My brothers and sisters, I address you this evening in my capacity as Premier and Minister of Finance for the island of Nevis.
As we are all aware on May 2, 2022, the Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris declared a 10 percent salary increase to Federal public servants, pensioners and STEP workers retroactive to January 1, 2022.
Our people would know that the Nevis Island Administration is responsible for the salaries, wages and pensions on the island of Nevis. We also know that it is the usual practice to coordinate efforts between Basseterre and Charlestown so that our public servants and pensioners on both islands are kept on par with each other. This practice, even though not enshrined in law, had developed over the years because we had responsible leadership in Basseterre which understood the need to discuss these matters and coordinate approaches so that the far-reaching fiscal implications could be understood and budgeted for.
Sadly, I am to advise that while the issue of salary increases for our hard-working public servants had been the subject of discussions within the Federal and NIA Cabinets, the announcement made by Dr. Harris as to the percentage and the retroactive payment was done without any discussion with the Nevis Island Administration or with my office as Premier and Minister of Finance for the island of Nevis.
It is regrettable that Dr. Harris has taken this approach as it departs from the practice since Independence that such decisions would always be coordinated so as not to disadvantage any public servants or pensioners on St. Kitts or on Nevis.
But we understand that this was a decision concerned with political gimmickry rather than a genuine desire to assist our public servants, pensioners and STEP workers. Having lost the support of the elected majority in the National Parliament but refusing to relinquish the office of the Prime Minister, Dr. Harris is now engaged in seeking to buy the favour of the electorate through elaborate spending of the Treasury with no regard for fiscal sobriety.
Even more cynically, Dr. Harris is well aware that he has absolutely refused to send to Nevis its equitable share of national revenues from our Citizenship by Investment Programme. Our analysis shows that since 2008 the island of Nevis with 25 percent of the population of the Federation has received only 7 percent of CBI receipts. During that period more than EC, $5 BILLION has been kept in Basseterre for the exclusive use of the Federal Government whilst less than EC $400 million has come to Nevis.
Dr. Harris, therefore, knows that the NIA will have to borrow money to pay salary increases whilst he uses Nevisians’ money that he has vindictively withheld to fund increases to public servants pensioners and STEP workers on St. Kitts. In a very real sense, Dr. Harris is seeking to leave the people of Nevis without an umbrella while he has a large tent of savings from our CBI money in St. Kitts.
This level of cynicism should be roundly condemned by all Nevisians and by all of our brothers and sisters in St. Kitts as well. But it is not the purpose of this speech to point out the obvious. I am confident that the people of our beloved Nation will shortly show their displeasure in the political gimmickry being undertaken by Dr. Harris and his cabal and will discard them to the scrap heap of our political history.
Notwithstanding that the island of Nevis and its finances have been severely negatively impacted by the economic carnage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and that the island even now is still in recovery mode, I have met with the members of the Cabinet of the Nevis Island Administration and we have taken technical advice as to what lies within the fiscal capacity of the NIA to assist our hard-working public servants and our pensioners.
To this end and for the first time in our Nation’s history, I am to advise that we cannot on Nevis follow down a fiscally reckless path that is designed only for short-term political gain without regard for the long-term fiscal stability of our island. St. Kitts cannot dictate fiscal policy for Nevis while denying Nevis its fair share of national income.
The Cabinet of the Nevis Island Administration, in an effort to avoid further significant borrowing at this time, has determined that with effect from the next payday, public servants and pensioners in Nevis shall receive a 5 percent increase in their salaries and wages retroactive to January 01, 2022. On January 1, 2023, we shall give a further 5 percent increase to our public servants and pensioners. On January 01, 2024, we shall give a further 5 percent increase to our public servants and pensioners.
Put differently, on Nevis, our public servants and pensioners will receive salary and wage and pension increases of 15 percent compounded over the period 2022-2024. This staggered approach will enable the NIA to better manage the increases and allow for better management of the finances of the government.
I note for the avoidance of doubt that these increases shall not be extended to Cabinet members.
This represents the largest ever financial commitment to public servants and pensioners in our island’s history but allows us to implement such increases in a fiscally prudent and sensible manner over time whilst our economy recovers.
In addition, we are well aware that our Non-Established (NE) workers have long campaigned for greater security. Many have worked hard to serve Nevis but because they were never appointed to the Permanent Establishments walk away on retirement with a small gratuity but no pension or other benefits. It is hard to imagine that after sometimes as many as 40 years working for the Government our NE workers are left with no pension and no security.
In Nevis again in an effort to coordinate fiscal policy with St. Kitts, we have waited patiently for guidance from the Federal government on this critical matter. Sadly none has come notwithstanding that legislation was passed in the National Assembly over a decade ago. I believe that our hard-working NE workers in Nevis have been patient long enough.
To this end, I am pleased to advise that the Cabinet of the Nevis Island Administration has put in place a three-person Auxiliary Pension Committee to finalize the pension policy for non-established Workers on Nevis and provide urgent relief and greater security to them. The details of this policy will be shared shortly as we seek to finally bring relief to well over 1000 non-established workers in Nevis. This plan offering gratuity and pensions will be discussed with all NE workers and shall come into effect on the island of Nevis on September 1, 2022.
Lastly, as we grapple with increasing food prices globally, I am pleased to advise that the Cabinet of the NIA has decided that to cushion the impact on our people we must take urgent action. Effective Wednesday, May 18, 2022, and lasting for the period from May 18 to August 31, 2022, all Customs Duties on corned beef, pasta, sardines, tea, coffee, bacon, sausages and similar breakfast meats, cheese, chicken, milk, rice, flour, fruits and meat shall be waived. Customs Duties on the various products range from 5-25 percent. We have ensured that Customs Duties on imported vegetables, imported pork and imported fish remain so as to encourage our people to buy locally produced vegetables and pork and locally caught fish.
Of note is that this relief will be granted to both personal and commercial importers. I appeal to our supermarkets to pass on these savings to our consumers and Ministry of Finance officials will be meeting with supermarket chains in Nevis to ensure that consumers benefit from this initiative in the form of lower prices on these basic food items.
I also appeal to our farmers and fishers to increase production so as to help us continue to reduce our dependence on imported food and enhance food security on our beloved Nevis.
My brothers and sisters, we find ourselves in difficult times politically and constitutionally in our Federation, but those difficulties will not deter your government from managing the affairs of Nevis in a sensible and prudent fashion. You elected us to manage Nevis and to do so in the best interests of all of our people. This we shall continue to do despite the turbulence being created by a reckless outgoing Leader on St. Kitts.
We ask for your understanding and your prayers as we navigate this troubling period in our shared history.
I wish you as always God’s abundant grace and blessings. May His face continue to shine on the people of this land we are so privileged to call our home.