BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, OCTOBER 25TH, 2016 (PRESS SEC) – Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris on Saturday, October 22nd highlighted the noteworthy achievements of his change-making Team Unity Government before a large audience of St. Kitts-Nevis Nationals who live in the British Virgin Islands (B.V.I.).
The informative and electric town hall meeting, which was held at the Althea Scatliffe Primary School in Road Town, Tortola, left the Kittitians and Nevisians in attendance satisfied and more knowledgeable about the happenings in their homeland, and it also gave attendees like Mr. Maurice Wollard [brother of Mr. Wendell Dorsett a.k.a. Mr. Politics] the opportunity to thank the Honourable Prime Minister for the Team Unity Government’s people-oriented policies that have impacted directly upon them.
“Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you profoundly for the sugar gratuity fund,” said Mr. Wollard, a former employee of the St. Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Corporation (SSMC) who now resides in Tortola.
Mr. Wollard added that a few persons told him they had applied unsuccessfully to the Secretariat of the Sugar Workers’ Restoration Fund, to which Prime Minister Harris replied: “The sugar monies – yes, some people did not get and the question is why, and the simple answer is that they did not apply in time…We take pride though in the fact that so many more people got now than had before…968 persons benefited [during the first pay-out in 2005] then Team Unity came to office and 1,900 persons have benefited from gratuity payments… and more yet to come.”
As of August 31st, 2016, EC$12,590,301 was paid to 1,872 former sugar workers or legal representatives of those who are deceased. Dr. Harris noted at Saturday’s town hall meeting that, “There are about 300 cases in the court because these are cases where the sugar worker is deceased and somebody is claiming, and in these instances we have to make sure we are paying the right person.”
When the sugar industry closed in July 2005, the then-government promised $44 million in severance payments, but only $28 million was paid. The Team Unity Government received a $16-million-dollar grant from Venezuela to pay the shortfall in the compensation package to the former sugar workers, and the cheque presentation ceremony was held on March 30th, 2015 at Government Headquarters, where Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris and Venezuelan Ambassador His Excellency Bernardo Álvarez Herrera signed an agreement. On May 18th, 2015, the Secretariat of the Sugar Workers’ Restoration Fund officially opened in the CLICO Building at South Independence Square Street, to process claims and guarantee payment to former sugar workers. The Secretariat was opened from 9:00am to 5:00pm Mondays to Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00am to 1:00pm.
Town hall meetings were held in St. Kitts and Nevis, and the outreach to former sugar workers and their legal representatives was extensive. For instance, in May 2015, field officers from the Sugar Workers’ Restoration Fund Office met with former sugar workers at no fewer than five community centres after these meetings were widely publicized via community notices. In June 2015, the field officers met with prospective claimants at additional community centres.
“We regret that some people didn’t know and some didn’t know until late, and some were confused because all while we were saying that we will pay, the Opposition was saying ‘Don’t bother with them, we already paid out all the money, no more money is there’ and some people got confused by the misinformation, which was being spread,” Prime Minister Harris said Saturday night during the town hall meeting with St. Kitts-Nevis Nationals in Road Town, Tortola.
The Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis added: “We have done it transparently. We kept town halls; we put out information on the radio and online, and we encouraged people, but the Opposition was mischievous and confused a number of people. Only after they saw and heard that others got [payments], they understood that Team Unity meant what it said.”