It is my distinct honour and privilege as Acting Prime Minister to address the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce’s banquet this year with special remarks on behalf of the Government.
You are vital partners to our Government, and I salute and commend you on the enormous economic contribution you make to our islands. You create jobs, especially for our young people, and in doing so improve the quality and standards of living for all our people.
The work the Chamber does in nurturing and creating the right environment for jobs and fostering sustainable economic growth is crucial to the future of our Federation.
Nearly one hundred member companies of the Chamber represent the business community in the Federation including the Services Sector, Manufacturing, Import, Export and Distribution, Information Technology, Agriculture, Tourism, Education, Health and Community Development. Your businesses are micro, small, medium and large enterprises, and although you are of varying sizes and specialties, your purpose is the same: working together to build a better future for all our people.
The honour of speaking at tonight’s banquet is doubled, coming as it does during the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Chamber, which was incorporated on June 18th, 1949.
St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce: Understanding the Past
Students of history would know that the Chamber’s incorporation came four years after the full publication of the Report of the West India Royal Commission. It was known simply as The Moyne Report after Lord Moyne who headed the commission. The report was written in 1938 following the British government’s call for a sweeping investigation into the causes of the major protests that swept across the Caribbean in the mid- to late-1930s; however the findings of the report were not published fully until July 1945 near the end of the Second World War.
Here at home, the Buckley’s Uprising of January 28th and 29th, 1935 was a major labour protest that served as a conduit for the working class people to voice their frustrations over the deplorable conditions under which they lived.
At Buckley’s Estate, a dozen cane cutters with wage grievances started a protest because they were denied a pay increase to one shilling (12 pence) for every ton of cane that they would cut. Their rate of pay was eight pence per ton. They – with a group of women who packed and tied bundles of cane on the estate – marched, along with their children, from one estate to the next over the course of two days until most of the estate workers in St. Kitts had joined the movement.
Three years later, at the time of its writing in 1938, the Moyne Report painted a bleak but true picture of the desperate living and working conditions in the British Caribbean territories. Largely as a consequence of the dire findings in the 480-page-long Moyne Report – which has been described as the most damning official report of West Indian life ever written – the British government established a policy of colonial development that emphasized the strong linkages between social welfare and economic growth.
Among other things, Lord Moyne argued for an annual grant of one million pounds from the Imperial Exchequer for a period of 20 years, to finance education, health and vital development projects spanning urban and rural planning, land settlement, social welfare and the like.
Importantly, the Commission he led also recommended the establishment of local labour departments to monitor labour relations and promote the development of trade unionism within the colonies.
It made sense, therefore, that right here at home a Chamber of Commerce would be formed in just a matter of years – in 1949 – to further the interests of businesses.
After all, to foster a strong economy, it is essential that employers, workers and governments have a strong tripartite relationship. This was brought to the fore this week as we in St. Kitts and Nevis celebrated the 100th anniversary of the creation of the International Labour Organization (ILO) with a Conference, a church service and other activities.
By 1940, the Colonial Office set out to improve the British colonies and in 1941, Lord Moyne was appointed as His Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies. In announcing Lord Moyne’s new appointment, a noted international journal referred to his QUOTE “first-hand acquaintance with the problems of backward peoples.” UNQUOTE
Forward Ever, Backward Never
Seventy-eight years later, the Team Unity administration has moved St. Kitts and Nevis forward by leaps and bounds – and forward on we shall continue to go, looking backward only to assess and appreciate how far we have come.
It was Marcus Garvey who said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” When Garvey delivered a powerful address at the Mutual Improvement Society in St. Kitts two years after the Buckley’s Uprising, he also encouraged our forebears to QUOTE “make St. Kitts your Garden of Eden.” UNQUOTE
Marcus Garvey would be smiling now, if he were here to see that we have done just that.
Our progressive and fresh approach has set the Country we love on the right direction, to take our place on the regional and international stage. God has blessed us with two precious islands. He has made us a strong, resourceful and resilient people, and he has bestowed on us a drive and ambition that are necessary to safeguard and capitalize on all the gifts, talents and opportunities that he has given us.
We must work together to maximize our potential for the benefit of all our people.
In our first four years, Team Unity is putting our people and our Country first, by arresting the fall in living standards and reversing the decline of our economy. Our approach has brought our country together and shown the power of togetherness. It’s an approach I hope can be taken globally as well.
We are healing the wounds that have divided the people of our twin islands. Our resolve is to build lasting bridges of cooperation and partnership between both our islands. We have achieved this by pursuing a roadmap to bring equity, fairness and development to the people of St Kitts and Nevis.
I am pleased to inform you that as at June 2019, St. Kitts and Nevis’ debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 55.5 percent. This is according to data from the Ministry of Finance. Remarkably, this is a 35 percent improvement over June 2014 when our debt-to-GDP ratio was 85 percent, according to the Ministry of Finance.
The further good news is that: although it was reported that we attained the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union’s (ECCU’s) target benchmark of 60 percent in December 2018 – becoming the first independent state in the ECCU to do so 12 years ahead of the target date – I have learned that, based on revised GDP numbers the Ministry of Finance just received this month, St. Kitts and Nevis actually outdid itself by attaining the 60 percent debt-to-GDP ratio not in December 2018, but even earlier…in March 2016 – 13 months after the Team Unity administration took office.
After taking office, we promptly paid off the $117 million debt that was owed to the IMF, which the former administration left the people of this country. To that past, we must never go back.
Under the former administration, the total public debt ballooned to an estimated US $1.05 billion (about 200 percent of GDP). To that past, we must never go back.
We must never go back to being a backward people, strangled as we once were by the noose of 17 percent value-added tax (VAT) on food, medicines and funeral expenses, in addition to an 85 percent increase in electricity tariff and significant increases in our water bills. Those were the days when wage freezes were imposed on our public sector workforce for four consecutive years (2011 to 2014); now, under our administration, we have given them a double salary each December for four consecutive years (2016 to 2019).
To the past, we must never go back – back to that time when workers and consumers had less money to work with and employers restricted their hiring.
Indeed, we paid down our debt so that our people wouldn’t have to suffer anymore and that they would have a chance to progress rather than being relegated to a backward state. As a result, fewer people are feeling squeezed, and our $500 a month Poverty Alleviation programme also provides a buffer.
As Lord Moyne acknowledged some 80 years ago, Team Unity recognizes the strong linkages between social welfare and economic growth.
This aligns with our vision for universal health care and education; the latter has seen each child in our 15 public early childhood centres receiving $25.00 weekly as a subvention. The vast majority of private early childhood centres are also benefiting from this subvention, with parents paying the balance of the amount charged for childcare and pre-school education services. At least 300 citizens are also receiving support to pursue studies around the world – the largest number on record. These achievements make me feel especially proud as the Minister responsible for Education.
As part of our Government’s mission to transform and enrich the lives of students throughout the country, we will continue to place much emphasis on the training of educators.
This is why the Government recently invested in fifty teachers to engage in a Masters Programme of study in education leadership and other areas of engagement in collaboration with the University of the West Indies.
This is the first time in the history of our education system that such expenditure has come to the fore where so many teachers are benefiting from post-graduate training.
Importantly, this is representative of the kinds of investments that we are making to ensure that we have quality human resource to take our country to the next stage of its development.
Working Together, Embracing the Future
And developing rapidly it is… At US$17,925 in 2017, our per capita GDP is the highest in the OECS and the second (2nd) highest in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region.
The Financial Secretary has advised our administration that our economy is projected to record robust growth of 3.7 percent for 2019. For the 5th year in a row, our economy is growing.
Figures from the Inland Revenue Department show that the business registration base in St. Kitts increased from 5,084 in 2014 to 7,483 as of September 2019, which represents a 47 percent increase in the number of businesses registered and a net gain of 2,399 businesses. 2019 has seen an average registration of 43 registered businesses per month. If this trend continues for the last quarter of the year, it is expected that 2019 business registration numbers should be the highest ever registered by the Inland Revenue Department.
This acceleration in the growth of the business sector is due in part to the Small Business Assistant Funding that is been provided by Government and the on-going compliance activities of the Inland Revenue Department to ensure that all businesses are registered.
As it was reported during the recent National Consultation on the Economy, the Transport, Storage and Communications Services Sector, which contributes about 14.8 percent to GDP, is estimated to grow by 5.3 percent in 2019. The Financial Services Sector, which contributes 11.8 percent to GDP, is estimated to grow by 2.7 percent in 2019. Construction activity, which contributes 17.8 percent to GDP, is anticipated to expand by 4.3 percent in 2019. This is reflected in the surge in construction activity in both public and private sectors.
Our Country’s Citizenship-by-Investment Programme, which is the oldest of its kind and is now in its 35th year, has also experienced a reputational surge. Moreover, the 2019 CBI Index published by The Financial Times’ Professional Wealth Management Special Report ranks St. Kitts and Nevis as one of the top two CBI programmes in the world. St. Kitts-Nevis gets an excellent overall score of 89% and a perfect 10 out of 10 on the criteria of Mandatory Travel or Residence, Citizenship Timeline and Due Diligence. The CBI Index also gives St. Kitts and Nevis 9 out of 10 for Ease of Processing, as well as for Minimum Investment Outlay, and 8 out of 10 for Freedom of Movement.
Additionally, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis has one of the top 25 passports in the world and our passport is ranked 1st in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. The publisher of the 2019 CBI Index notes that the Foreign Ministry of St. Kitts and Nevis has made a particularly noteworthy push to expand travel offerings for citizens.
We are also proud to have the world’s 30th best rule of law performance amongst the 126 countries compared on the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index for 2019. St. Kitts and Nevis’ rule of law performance is 1st in the OECS and 2nd in the wider Caribbean region.
In November 2016, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis was honoured with two awards for outstanding improvements in ICT development during the 14th World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium, having climbed a remarkable 20 spots on the International Telecommunication Union’s ICT Development Index for the year 2016 – by far the most improved country.
On the most recent ICT Development Index (2017), St. Kitts and Nevis ranks #37 out of 176 countries listed – and again we are the highest ranking country in the OECS and we rank 2nd in the wider Caribbean region.
As a government, we did not achieve all of this alone.
Tonight, I want to thank all members of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce who joined this journey with us and did the hard work to turn our economy around and get our nation moving in the right direction.
Together we have come so far but there is more still to do. We are heading in the right path, but we cannot take progress for granted. Working together with a unified approach we can create even more jobs and build better lives for all our people.
For 70 years the Chamber of Industry and Commerce has been a strong champion for building a better future. Your Industry body has fought strongly for the values and beliefs of its members and achieved real results.
Due to our combined efforts, today our nation is heading in the right direction. Our people feel safer, have more opportunities and our finances are more stable.
All of us in this room know we didn’t get here by accident. We got here because a group of individuals put the people before politics and before party.
We worked together with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce for the betterment out of Islands. And we are delivering on our plan to deliver an even stronger, brighter future.
We face social, economic, political and cultural challenges as a Country, and threats to the well-being and advancement of our people, but we are determined to defeat them permanently.
We have overcome slavery, colonialism, racial discrimination and political conflict. So let us all continue working together, as people who truly love this beautiful land of ours, and keep our nation heading in the right direction.
We stand on the verge of a prosperous future. It is a future we can look to with both pride and confidence.
We thank God for the blessings He has given our Islands and for the wonderful first 70 years he has given the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. May God continue to bless St. Kitts and Nevis.
May He also bless the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and deliver you another 70 years of growth, prosperity and strength.