Good afternoon my fellow citizens and residents, Cabinet Colleagues, Media Representatives:
Last weekend and continuing to this morning our Federation experienced heavy torrential downpours and inclement weather patterns, particularly in the northeastern corridor of St. Kitts.
The NEMA damage assessment team is investigating the impact of this weather system. I commend the swift efforts of our disaster response officials led by Mr. Abdias Samuel, National Disaster Coordinator at NEMA and all other government officials including those at the Met Office, SKELEC and Public Works who braved the elements to mitigate damage, injury and prevent loss of life.
The resurfacing work on the island main road was impacted in several areas and consequential runoff affected some private properties.
We should continue to exercise caution. The Hurricane Season is not yet ended. Even when officially ended, given the increased climatic variability, we must be alert.
Turning to more positive news, I am pleased to report that your Team Unity Government continues to move St. Kitts and Nevis in the right direction. Our fiscal house is solid, and we will make it more resilient. The Financial Secretary has reported that for the ninth month in a row we have accumulated a surplus for 2019. Using international economic classification, we recorded a surplus on the recurrent account, an overall surplus, and a primary balance surplus. At the end of September 2019, the Federal Government’s net fiscal position was significantly better than the budget forecast and the performance of the corresponding period in 2018. This is a far cry from where we were in 2011, when our country was bankrupt and the former government borrowed some $234 Million from the IMF to meet its operations i.e. pay salaries and pensions, purchase supplies for the JNF Hospital, etc.
The advent of IMF and the fiscal morass of the bygone administration led to an 85% increase in the cost of electricity, a 600% increase in water bills, the suspension of increment to civil servants for 3 years in a row and forced layoff of public servants. What Team Unity has accomplished by prudent fiscal management of the economy in less than 5 years is an outstanding achievement, some say an economic miracle. We should never take it for granted. We cannot go back to the old shameful mismanagement of the past.
Our economy is strong. Our Team Unity Government has paid off the IMF $117m debt left behind by the past administration. More people are in jobs than before. Labour’s value-added tax on food, medicines, funeral and education expenses has been removed. Just as we promised to bring tax relief, we have delivered. Over 3,000 people have received various forms of housing support. Homes have been built, and I am advised that some are ready for occupancy in St. Peter’s, Crab Hill Sandy Point, Pine Garden, Christ Church, Phillip’s Village, and Belle Vue.
Our communities are being made nicer and more beautiful by the improved infrastructure everywhere. The build-out of roads and sidewalks for the safety of our children, elderly, our differently-abled and indeed all pedestrians have brought a new and improved look in our communities. It was heartening to note the pleasant enhancement of Saddler’s Village as I walked the full length of this part of our island main road on Saturday during my health walk. It dawned on me that good times are here again. The new ethos of fairness and equity is being practiced. Every area is being taken care of by Team Unity. Last Saturday, I promised several residents of St. Paul’s that we will do something to help them and end the careless neglect by the representative of over 30 years standing.
ROADS OUT FOR TENDER
Communities that for over 30 years suffered for want of paved roads can look forward positively to a major difference. The roads at Camps, Mattingley and Garvey’s Westland Housing Development, for example, are out to tender. Construction will commence shortly thereafter. Our Government will be spending millions on roads because the people of Mattingley, Garvey’s Estate, and Camps like our people everywhere (in Cayon and Sandy Point, for example) deserve better and should not be left behind.
KEEPING ST. KITTS-NEVIS HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
A strong economy needs a strong and resilient financial sector. Our commercial banks and other financial institutions are the key drivers of this sector. In this regard, I am pleased to report to you, that the Government has taken its cue from the ECCB and positively responded to the request for a Vesting Order to be issued to the Republic Financial Holdings Ltd. by the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis. By Statutory Rules and Orders No. 30 of 2019, Bank of Nova Scotia Banking Business Vesting Order, the Government granted approval for the transfer and vesting of the relevant assets of the Scotia Bank Branch Business to Republic Financial Holdings Limited, effective 31st October 2019.
The Republic Bank is not a new institution to the ECCU, as it has successfully operated in Grenada and St. Lucia for a number of years. We are encouraged by the positive news that the Republic Bank has agreed to maintain employment of the existing Scotia Bank’s staff deployed here in our jurisdiction. I am particularly pleased that the new country manager is our own Mrs. Pamela Herbert-Daniel. It is our hope that the Republic Bank would bring valuable expertise to help boost the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises in the Federation and broaden our access to the international network of correspondent banks. As Scotia Bank exits after some 36 years of doing business here in the Federation, we warmly welcome Republic Bank with much hope and anticipation for a long and fruitful partnership in the years ahead. We should benefit from the Republic Bank’s strong support for commercial entities, its partnership with government and its huge network of correspondent banks at a time when de-risking is a real challenge.
In the same vein, I must congratulate the Board of Directors and Management of the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank on another commendable performance for the year ending June 30, 2019. Reported net income is the second-highest in its history at just over $52 million and total assets are reported at $3.69 billion. National Bank is the largest indigenous bank in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union. We look forward to the next Annual General Meeting and expect that the proposed dividend payout will allow shareholders the opportunity to benefit from the success of the Bank.
DISCOUNTED VAT RATE DAY
Over the past 4 years, our Team Unity Government has implemented a Discounted VAT Rate (DVR) Day initiative. In 2019, the DVR Day initiative will be implemented on two days – Saturday 14th and 21st, December. These dates have been agreed with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. No other government in the region has the financial strength to do what we have done in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and will do again in 2019, which reduces the applicable VAT rate and pays a double salary 4 times in a row. And even when we would have done so, our country remains in surplus. Returning to the Discounted VAT Rate Day and the significant relief it will bring to our citizens and residents in 2019, I can advise that our Cabinet has approved that businesses be allowed to charge VAT at the rate of 5% on the sale of goods instead of 17% on designated VAT Days. In the case of vehicles – No VAT would be charged on the first $50,000.00 of the cost of a vehicle. Any amount exceeding this value would be subject to the full VAT rate of 17%. This is a major boost to spur vehicle ownership in the country and allow our people the convenience of a better quality of life. We caution those who are driving to drive carefully and within the designated speed limits. With our excellent roads, the temptation may be to speed, and we warn drivers and motorists to resist that temptation.
I have more good news, for many good things are happening in our country.
Duty-Free Allowance Incentive
Currently, the package enjoyed by non-commercial importers and travelers are as follows:
Gift packages of Foodstuff are allowed for the first 66lbs free of Duties and Taxes.
Travelers receive a duty-free allowance of $400.00 off the CIF value.
Our caring Team Unity Government has approved the following for implementation during the period 1st to 31st December 2019:
Gift packages of Foodstuff are allowed for the first 400lbs free of Duties and Taxes.
Travelers and non-commercial importers receive a duty-free allowance of $540.00 (US$200.00) of the CIF value.
We have been able to offer these concessions and tax waivers because the economy is fundamentally strong. Tourism is doing well. There is a good mix of public and private sector projects, for example, Hillsboro Hotel and Suites, Sea View Hotel, Ramada Hotel, Era Development, etc. to keep our economy growing. Our revenues are growing, and our expenditures are carefully undertaken to help our people. We expect construction to continue at Cove Condominium at Frigate Bay, Hillsboro Hotel and Suites in Mattingley, Sea View Hotel in West Basseterre, Ramada Hotel at Helden’s Estate, Era Hotel Development at Brighton Estate and Cockleshell Villas at the South East Peninsula should commence construction in the near future. Four Thousand (4,000) persons are receiving their poverty alleviation support. This well-needed stipend is helping them with rent, food, and medicine, as well as utility bills.
Team Unity knows that we cannot have a strong future, especially for our young people, if we do not have a strong economy.
FOUR HOTELS TO OPEN AND MORE TO COME
By the end of the first quarter of 2020, four new hotels (Ramada Hotel Phase 1, Koi Hotel, T-Loft at Wyndham and Sea View Hotel Phase 1) will be opened, creating hundreds of real jobs and more opportunities, particularly for young people. Speaking of jobs and the future, our Police Force and Defence Force are interviewing persons for recruitment. We invite all young men and women with interest in an attractive and diversified career to visit the offices of our security forces at the Police Headquarters and Defence Force Headquarters. Close to 100 jobs are available across the security sector i.e. the Police Force, the Defence Force, the Immigration Department, our Correctional Facility, and Fire and Rescue Services.
Contrary to the unpatriotic purveyors of fake news, I am pleased to report the Electrofab Factory is not contemplating any layoffs. Kajola has increased its labour force, which now stands at 204 employees compared to 112 compared to the same time last year (an 82% increase), and Jaro has absorbed most of the workers made redundant at Lutron.
Without a strong economy, we cannot create the jobs we need, we cannot build the housing people need, and we will not have the resources we need to keep our streets safe.
Speaking on the matter of public safety and security, the entire country records its congratulations to our security forces and the vulnerable groups for the unprecedented peace in our Country and the non-occurrence of gang-related homicides since March 2019. Our Federation is on track to record the lowest number of homicides since 2006 and the lowest number of major crimes in a long time. We cannot put a price on the lives of our young people lost to gang violence over the last 20 years. What we do know is that the bloodshed and carnage must stop. Nothing worked before. The Peace Initiative is working and the social intervention programs all conduce to a better St. Kitts and Nevis. We must not stop these programs. We have to guard the peace. Only Team Unity is committed to it, and all the families, the business community, and society at large who are benefitting from this peace must join to preserve it. We must keep our communities safe. The new sense of security and calm is palpable and pervasive. Even calypso legend King Socrates has come out of retirement to command the Peace Initiative in song.
I am reminded of the Beatitude – “Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
A STATEMENT ON HAITI
There is no doubt that what is occurring in Haiti is tragic. Haiti is the largest CARICOM member state with an estimated population of 11.2 million people and it has a spectacular past as the first slave society in our region to have secured its freedom. Our region will never achieve its greatness and full potential until every member state including its largest is moving in the right direction.
Last week, your Team Unity Government reunited 49 Haitian migrants with their families and homeland. In doing so, we surpassed international standards of care and support given to migrants.
The decision to repatriate the migrants was made after discussions with Haiti’s government, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM), the CARICOM Secretary-General, the local arm of the Red Cross, and the local Haitian Association. I commend our doctors, translators, and security forces who accompanied the migrants back to their country and thereby ensured no harm befell any of them. Here was the smallest country in our hemisphere setting the example of how we treat migrants in a manner surpassing international expectations and preserving their dignity and humanity. And this is not the first time we have led. Let me digress a bit on this point. We are the first independent country in the OECS to have outperformed the international benchmark of Debt-to-GDP ratio of 60%. We are the best in the OECS on the Rule of Law Index 2019. We are the only country to have been recognized at the global International Telecommunications Union Conference in Botswana for dynamism in ICT. We are emerging as an example of the best managed small island state.
Your Team Unity Government has a duty to protect our borders, to keep our people safe and secure, and we will always work to uphold that duty.
We are heading in the right direction and Team Unity will keep working to create more jobs, provide better housing, and keep our streets safe. We will not discriminate because we are one people, one country, moving forward in Unity.
We are heading in the right direction by design – not by accident, not by luck, not by magic.
These gains are delicate; they cannot be taken for granted. Team Unity can be trusted to consolidate these gains.
They could easily be lost, and our country would head backward. That’s why we must ensure the Team Unity Government increases its mandate.
Let me reiterate: your Team Unity Government will continue to make careful policy decisions and do the hard work to keep St. Kitts and Nevis heading in the right direction, creating more jobs, providing more housing and keeping our streets safe.