Citizens and residents of St. Kitts and Nevis, good day. This week, the formal meeting of the Cabinet took place on Wednesday May 21st. This Post-Cabinet briefing details some of the highlights of meeting. The meeting was chaired partly by the Hon. Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Earl Asim Martin and by the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas
PRIMARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM TO BE REVISED
At Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, Honourable Ministers were advised that since the development of the present curriculum for Primary schools between 2000 and 2003, there has not been a review of the curriculum. It has been generally recommended that there should be a systematic and holistic review of the curriculum every few years to ensure that the curriculum remains relevant to the needs of society and the ambitions of our students.
In recent years, teachers and other educators have identified a number of challenges with the present curriculum especially with regard to the scope and sequence of the content for a number of subjects. The Ministry of Education believes that these issues need to be addressed in a timely manner in an effort to further improve the quality of education in schools. Better curriculum guides should improve both teaching and learning and reduce academic failure and related social ills.
To prepare the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) to undertake the necessary review of the curriculum, training workshops were held with a wide cross-section of key stakeholders in the latter half of 2013. The primary school curriculum review exercise aims to produce a revision of the curricula for the following subject matters: Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Technology, and Social Studies.
At Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, extra-budgetary support for the first phase of the curriculum review exercise was approved. Deputy Prime Minister Martin emphasized that the education of our nation’s citizens is critically important and that every effort must be made to improve quality.
Ex-SSMC WORKERS HOUSING ASSISTANCE PROGRAMME TO RECEIVE FUNDING
The Ex-SSMC Workers Basic Housing Assistance Programme was created in 2007, two years after the closure of the sugar industry. The primary objective of the programme is to provide improved housing conditions for former sugar workers. Initial funding for the project was provided through a grant from the government of Venezuela which was used to finance three project components as follows:
(a) The construction of new homes for former sugar workers who did not own their own homes
(b) The improvement of homes owned by former sugar workers by:
a. adding modern bathroom facilities
b. building additional bedrooms
c. repairing leaking roofs
d. completing unfinished homes that were under construction
(c) The expansion of the NEMA starter homes that were built a number of years earlier.
It is worthy of note that under this project, 278 new homes were built and 249 were improved, for a total of 527 families put into better housing.
At Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Minister of Housing Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Hon. Earl Asim Martin indicated that he has directed the National Housing Corporation (NHC) to move swiftly to construct an additional 87 homes and provide improvements for another 18. The Minister thus requested the release of EC$9,600,000 for the construction of the homes and gave the assurance that construction and repair of homes for the outstanding for sugar workers should commence shortly.
IMPROVED LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK FOR THE NATIONAL SOCIAL PROTECTION PROGRAMME
Minister responsible for Social Development the Hon. Marcella Liburd requested Cabinet’s endorsement of her plan to improve the Federation’s National Social Protection Programme. Minister Liburd was strongly of the view that although significant advances have been made with regard to social protection, much more needs to be done to ensure that even more families are lifted out of poverty and given a better opportunity to lead dignified lives.
The Hon. Minister advised the Cabinet that the government’s Social Protection Programme needs a new legislative framework that would make the programme rights-based. The Minister explained that this framework would convey certain rights to families that are vulnerable thus creating specific obligations on the government to comprehensively address families’ vulnerabilities. Minister Liburd was strongly of the view that families should not have to suffer or beg before they are recognized as being vulnerable but that mechanisms need to be put in place to deal with these matters proactively and comprehensively.
The Minister revealed that a social safety net assessment done a few years ago confirmed that the government invests a considerable amount of resources in its social safety net programmes but there are still a number of areas for improvement as follows:
· There is a need for written rules with objective criteria for the grant of assistance
· Rules should establish clear processes and procedures for application, progress monitoring and evaluation, data collection and privacy
· Beneficiaries should have available to them an adequate complaint and appeal mechanism
· Stronger institutional arrangements including further training and improved staffing are required
· There is need for strong and comprehensive legislative underpinning
Cabinet endorsed the new policy thrust of the Hon. Marcella Liburd, commended her for her vision and leadership, and approved the creation of a new law to achieve the objectives the minister outlined.
The Hon. Marcella Liburd who is also responsible for Health used the opportunity to provide an update on the funding being identified to pursue the upgrade of the JNF General Hospital including roofing repairs and the implementation of Phase 3 of the improvement project that will see the renovation of the back or northern portion of the facilities. Specifically, phase 3 intends to improve the kitchen, cafeteria, central supply stores, the pathology area, and mortuary. As the hospital is now connected to the teaching and training of student doctors, a new lecture area will be constructed under the project.
THE IMF REPORTS TO THE JOINT CABINETS
The government of St. Kitts and Nevis embarked upon an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011 in an effort to gain the institution’s support for the government’s homegrown debt restructuring programme. At that time, debt levels had reached 164% of GDP ( or about 180% under previous GDP estimates) and current account deficits were large. The government admitted that the debt levels were unsustainable and threatened the long-term viability of the economy and the prosperity of our nation. With that in mind, the government, led by the Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, entered into a standby arrangement (SBA)with the IMF.
Under the arrangement, the IMF provided advice on the restructuring of the debt and the economy, provided financial support where it was required in the interim, and monitored the programme and performance of the economy over the last three (3) years.
In addressing the debt and economic challenges, the government sought to put the tax system on a more sustainable footing, negotiate debt with its creditors, settle huge debts with the National Bank by leveraging land assets, and it committed to improved fiscal management, procurement procedures and other important reforms.
In a joint Cabinet meeting of the Federal Government and the NIA, the IMF lauded the government for its very outstanding achievements under its homegrown programme that was being supported by the IMF. Ms Judith Gold, IMF Mission Chief remarked that St. Kitts and Nevis is a model for countries around the world. In addressing the joint Cabinet, she outlined the following achievements:
· Fiscal sustainability has been fully restored moving from a position of a deficit of 7.6% of GDP in 2010 to a high surplus of 12.2% of GDP.
· Public debt has been drastically reduced by 61% of GDP from 165% down to 104%. It is on a sustainable downward path, projected to reach a low of 60% of GDP in a few years
· Economic growth has re-emerged from a deficit position to a positive of 3.8% of GDP with positive growth rates projected for the next few years.
· The key structural reforms in public financial management and revenue administration have been implemented and these reforms have been the basis for the substantial progress that has been made.
· A medium-term fiscal and debt management strategy has been adopted leading to a stronger forward-looking framework being in place.
· Enhanced supervision has been implemented for bank and non-bank financial institutions leading to the maintenance of financial stability.
Essentially, the IMF-monitored programme has now come to an end after 3 years and 9 IMF missions to the Federation. However, the IMF would continue to be a partner in monitoring going forward.
The IMF advised that in going forward, staying on a firm path with respect to the fiscal and debt management, public financial management and revenue administration is critically important to protecting and consolidating the gains we have made to date. A change of course would be disastrous. The IMF warned against the use of the SIDF funds to pay down debt, as advocated by some, and emphasized that this would be a mistake. Rather, it advised that the government should create a Stabilisation and Growth Fund (SGF) with the proceeds of the SIDF so that in times of natural disasters, cyclical economic downturn or other externalities, huge sums of money can be pumped into the economy to maintain social, fiscal and economic stability.
In closing, Ms Judith Gold of the IMF advised the government that the continued success required discipline in the following areas:
1. Sticking to the reform programme going forward. The IMF urged for a follow-through on the outstanding reform commitments that have been made by both the Federal government and the NIA
2. Paying down the debt per existing credit agreements, but not with SIDF funds
3. Controling debt by reducing borrowing to a minimum
4. Controling spending in line with income and national priorities
GOVERNMENT RETURNS US$40 MILLION OF UNUSED LOAN TO IMF
In light of the overwhelming success of the IMF-monitored structural reform programme leading to the creation of a strong fiscal and economic position for the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, Cabinet considered and approved the return of approximately US$40 Million to the IMF that was provided for under the standby arrangement with the institution. The money was made available by the IMF so that in the event of it being required to provide additional financial support during the reform period, it could have been readily available.
The decision to return the unused loan funds to the IMF is consistent with government’s policy to continue to reduce its debt and to adopt a higher level of fiscal discipline going forward.
US TREASURY ADVISORY
The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday of this week advised financial institutions that certain economic citizens have been using their St. Kitts & Nevis passports to provide identification to perform unlawful financial transactions. The government had been earlier, as a matter of government-to-government courtesy, advised of this discovery prior to the issuance of the U.S Treasury’s Advisory, and is very pleased that these attempts by a few economic citizens have been uncovered by the United States.
It must be noted that our CBI has since July 2013 adopted a policy of not accepting any application for Iranian nationals whether they reside inside or outside of Iran.
We have long stressed our commitment to working with regional and international allies to halt the spread of international crime. Just earlier this week I reported that St. Kitts and Nevis had signed TIEAs (Tax Information Exchange Agreements) with about 20 nations around the world as part of our government’s commitment to the fight against harmful tax practices and related criminal activities.
As a result of Tuesday’s advisory, Cabinet discussed and decided upon some immediate changes to the Citizenship By Investment Programme (CBI) as follows:
1. A CBI oversight commission will be established in short order to provide close systematic oversight of the programme and to report regularly on issues related to the improvement of the programme
2. All applications for our CBI will be sent to some of our closest allies in crime fighting including the FBI, Scotland Yard, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Interpol.
The essence of the US Treasury Advisory is to inform banks of the need to make more thorough identification checks on persons making financial transactions.