandy Point or Basseterre or Cotton Ground or wherever, an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams and realize their ambitions. I intend to pursue that cooperation framework with great vigour and to give that matter urgent priority. The people of Nevis can assist by signalling to the NIA that they want to work with the Federal Government to accelerate the pace of development in Nevis through cooperation, mutual assistance and the orderly, automatic and equitable transfer of resources. They will have the opportunity to send that signal loudly and clearly in the General Elections scheduled for this year.
Citizens, Residents and Visitors, if we are to finish the job, we must build on our impressive achievements in education. Already, our people have relatively free access to pre-school, primary and secondary education and they are provided the tools – including free textbooks, free meals, grants for payment of exam fees and free computers – that they require to take full advantage of the education they receive. We must now ensure that every graduate from secondary school in our Federation is provided the financial resources they require to attend University or other post-secondary institutions.
We will continue to make more and more scholarships available and to expand the opportunity for our students to pursue higher education right here in St. Kitts and Nevis but we will also develop a financing and guarantee scheme to ensure that all our students have access to the funding they require to pursue advanced studies at home or abroad or by distance education. This will result in the dramatic expansion of the level of resources currently available at the Development Bank for student loans. At the same time, we will undertake to develop a comprehensive repair and rehabilitation programme for all of our schools and institutions to ensure that they are always in good condition.
In the area of health, we will continue to focus on primary health care, health education, and disease prevention. But I am determined that within the next five years we will establish a completely modernized and upgraded hospital with cutting edge facilities that will be internationally accredited as a duly qualified medical learning institution that would offer services of a level that would not only be beneficial to our nationals but to patients from abroad who would be offered specialized services on a commercial basis. In fact, discussions with a Developer have already started in this regard and the Proposal for this new facility is before my government.
In the area of infrastructure, we intend that the current initiatives in road development, electricity and water supply expansion, port development and telecommunications and Cable TV upgrading, will continue until our infrastructure is of the highest international standard and provide modern conveniences to all of our citizens even as we enhance our competitiveness in attracting foreign direct investment.
In the area of debt management, it is my aim that we would not only bring our debt down to the 60% of GDP recommended by the ECCB, but that we would commit a significant portion of the resources of the Citizenship by Investment Programme to debt reduction with a view to wiping out the public debt in St. Kitts and Nevis by 2020. I declare that by 2020 St Kitts and Nevis will be debt free. This would ensure that all the resources we currently commit to debt servicing would now become available to fund critical development initiatives in both islands.
For me personally, I plan to exert considerable effort in improving the political climate in the Federation, de-emphasizing political tribalism and fostering tolerance of different viewpoints. I also want to advance the process of Constitutional Reform and accelerate the implementation of all initiatives and legislation aimed at enhancing integrity, accountability and transparency. While I am pleased with the outstanding work of the Police in reducing crime, I am also committed to zero tolerance policy in relation to crime. I would devote much personal effort to the fight against crime, to the removal of the guns from the hands of the criminals, and to Law and Order generally in our Federation. Of course, I will also work diligently to implement the very expansive development agenda that my Government has established and to prepare each of the other members of my Government for succession so that any of them could be called upon by the Party to assume the mantle of leadership at any time.
These are just a few of the initiatives we intend to pursue over the next five years as we secure our achievements as a nation and build upon them with a view to enhancing the quality of life of our people. We believe that our comprehensive strategy for development will take our Federation to yet another level. We are committed to real progress, real change.
Citizens, Residents and Visitors, the creative blend of strategies that we have implemented over the years have borne great fruit because of the commitment and hard work of our people. Many have toiled relentlessly to advance our Federation but each year we could only recognize a small sample of those who have made a significant difference in our Federation and who have added great value to the development process. In this regard, I invite you to join with me in congratulating our citizens on whom Her Majesty the Queen has bestowed awards in her 2015 New Year Honours List.
I am pleased to announce that her Majesty has awarded Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George on Mr. Kutayba Yusuf ALGHANIM for his valuable services in the development of St. Kitts and Nevis. Mr. Kutayba was appointed Minister Councillor in 1986 and has played a pivotal role in attracting development and investment resources to St. Kitts and Nevis over the past 29 years he has held that position.
I am also pleased to announce that in recognition for his outstanding contribution to national development through his work in the public service, Her Majesty the Queen has conferred the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on His Excellency Wendell E Lawrence, Ambassador to the OECS, CARICOM and the ACS and former Financial Secretary.
Moreover, Her Majesty has conferred the Member of the British Empire (MBE) on Miss Sylvia Viola Manning for her diligent work in General Nursing and Nutrition and on Mrs. Lorna I. R. Richards for her outstanding contribution to the public service.
Fellow citizens, we have every reason to celebrate the dawn of the New Year with great hope and optimism. We have travelled a long and difficult road, but we have achieved great success for our nation. Moreover, we have charted a course for the next five years that, with continued hard work and experienced leadership, will take us to new heights of nation-building.
I wish each and every one of you a happy and blessed New Year.