My fellow citizens and residents:
May the Lord grant each of us a successful New Year. For our Country as a whole I wish that 2017 will be a year of growth and resilience. Growth and resilience are not ends in themselves but are critical to our socio-economic security, the provision of high paying jobs and new opportunities for our young people, in particular.
In 2017 your government will work steadfastly for you. We encourage our people to work smartly to seize opportunities and empower themselves. Working together constructively and in unity we will accomplish much and build on the foundation laid over the past 23 months of our Administration to make our Country better and fairer for all.
As a Nation under God, we give him thanks for the record successes of the last 23 months, including our presiding over one of the most buoyant economies in the OECS, CARICOM and ECLAC. We look forward to improved performance which will benefit all of our people. Our fiscal surpluses have paved the way for us to pay off the former government’s debt contracted with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011. Over the first fourteen months of my Administration the sum of EC$117.1 million was spent towards repayment of this debt. We have signalled that never again should our Country be mismanaged to the extent that it needs a bailout from the IMF of the magnitude made necessary by the former administration. The pain of that adjustment to the squandermania and profligacy of the bygone administration will not go away easily. The haircuts have disfigured many institutions, compromised their viability, led to the suspension of increments for our hardworking civil servants for 3 years in a row,and 85% increase in electricity tariff, and significant increases in water bills. Indeed this was a dark and harsh period, which while we remember we must be careful never to repeat.
Our approach to development is people centred and we want more of our nationals to be at the fulcrum of economic development in St Kitts and Nevis. We have taken the unprecedented step of committing structured financial resources to support micro and small businesses to the tune of EC$35.4 million. This is the largest amount ever mobilised for small business entrepreneurs in this Country. Over EC$30 million will be available from our Fresh Start Programme which will lead many out of poverty and towards the path to greater financial security.
The Development Bank, with the strongest and most reliable network of dealing with the small business sector, will take this Fresh Start Initiative forward in collaboration with our National Bank. My Government understands that it is not just about balancing the fiscal accounts of the Country, an exercise over which we have done ourselves very proud. We have managed St Kitts and Nevis with prudence. We have managed with the future in mind and the building of resilience as an imperative. We have not only balanced our books but beyond this we have achieved record surpluses on the recurrent account, overall account and the primary account. Important as that balancing is, we are deeply concerned about helping our people to balance their lives. In sum, we are more than an economy, we are a society.
As we attempt to shape the society of which we can all be proud, we encourage others to work with us to make St Kitts and Nevis strong, united and harmonious. In this regard, my Cabinet has reached out to our religious leaders to play a stronger role in building a society sturdy in its faith, sure of its moral imperatives and unabashed in terms of the pre-eminence of God in national life.
I look to everyone of faith, particularly our Christian leadership, to take an active part in bringing our people together, inspiring community spirit, and engendering a keener sense of holistic well-being. When people work together they live better together. Let the bonds of enduring friendship and collaboration become the glue that holds our society together because we know where there is cohesion, there is progress.
Towards Ennobling Society
We intend to build a more ennobling society. This task is for each and every one of us. Parents must rise to the challenge of providing for their children and by their instruction and example guide them on the path to responsible, and productive citizenship.
Our security officers and Police in particular must hold true to their motto “to serve and to protect”. Our business people must be fair and honest and practice good corporate social responsibility. The Bar Association must be ready to deal with issues of unfairness, short-changing and general unethical conduct by members of the Bar, if and when such charges are brought.
The level of debate in Parliament should be a good reflection of us. I appeal to all Members of Parliament to be on their best behaviour, to abide by the ruling of the Speaker and even when displeased by any such ruling, to let decorum prevail. The Opposition should be constructive. An opposition that lost the trust and faith of the electorate, cannot continue along the old recalcitrant path that led to its near demise.
2017 is destined to be a defining moment. A time of decision.
It is imperative that our commercial banks do more to provide financial resources at affordable rates to those who need it. We understand the need for banks to maintain their balance sheets, preserve their asset base and pay attention to their non-performing loans. Similarly, as a society we have to balance the books without bringing undue hardship to people’s lives. Our people, through their hard earned deposits, have provided the wherewithal to our banks. We need our banks to offer softer terms to their customers as part of a broader and more holistic approach to their role in nation building.
We will move forward a legislative framework that addresses our agenda of good governance, accountability and transparency. It will reflect our standing as a responsible member of the international community. We will advance work on electoral reform, justice for workers, and reform of our education and health systems.
We have provided honest information about our fiscal and economic performance, our Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme, and immigration data more than at any period in our history. Our Ministers have utilised the provision on the Order Paper for Ministers Statement to provide helpful information on a diverse range of matters of interest to the public, such as education, fiscal outcomes, healthcare, public safety, tourism, water etc.
We regularly lay audited accounts for public sector entities on the Table of Parliament. The consistency with which we do this is a new norm and a fresh start in terms of transparency and accountability. Good governance is the norm by which we conduct the nation’s business.
We appreciate that there will always be work to do in the area of good governance as systems, laws and the expectations of society change. Therefore we will be attentive to these developments. We will do whatever we have committed to do in good time in the context of our democratic mandate from the people. This mandate we cherish.
More Progress To Come
In 2017, much more will be done for our people.
We are confident that the people understand that all changes cannot come at once and that change in culture takes time.
We are a Unity Government. We were elected on a mandate to change things over the next 10 years. That is why we asked for a restriction on the tenure of the Prime Minister. Within 10 years, the first Prime Minister under a Team Unity Administration will have made an indelibly positive mark on our Country, facilitating successive two term tenures to others in the leadership of Team Unity. We have made a commitment and we will never renege on it. The transformation that we are making will redound to the benefit of the next generation. We ask for the continuing support, prayers and confidence of the public.
We are optimistic about the future. We are also confident that a better quality of life awaits our people. Our Government will be engaged in the delivery of several capital projects that will improve and enhance the quality of life in our Federation.
2017 Capital Projects
Some very significant examples of these include the following:
1. The start of construction of the B.H.S. This is a problem we inherited from the bygone administration and we are happy to resolve it. 2. Construction of several roads in housing projects. The failed housing policy of the dysfunctional bygone regime left too many projects without critical infrastructure such as water, roads and electricity. We inherited this huge problem and we will fix it. 3. The start of our housing programme in St Kitts and Nevis. 4. The start of construction of our second cruise pier. 5. The completion of the build-out of Black Rocks and the Frigate Bay Strip.
6. The build-out of the National Heroes Park adjoining the Kim Collins Highway. 7. The upgrade of our playfields at Tabernacle, Cayon, Constituency #3 and #4 to the tune of millions of dollars. We understand the importance of sports as a vehicle for the constructive engagement of our young people and as an avenue for fulfilment of their talent. 8. The heightened levels of investment in the health sector with a focus on community based health services, primary health care, pharmaceuticals and the reconstruction of the Tabernacle Health Centre. 9. Beyond the investments in our physical infrastructure, we will make substantial investments in the area of public safety and security as our CCTV project is initiated. 10. The reform of our justice system will be felt by the opening of our second High Court as well as the addition of a fourth Magistrates Court.
Early in the New Year, the Committee of Prerogative of Mercy shall be activated. It will consider appeals for clemency for several inmates of Her Majesty’s Prison who have spent a significant amount of time in custody. Compassion and mercy are important attributes of our judicial system and it is important that our response to crime be proportionate.
In order to build a sustainable society that creates the right legacy for the future, we will review our policy framework so that we tackle more effectively those factors that cause our young people to become disengaged from society. We want them to have a better quality of life and become productive citizens. Our National Drugs Council will pursue anti-drugs programming in order to prevent criminality and the harming of our young people. Every effort will be made to increase the participation of our young people in the peace and prosperity of our Country. We shall take training, job attachment and job support to a higher level with the inauguration of the STEP. This will allow for a more effective and efficient delivery of genuine skills training and empowerment programmes. We will provide special support to our physically challenged, our aged and infirmed citizens and residents. We salute our footballers who in February 2017 will be engaged in decisive CONCACAF matches. We anticipate that they will excel and do us proud.
It is crucial that we build resilience across the economy if we are to compete successfully against a backdrop of international changes and uncertainty for example, the advent of BREXIT, de-risking of banks, terrorism and other emerging threats to our economy and our way of life here in the Federation.
We recognise that enterprise is the engine room of the economy and has the potential for job and wealth creation. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry therefore also has an important role to play in identifying potential export markets and providing the relevant support to assist businesses to get to market. We will pursue a national consultation on growth and resilience in the first quarter of 2017 and our private sector ideas and programmes will be given good consideration by my Government. We look forward to our diaspora playing a more constructive role in 2017 and beyond. We will invite representatives of this community to participate in the consultations.
Planting Good Seeds
Renowned Scottish novelist and travel writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, once penned these lines in the play, “Admiral Guinea”, which he had co-written with William Ernest Henley:
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Our twin-island Federation has much good seeds to plant in the hope of a bountiful harvest. As such, we should never take for granted the abundant beauty of the land and its people. We should together value Our Land highly, not at a distance as an object that does not belong to us, but as something that we all own and in which we all have a stake. Each of us, of all ages, genders, faiths and socioeconomic status, has a stake in St Kitts and Nevis. It therefore behoves us to actively participate in making it a great Country that serves all of its citizens and residents well. We must take as our example the biblical character of the Good Samaritan, who chose not to cross the road and ignore a fellow traveller’s pleas for help. Like the Good Samaritan, we too are obligated to stop, to become involved and to provide assistance to our fellow travellers on this Life’s journey.
As we stand on the threshold of 2017, let us therefore – together in unity – go forward with a common purpose, vision and mission. With God’s blessings we will today plant seeds that will blossom into a caring, peaceful, prosperous and sustainable society for ALL. Let our mark on 2017 indelibly define St Kitts and Nevis as a great Nation teeming with potential. Let us also recognise that on this noble journey, each and every one of us will have a key role to play – a role that can neither be discounted nor ignored.
May God bless all of you. May He also grant you peace and happiness in 2017.
Happy New Year!