Opening Statement by the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis,
Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, at his Monthly Press Conference
Parliamentary Lounge, Government Headquarters, Basseterre
Fellow Citizens and Residents, representatives of the media, I wish all of us a wonderful New Year and I hope that 2019 will be a remarkable year for the positive things that our people and the Country will accomplish. 2018 was a very positive one for us. Our economy grew for the 4th year in a row and our fiscal performance saw surpluses on every account i.e. Recurrent, Overall and Primary. It is the accumulation of surpluses that has provided the wherewithal for your government to do good things for so many people and to move the Country forward in the right direction. As a new government, we have been able to do in less than 5 years what some governments have not been able to do in 20 years. This is a blessing, which our people truly deserve, and we give God the Glory.
According to the St. Christopher Air and Sea Ports Authority (SCASPA), some 149,871 passengers came through the Robert L. Bradshaw (RLB) International Airport in 2018, compared to 140,338 in 2017. This represents an additional 9,533 passengers over 2017 for a seven (7) percent increase year on year. Some 7,947 flights came to the RLB Airport in 2018 – up 315 over the 7,632 flights in 2017. Regarding cruise tourism, SCASPA is reporting cruise passenger arrivals of 1,103,571 in 2018 versus 1,058,662 cruise passengers in 2017. This represents an increase of 44,909 passengers. Twice in our history – and only under Team Unity – we have passed the one (1) millionth cruise passenger milestone. Congratulations to all stakeholders in the industry and to the Honourable Lindsay Grant, our Minister of Tourism.
For 2019, we witnessed a record number of arrivals by air with RLB Airport receiving the largest number of passenger arrivals on 5th January 2019 when over 2,728 passengers travelled through our international airport. Our RLB airport is now twenty (20) years old. There has been no major expansion over that period. Given the record-breaking arrivals, the increase in airlifts and new destinations from which we now access direct flights, our Administration must seriously determine the next steps in the modernization and expansion of the RLB Airport. In the interim, the St. Christopher Air and Sea Ports Authority (SCASPA) and related Departments such as Tourism, Immigration and Customs will work cooperatively with other stakeholders to determine and implement measures to enhance the customer experience at the RLB Airport.
I am pleased to report that the following projects are poised for early implementation in 2019.
The Sandy Point Police Station. For the first time in decades, the Sandy Point Police Station will have its own home. After a transparent bidding process, a local company Skeete and Associates has been contracted to execute this project. We are expecting to have the groundbreaking ceremony in the near future.
The Old Road Bay Rehabilitation Project will include reconstruction of 1.2 km of road with adjusted shoreline. This will represent a permanent solution to the disruption in our main road network on the western side of St Kitts in the aftermath of hurricanes. The tendering process is completed and negotiations are being finalized with prospective contractors. This project will generate 120 jobs in 2019 and is estimated to be completed within a 12-month period.
The reconstruction of our Island Main Road will continue in 2019. Visitors and residents alike have marvelled at the significant improvements in our road network. The continuation of this project will bring benefits to all communities during the course of this year. The road network from Keys to Challengers via Cayon will complete the circle of the most expansive road resurfacing programme in the last 20 years. As all of us delight in the improvements in our roads, our drivers are urged to exercise due care and attention when driving. In particular, I must appeal to all drivers to resist the urge to speed on our roads thereby minimizing accidents, loss of life and damage to property. The tendering period for this project has ended. Some three (3) tenders were received and evaluated. This is a 12-month project and negotiations are being finalized for the imminent start of this major project.
Fisheries Breakwater Pier should be starting shortly. St Kitts Marine Works is the successful bidder and the project period has been estimated to be 5 months. I congratulate Reggie Francis, principal of the Company, on presenting the most competitive bid. It is great when we can find local talent to execute major projects. It is a hallmark of our Government that, where we can, we have welcomed and encouraged our local contractors to participate in the public sector infrastructure development.
Continuing capital projects such as RLB International Airport runway should be completed in 2019. Our second cruise pier construction should also continue this year. My Government has been addressing several deficits in the infrastructure at our Air and Sea Ports. The enhancements we are making were long overdue and will significantly enhance customer and stakeholder experience.
We are further advanced in the process of delivering the magnificent edifice to house the Basseterre High School. The drawings are being reviewed by a Technical Committee chaired by Dr. Halla Sahely prior to submission to the Development Control and Planning Board.
Turning to National Security, I must commend our Security Forces who, in partnership with the Regional Security System (RSS), contained the homicide rate in our Country. From the period October 06 to present, our Country has not had a homicide. In the six (6) weeks prior to the RSS arrival, we experienced one homicide per week.
The RSS is a critical asset available to all RSS Member States. We are the only Country in the sub-region that is regular in our payments to the RSS. In fact, over the last 4 years we have contributed $7.4 million in membership dues to the RSS. This is our contribution to the preservation of regional security. The Regional Security System has been invited here to help complement our manpower needs. They will be here as long as the High Command of the Security Forces deems their support to be necessary. The peace-loving people of St. Kitts and Nevis have commended my Government on its bold move to invite the RSS. My Government believes in law and order. Every effort will be made to ensure the safety and security of Kittitians and Nevisians and all who reside in and visit our Country.
The presence of the RSS provides the opportunity for enhanced learning and training for the Police Force and for building their capacity to work in operations across law enforcement agencies at home and abroad.
Our citizens, residents and visitors are deeply appreciative of the work of our law enforcement officers, and I encourage our Security Officers to exhibit utmost professionalism when serving and protecting our people. I wish to place on record my appreciation and gratitude to the Member States of the RSS for their contribution to the enhanced peace and security, which we have experienced since October 2018. I commend Acting Commissioner Hilroy Brandy, the High Command, and all other officers on a job well done.
We will put another batch of Police Officers into training soon, thereby strengthening our own domestic capacity to respond to and preempt the occurrence of criminal activities in our Country. Since assuming office, our Administration has successfully conducted 3 recruitment training courses, namely #40, #41, and #42 from which 98 police recruits have graduated. We inherited a situation in 2015 where a large number of Police Officers were in uniform but had not yet been exposed to formal training. We are correcting this unfortunate situation and consecrating the future. We expect to start training additional recruits early in 2019. This will be course #43 and 36 recruits are expected to be adequately prepared to serve as Police Officers. With the completion of this upcoming course, literally all police officers would have been exposed to formal training as recruits and graduated from their course. In 2018 alone, (in addition to the police recruit training), 155 police officers received training: 43 officers travelled overseas to attend courses and 112 officers received training at home.
Hilroy Brandy Continues to Act
I am pleased to report that Deputy Commissioner of Police Hilroy Brandy will, during the leave of Commissioner of Police Ian Queeley, continue to serve as Acting Commissioner of Police. Commissioner Queeley continues to draw down on his accumulated vacation leave of over two hundred (200) days. Mr. Brandy is a very senior Police Officer. He has performed creditably for the past three-plus (3-plus) months as Acting Commissioner of Police and I expect even better performance moving forward.
Promotion of ACP James
ACP Terrance James has accepted the offer to head the Prison Services. Our Prison Services are being restructured. A modern new facility in keeping with international standards is to be built with better spatial provisions for juveniles, persons on remand, a halfway house and specific facilities for rehabilitation, and programmes for reintegration into society. On-site Health and Social Services will be part and parcel of this new facility.
Mr. James should be an asset in this regard. Mr. James will be elevated in the security system as the new management structure contemplates a Commissioner of Corrections with salary and perquisites befitting the post.
During the course of 2019, a greater effort will be made by the Police to consolidate the gains, particularly those experienced during the last three (3) months of 2018. Since most of the violent criminal activities have been linked to gangs, the Anti-Gang and Anti-Drug Task Force will be reorganized to achieve more efficacious outcomes. More operations will be targeted at the recovery of illegal firearms. Our Air and Sea Ports operations will pay greater attention to detection and confiscation of illegal contraband, including guns and ammunition.
Our Community Policing Efforts and Social Intervention Programmes will be expanded. We will continue to prioritize vulnerable communities and seek to protect and redeem our precious children. We invite assistance from citizens and residents in our communities to work closely with the Police. We will deploy more security support at our schools and Police Resource Officers will be assigned to our primary schools. Parents are encouraged to play their part and to protect our children from drugs, gangs and violence.
Earlier, I referred to the expansion of our Tourism Sector. We have identified certain critically important areas of interest to tourists and residents. We intend to enhance security in these areas with both static posts and mobile patrols.
Starting January 21, 2019, a number of persons will be trained in the skills of patrolling and providing security in tourism areas such as Port Zante, Independence Square, etc. These persons will be sworn in as Island Constables at the completion of their training, thereby enhancing the security at key tourist sites. All visitors and residents will experience a more peaceable ambiance in these areas. Something good is about to happen.
National Marijuana Commission’s Report
The St. Kitts and Nevis National Cannabis (Marijuana) Commission has submitted its report to me dated January 10, 2019. I have presented the said report for consideration by Cabinet. It is expected that Cabinet will advise of its determination as soon as it has completed its study of the said report.
The Cannabis Commission Report comprises 12 Chapters and 10 Appendices. Let me hasten to commend the Chairperson of the said Commission, Dr. Hazel Laws and all members of the Commission for undertaking and completing the Report. Equally, I commend all who helped the Commission’s work, including members of the public, business and religious communities.
Poverty Alleviation Programme
Our Poverty Alleviation Programme was launched on 24thDecember 2018 at Independence Square, a most popular, well known and convenient location for this historic ceremony to take place. We as free people went to Independence Square to take charge of our destiny and to create a better future and better life for our people. It was a liberating experience for us all. When we free our people from hunger and deprivation, all people of goodwill are made better for it.
As at 11thJanuary 2019, 2,687 cheques totaling $1.34 million were distributed. Additionally, some applications are awaiting resolution prior to final payments. In some cases, persons by their own self-reporting are above the $3000.00 threshold, or other inconsistent data have to be sorted out before an application can be finally cleared for payment. During the course of the month, the Ministries of Social Services and Sustainable Development in conjunction with the Accountant General’s Department will be sorting out the queries. I feel very happy for the nigh 3,000 persons in Nevis and St. Kitts who, as a result of this progressive poverty alleviation programme, will experience improved and better living conditions. My Government is a caring government and we will never allow our people to suffer in abject poverty. I again thank all persons involved in this programme, in particular the Ministries for Social Services, Sustainable Development, the Nevis Island Administration (NIA), Accountant General, National Security and Public Works for excellent planning and execution of the Christmas Eve ceremony at Independence Square.
There are teething issues in any new programme, given its novelty and magnitude, but we will overcome these and do justice to all our people.