Opening Statement by the Hon. Prime Minister, Dr. Timothy Harris at his monthly Press Conference on December 04, 2019 in the Parliamentary Lounge

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As Prepared for Delivery

Introduction

Good afternoon.

My fellow citizens and residents, it is a pleasure to account to you again on the many things we are doing to move St. Kitts and Nevis further in the right direction. Before I get into the thrust of my presentation, allow me to reflect on the end of the 2019 Hurricane Season, which started on June 01, 2019 and ended officially on Saturday, November 30, 2019.

We should as a Nation give thanks to God for sparing us from the ravages of the 2019 Hurricane Season. Many storms made their appearance. We experienced troughs, tropical waves and cyclones, which caused coastal erosion and mudslides, as well as damage to a few private properties.  Our road resurfacing was interrupted. But we give thanks. We fared relatively well compared to other countries such as the Bahamas. I thank the Co-Cathedral of Immaculate Conception for hosting our grateful Nation in worship last Sunday as we thanked God for his grace and mercies during the 2019 Hurricane Season.

Commendations are in order for the Honourable Attorney General Vincent Byron Jr. to whom I delegated responsibilities as the Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial National Emergency Operations Committee. Mr. Abdias Samuel has so far done an excellent job as Director of NEMA.We experienced better levels of preparedness in 2019. The Committees responded well to adverse weather developments and quickly mobilized to deal with issues arising from the storms. Within 24 hours, Joseph Riley of Stone Haven, Molyneux whose house was rendered uninhabitable was relocated with his family in Basseterre.  Roads rendered impassable by mudslides at Lodge Village were cleared quickly and SKELEC and Public Works were very efficient in dealing with falling electricity poles, overhanging trees and other encumbrances.

We are working to ensure our resilience to Hurricanes.  In this regard, NEMA has advised that a committee of experts should be established to conduct vulnerability assessments and provide long term recommendations to address a number of vulnerable areas in the Federation. This Committee will be led by the National Disaster Coordinator and be comprised of public and private sector partners.

One of the goals of such a Committee will be to strengthen the Infrastructure in the interest of Public Safety and Security.

TURNING TO THE ECONOMY

  • More jobs especially for women
It gives me great pleasure to stand before you today and report that St. Kitts & Nevis continues to be headed in the right direction.

For the period January to August 2019, there was an average of 25,877 jobs per month, which was higher than the comparative period last year. The Top 5 economic sectors creating work for our people were as follows: 10,061 (39%) of jobs were found in the public sector; 3,140 (12%) in the hotel and restaurant sector; 2,884 (11%) in wholesale and retail trade; 1,547 (6%) jobs in transport, storage and communication, and 1,481 (6%) jobs in manufacturing.

Of the average of 25,877 jobs, 13,955 (54%) were held by females and 11,922 (46%) of the jobs were held by males. More women are in the workplace than men. On average, gross monthly wages were $82 million per month up from $81 million in 2018. There were just under 1,500 active employers in St. Kitts and Nevis.

More people working, more opportunities for young people – that’s the Team Unity’s way!

Our competent and capable leadership has resulted in more business investment, more tourists, safer streets and communities. Data made available from the Ministry of Finance indicate that as at the end of October 2019, 601 approvals were granted for business licence applications. This is the largest approval ever in history. Approvals covered the following areas: real estate, carpentry, farming, landscaping, restaurants, car rentals and trucking. We applaud the new entrants in the world of industry, business and commerce and we wish them well.

We can now look forward to a stronger and safer future with Team Unity. Our Fresh Start loan financing gave a head start and a fresh start to many small businesses.  Some continue to do well and provide good examples of success by local entrepreneurs.

  • Life under Labour
As we prepare for the Budget next week, it is worth recalling where we were just four and half short years ago.

Labour’s legacy to our great country was an economy with one of the highest debt ratios in the world.

Then Finance Minister Denzil Douglas admitted our debt levels had risen beyond our capacity to pay.  Indeed, we could not pay our civil servants without the IMF’s support.  He imposed a freeze on increments in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  He increased the electricity charges by 85 percent and our water bills increased by 600 percent.

Because Labour could not manage money, in 2015 St. Kitts and Nevis owed the IMF $117,000,000 out of the $234 million borrowed in 2011.

Instead of our money paying to make our streets safer, build bigger and better houses and create more new jobs, Labour’s debt saw our money leave our Federation.

The people will never forget Labour’s debt.  They will never forget the deficit spending year after year that brought us such pain and international shame later on.

Labour put our economy in debt, they allowed tourist numbers to stagnate, they sold off land instead of using it for housing and they let our streets and communities stay tense and unsafe.

There was no real hope, no real opportunities for our young people.

Thankfully, our IMF debt has been paid off by this Team Unity Government and those dark, stormy days are now behind us.

Today, we have a strong, safe and better future to look forward to, driven in part by increases in tourism.

TOURISM

For the period January to November 2019, we welcomed around 914,959 cruise passengers and recorded 139,550 air passenger arrivals. To date over 1 million persons have visited St. Kitts and Nevis – the most scenic country in our region. 7,249 flights have been recorded by end of November 2019 compared to 7,118 over the same period in 2018.  Incoming flights have increased in 2019.

Our appealing and attractive tourist destination is heading in the right direction.

Recently we welcomed the luxury cruise ship, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE on her inaugural visit.

I want to draw your attention to the public comments by Florian Richard, Captain of LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, when he said, and I quote:

“St. Kitts is recommendable… the island is absolutely beautiful and safe.” He went on to say that, “We will see an increase (in the number of cruise ships) for St. Kitts in the next few years.” 

It is exciting that we will be welcoming more tourists from the seas and from the air as well.

In November, both American and Delta Air Lines announced that they will be extending their existing non-stop Saturday flights to St. Kitts from JFK to include the month of May 2020.

This will provide continuous service from peak season through to summer.

Very welcome news.  More tourists mean more jobs and more opportunities for our young people to reach their full potential. A safer St. Kitts and Nevis is a prosperous St. Kitts & Nevis and we look forward to welcoming more and more cruise ships. To enhance tourist safety, we introduced Tourism Island Constables, we trained them and strategically placed them at most tourist attractions – Port Zante, St George’s Anglican Church, at the Independence Square, etc.

New jobs and new opportunities are also coming from other sectors of our economy.

MERCHANDISE TRADE

Our merchandise export by sea increased by 179% from 23,883 tons for the period January to November 2018 to 66,628 tons for the period January to November 2019. Our outbound cargo by air increased from 260 tons in (Jan-Nov) 2018 to 267 tons for the comparative period in 2019. This speaks to a recovery in manufacturing volume notwithstanding competitive challenges from China and elsewhere.  We have to compete globally. The increased production is reflected in more jobs being available.

Kajola Kristada boasts 222 jobs in 2019, almost doubling its 117 jobs in 2018. Kajola started a second shift this year and added 2 new production lines. Jaro Electronics provides 319 jobs in 2019 versus 270 in 2018.  Importantly, the majority of the workers made redundant by Lutron Liamuiga were absorbed at Jaro.  To date, Jaro has provided jobs to 40 such workers.  I am told Jaro this year paid a 10 percent merit increase.  Jaro anticipates that it will increase employment by another 50 in 2020.

API Harowe Servo in Sandy Point provided 225 jobs in 2019 maintaining the same employment level as 2018. Harowe has paid out $6.2 million in wages and salaries up to October 2019.  The Brewery provided 140 jobs in 2019 versus 130 jobs in 2018. Last year, for the period January to November, the Brewery produced 944,342 cases of beverages.  This year to date 1,039,286 cases have already been produced. For the second time in a row in its 59th year of operation in St. Kitts and Nevis and only under Team Unity, Carib Brewery (St. Kitts) Ltd. will surpass 1 million cases of drinks produced in a single year. Jobs are assured. Wages are assured, and hopefully bonuses too. Sun Island Clothing provided 78 jobs in 2019 versus 58 in 2018.

EARLY PAYOUTS

As a further stimulus for December 2019, my Government announced a number of concessions and early payouts.

Additionally, the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank is set to pay out a record 15% dividend per share ($20.3 million) at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) slated for December 09, 2019.  This represents a 50% increase over $13.5 million paid in 2018.

By way of reminder, the Government’s monthly workers will be paid their double salary on December 13, 2019. Beneficiaries of the hugely successful and popular Poverty Alleviation Programme will also receive their payouts on December 13, 2019.  Our Government Auxiliary Workers at the Water Department, Public Works Department, etc. will receive their honorarium on December 13, 2019. This honorarium was taken away from them by the last Government in 2007.  My Government restored it because we must be fair to our workers. They need every single dollar due to them.  An additional $45m will be pumped into the economy by the Government payouts to a broad cross section of employees of the NIA and Federal Government.

THE FUTURE

The investment we are seeing in our Federation reflects the strength of our economy.  Significant construction activity is taking place as we resurface our island main road, establish walkways for our people, build more homes and repair others, reconstruct the Old Road Fisheries project and make Old Road Bay main road safer, better and bigger. New Projects like the Community Centre at Lodge/Ottleys have started to bring more jobs and a salary to several households. These construction projects will continue into 2020.

Our economy is strong, in part, because we repaid Labour’s IMF debt.

We can now focus on building better communities.

SPORT AND YOUTH DEVELOPMENT

Our upgrade of sporting grounds around the Island continues as we provide more opportunities for young people to reach their full potential. The Ministry of Sports has done very good work at sport facilities in St. Mary’s Cayon, Conaree, Mansion, Sandy Point, Kim Collins Athletic Stadium at Bird Rock, Trinity/Boyds, Challengers, Tabernacle, to name a few.

November also saw scientific opportunities open up for our young people. Minister Eugene Hamilton announced the construction of a national veterinary diagnostic lab, which will advance our fight against antimicrobial resistance. The national veterinary diagnostic lab will test sick animals where possible to determine the most effective and prudent antibiotics to treat their specific infection.  The facility is expected to position St. Kitts and Nevis as a leader in the region.  Several facilities offering work in the health and science field will open in the New Year.

It is pleasing to report that yet again we are seeing more opportunities, in more sectors for our young people.

KEEPING OUR STREETS SAFER

A strong economy comes, in part, from a safe society.

Your Team Unity Government will never shirk our responsibility to keep our streets and our communities safe.

This past month our measures to reduce crime have been acknowledged by our regional partners.  Members of the Police High Command presented our Crime Reduction Strategy at a meeting organised by the National Crime Agency out of the United Kingdom in Barbados.

  • Making our streets safer
We should be proud that our efforts are being acknowledged and other nations are looking for us to share what we are learning. Things are changing for the better in St. Kitts and Nevis. Every progressive citizen and resident commend the government on the success of the Peace Initiative. It is the most successful intervention over the last 20 years. Those opposed to peace threaten to stop the peace initiative if they were to get back into power. They want to take money from poor young men who have been given a second chance to find real work to help their mother and young children and are being rewarded for an honest day’s labour. These young men are pursuing alternative paths of responsible living while avoiding crime and violence. The young men in McKnight, Shadwell, St. Peters, up the Village, Newtown and Cayon must not let the opposition get back in office to rob them of their second chance. Our citizens and residents, our businessmen and women, our church leaders know that the peace is worth it. The senseless killing of young black men in St. Kitts and Nevis could not continue. Those who held Government before us did not care enough to do everything in their power to restore peace and curb homicides in our land. Team Unity cares and Team Unity has succeeded where the last inept administration failed to keep our people and our streets safe.

The peace is palpable everywhere. Gang warfare has disappeared for the last 9 months. The peace is making life and living better.  Congratulations, young men!  You are doing good.  Do not weary in doing well.  Congrats to the Police, Defence Force and our Initial Engagement Team, and supporting families and businesses!  Thanks for bringing calm, peace and happiness.

The last administration stigmatized our young men, calling them insulting names. We do not agree that when young men kill each other there is a purging of our society.  The Prime Minister who overstayed his welcome told us he did not care about the killings. He said it was like water running down his back. Yes, he did not care.

Conclusion

  • Heading in the Right Direction
Our Federation is heading in the right direction because your Team Unity Leadership is working in a new way.

We are achieving real results and delivering new opportunities for our young people.

We need to see these opportunities through to completion.

The strides and progress made over the last 4 years did not happen by accident and could be lost very quickly if the election losers were to return to power to pursue their selfish projects.

These gains need to be locked in.

Only Team Unity has the leadership, the people and the policies to secure a stronger, safer future and provide real opportunities to our young people.

Trust us with your future. We will keep St. Kitts & Nevis heading in the right direction.

We will keep delivering real opportunities for young people. Work with Team Unity to make St. Kitts and Nevis better for us all.

I pause now for questions from the media.