My fellow citizens and residents, representatives of the media.
I am grateful for this opportunity to update our citizens and residents of our beautiful Federation on a few matters of national importance. Let me reassure the public that as the country’s chief servant, I wake up everyday with one thing on my mind, that is to ensure that the people of St Kitts and Nevis receive their fair share of this nation’s prosperity. My administration has a mandate to implement the “Prosperity Agenda”. Our Prosperity Agenda will be substantially complete at the end of Team Unity’s second term in office.
This government is concerned that every family has food on its table, a decent job and a comfortable home in which to live and in secure neighbourhoods. These things will not occur overnight but with the right vision, the right policy and prescriptions, and measurable objectives we can achieve them.
After celebrating our Independence our resolve is even stronger to build an even greater St Kitts and Nevis.
We create jobs in the country by creating sustainable growth. My government is pleased that St Kitts and Nevis, according to the IMF reports, will achieve 5 percent growth this year, the highest level of growth in the Caribbean. Indeed for Latin America and the Caribbean, average growth is estimated at a mere 1.5%. We are more than three times or 300% above average. (See IMF Report “Jobs, Wages and Latin American slowdown” of October 09, 2015, where this original 1.5% growth is now being revised downwards.) Only Panama will experience higher growth, at 5.9 percent. Our Financial Secretary has advised that the IMF estimates for St Kitts and Nevis are quite conservative. Her own projections are for a 7.1 percent growth.
This relatively high level of growth is being projected for St Kitts and Nevis because the country and economic actors, most importantly our citizens and residents, have confidence in the government. We are happy to report the following as part of our economic score card for our new administration:
1. Construction continues apace without significant stoppage. For the first six months of 2015, growth in construction was recorded at 12.3 percent. The heightened activity in the sector was reflected in 97.5 percent increase in building materials sale over the 2014 comparative period January to June.
2. Transport, Storage and Communication grew by 16.7 percent
3. Wholesale and Retail trade up by 10.9 percent, Financial Intermediation Group by 4.8 percent
4. The Hotel sector continues its growth path with projections for opening of Park Hyatt, Embassy Suites, etc, all on track. Tourism grew by 8.4 percent with stay overs growing by 11.5 percent. Arrivals from all markets for example Canada, USA, UK, are up by greater than 6 percent. Cruise passenger arrivals are up by 25.2 percent.
5. Social Security statistics reveal that more businesses are being set up. More businesses means more jobs, more income, and more people on a constructive path to self reliance and prosperity. For the first half of 2015, January to June, Social Security records 304 new businesses registered of which 150 are self employed entities.
6. Consumer Price Index down by 2.0 percent with food and nonalcoholic beverages declining by 9.5 percent thanks to VAT removal on food, etc
7. The financial sector reforms continue. The Bankers’ Association in our last meeting with them on September 22, 2015, commended government for the passage of the FATCA Act and indicated that they are ready for FATCA. Data from commercial banks indicate less than half of 1percent of the accounts on their books are subject to FATCA reporting. The disingenuous noise of an opposition in disarray has no resonance to reality. Pure mischief.
8. We gave a boost to job creation with the EC$13 million/ US $5million Fresh Start Programme that was launched in collaboration with PDV St Kitts and Nevis, the Government of St Kitts and Nevis and the Development Bank of St Kitts and Nevis on September 04, 2015. I am pleased to report that so far over three hundred (300) people have applied for this easy loan financing. EC $1.5 million has been paid out to twenty five applicants. Another fifty eight applicants have been interviewed for loans totaling $6.9 million. A further 217 applications are in process. Thanks to the Government and people of Venezuela.
I caution successful applicants to use this money wisely. Do not squander it. You have to repay it.
SUPPORT FOR LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS
We are concerned that the former government was too occupied with foreign entities and preferred them for soft financing through SIDF at the expense of ordinary people of St Kitts and Nevis and SMEs. Foreign Investors ought to bring more than an idea to St Kitts and Nevis. They ought to bring good money with them, have a real stake in the entities which they set up. Under the by-gone administration “deals” were the order of the day. As those from abroad were better at poker, they often won while the country lost. The investors who ought to have helped us with FDI invariably got a disproportionate share of resources that ought to have gone firstly to assist local people and local entities.
Team Unity is fully supportive of foreign entities. Foreign Direct Investment must add value to our economy. We will provide them a conducive environment in which to do business including strong banks in which to deposit their legitimate funds. But always our country and our people must have pride of place. None can blame us for putting our nationals first.
In same way we regret the former government squandered EC $11million in SEAF project, which was managed by Rosalyn Hazelle at SKIPA. It was a pre election gimmick to win votes. No serious effort was made to hold beneficiaries accountable for repayment. There were cases where candidates, their families, friends were preferred to get funds purported to open businesses, and for other purposes. A candidate, his sister, his aunt, his nephew and niece were all offered large sums. No viable business is there to show for their largesse to any of these beneficiaries. Collections have been horrible. We intend to recover the people’s money. We are not opposed to publishing the names of those owing and are yet to make proper repayment arrangements.
While SEAF collections were disastrously non-existent, we are hard pressed to rationalize the need to pay persons already in the public sector hefty sums while they presided over our SEAF that was neither meeting the test of accountability nor transparency. We have difficulty with the payments to such public officials as Ambassador Steve Wrensford of $50,000 and Rosalyn Hazelle of $76,000. We thank those who since the new day dawned on February 16, 2015, have begun repayments, and we invite those who are delinquent to urgently take steps to repay before the strong arm of the law takes hold.
As of Tuesday, October 06, 2015, only 75 out of 300 persons had repaid any of their indebtedness. These repayments are a mere $171,130 from $11m disbursements.
LAW AND ORDER
Law and Order and our effort to create a more wholesome society.
I am pleased to report the continuing downward trajectory of crime. Crime which was out of control long before the people intervened on February 16, 2015, is trending downward, still high but trending downwards. Our new strategies are bearing fruit.
For the period January – September 2015, relative to January to September 2014, Police reported a drop of 23.5 percent in serious crimes. This is a significant improvement. We are not out of the woods yet. My Cabinet is of the view that one homicide, is one too many. Hence, we have been supporting the Police 6 Point Plan for fighting serious crimes and in particular violent crimes. I am pleased to report that yesterday morning I received a cheque of US $315,000 or EC $850,500, from the Government of Taiwan. These funds will support the extension of the services of the Bramshill Police Advisors out of England, and other initiatives of law and order. Our Police will get the kind of mentoring & capacity building support so critical in the fight against crime. Additionally, we expect a new fleet of vehicles for our law enforcement agencies. I make an appeal to all ranks of Police, from Constables to Commissioner to do more. The wait and see attitude will not solve crime neither will we reward inaction, nor passivism, from our police officers.
I appeal to our citizens to report any information which they may have on any crime. It does not matter, whether the crime was committed recently or long time ago. No crime and no homicide must go unsolved. The life we may save may be our own or that of a family member, a friend of acquaintance.
Second announcement – I can make as we step up our efforts to enhance the peace, safety and security of our countries is that the FBI will be in this week to advance discussions with our Police on how best they can help us achieve the results for which we aim.
Third – Dane Hamilton Q.C., well known criminal attorney is here in St Kitts and Nevis, on special assignment with us for the criminal assizes. The last criminal assizes was a dismal performance by the office of DPP where only 3 of 35 cases were tried. Thirty two (32) cases were traversed to the current September assizes. Dane Hamilton’s support is a constructive boost to the criminal justice system and much tutoring and mentoring can be had by the juniors in the Office of the DPP.
The positive action which my government took to resolve the tenure of former DPP, has brought stability, finality and forward movement to the prosecution. The criminal justice system is best served by a high performing office of DPP. By drawing on the expertise and experience of Dane Hamilton, one of the regions finest, we free criminal justice system for efficacious outcomes. We will not put a price on justice. We are prepared to go all the way to protect our citizens and residents and to preserve the sanctity of the justice system in general and the criminal justice system in particular. In the May assizes, I am advised that five matters were nolle prossed by the former DPP, Mr Sinanan. The consequence of these actions and others is that claims just under $10 million to date confront the taxpayers of this country. Certainly, we could not allow this unnecessary haemorrhage on public purse to continue.
Fourth – We are hoping that by early in 2016, we will witness the official opening of a second High Court sitting in Basseterre. Discussions have been between the office of the Attorney General and the office of the Chief Justice of this most important development.
Fifth – The Criminal Justice Strategic Board is about to be implemented. We are initiating a broad based response of relevant intergovernmental agencies together to create a more wholesome society of less crime and deviance. The Attorney General will initially lead this Board.
Appropriation Warrants for unlawful arrest for 2014 totalling $11 million. Eleven million in 2014, and 10 million in 2015 added up to a desperate need to rescue the criminal justice system. My Government acted at the right time and in the interest of the criminal justice system. Without saying more I say thank God we did.
SUGAR WORKER RESTORATION FUND
We have received hundreds of expressions of commendation from former sugar workers for keeping our promise to pay EC $16 million short fall to them.
We created a transparent system, staffed with independent professionals to determine the best approach to fulfill that promise. That system performed remarkably well. All who felt aggrieved had equal opportunity to apply. In deed, after four months of promotion of the events, the establishment of an office etc. about 3000 persons applications were received, 2311 beneficiaries resulted from the composite criteria involving interalia wages and length of service. I must thank those who served on the Committee. All served without being paid one cent i.e. free of cost.
This is a major success. The last administration said, no money was there to pay, but we found EC$16 million to pay. They failed! We succeeded! They said all who were to be paid were in fact paid. They paid 968 persons, we paid 2311, more than twice the number paid in 2005/06. We disagreed. Nigh 3000 former sugar workers by applying, indicated their dissatisfaction with their payouts in 2005/06. Even some who voted against us had second thoughts and have commended us for the initiative. I have received widespread expressions of “thank you” from hundreds of former sugar workers and their families, many of them from Constituency #6 which has the biggest payout of 500 persons. They acknowledge that whatever they received large or small, they are grateful because had the bygone Douglas Administration returned they would have received not one cent more. Now whatever they have received is due to my administration’s good work and the trust and friendship we have with the Government of Venezuela.
Same Stats on our Payout
As of last Friday, October 09, 2015, a total of EC $9,184,927 was paid out to 1,532 of the 2,311 persons who will benefit from the EC $16,000,000 Sugar Workers Restoration Fund.
The Secretariat continues to make it easy for persons to receive their cheques expeditiously by putting in place mechanisms for home delivery to those who cannot come to the office. A total of forty one cheques have been delivered. The amount paid via this facilitative method is EC $497,722.
The Secretariat has also commenced processing of documents for those claiming on behalf of deceased persons. This is done with the support of a battery of lawyers at the Secretariat who not only validate documents but who also provide free document preparation services to those persons in need.
The lawyers are Mrs Agatha James, Ms Denise Alleyne and Mr Delara Mac Clure Taylor. Their services are available at the Secretariat from Monday to Friday. The Secretariat will be calling claimants to make appointments.
The election losers are bitter. The citizens and residents of our country are pleased with their Team Unity government and its delivery.