It is my great honour and privilege to address the nation as Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the People’s Action Movement (PAM), which along with the Concerned Citizens’ Movement (CCM) and the People’s Labour Party (PLP) officially launched the historic Team Unity Movement five years ago today on September 26th
On that electric night in Greenlands Park, we announced Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris – now the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis – as our leader, to much acclaim.
Five years ago today, an enthusiastic crowd representing all ages, political persuasions and walks of life turned out in overwhelming numbers at Greenlands to express a desire for change, better representation and accountability. It was clear then – as it would become on Election Day 2015 – that Team Unity had sprung up from the experiences, hopes and voices of the ordinary people.
Our supporters felt as though they had a stake in the success of Team Unity. This sense of investment is best captured in the words of Mr. Elvis Manners, aka Jam Down, a Team Unity stalwart. He once said passionately at a town hall meeting that, “Jam Down ain’ build nothing to mash up!”
Although Team Unity represented different political parties, we were united by our love of country and for each other – and we still are. In recognition of this bond, someone shouted out Family during one of our early meetings at OOJJ’s Conference Centre and the word quickly gained wide acceptance by Team Unity supporters and well-wishers.
On February 16th, 2015, the people spoke loudly and clearly, giving Team Unity a resounding victory with seven out of the 11 federal seats going to PAM, CCM and PLP.
Today, on the 5th Anniversary of Team Unity’s launch, I take this opportunity to say a very heartfelt thank you on behalf of Prime Minister Harris and our Cabinet colleagues, and to assure the nation that we shall not let up in serving and empowering all of you, irrespective of how you voted.
We have come too far and achieved too much for you, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis, to stop now.
We have shown our commitment to working in your best interests by passing the Freedom of Information Bill, bringing the Integrity in Public Life Act into force and operationalizing the Integrity Commission – and we will soon move forward to enact legislation aimed at putting an end to the draconian debtors’ jail.
So far this year, we have convened the people’s Parliament seven times. This stands in sharp contrast to 2014 when there were only three sittings, and the Speaker of the House continued to ignore the Motion of No Confidence.
Since December 11th, 2012, the Motion of No Confidence had been lodged with the Clerk of the National Assembly by then Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Mark Brantley, who is now Premier of Nevis and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Federal Cabinet.
For more than two years, the Motion of No Confidence was never tabled, depriving the parliamentarians of the opportunity to debate and vote on it in the Federal Parliament.
That was not the only injustice!
Who can forget the Douglas regime’s infamous introduction of the 17% value-added tax on food and medicines, the 85% increase in electricity tariff plus a surcharge, or the over 600% increase in our water bills?
Since the early days of our Team Unity Government, we have established compassionate policies – such as the removal of VAT from food, medicines and funeral expenses and the electricity surcharge – to right the wrongs of Denzil Douglas and his regime.
Who can also forget that, under their lackadaisical watch, St. Kitts and Nevis amassed enormous debt, with the public debt-to-GDP ratio ballooning to roughly 200% at one point? (Source: IMF Country Report No. 11/270).
To add insult to injury, between 2011 and 2014, the Douglas regime imposed a wage freeze on civil servants and took away their increments. In sharp contrast, the Team Unity Government has launched a $30-million-dollar property ownership programme for government employees and paid them a 13-month (double) salary for the past two consecutive years.
Our year-on-year surpluses have allowed the Team Unity Government to do this and so much more, in stark contrast to the period 2009 to 2012 when the economy had shrunk by 10.2%.
To further combat poverty in St. Kitts and Nevis and leave no one behind on the path to sustainable development, the Team Unity Government has committed to provide financial support in the amount of EC$500 per month to households with a total gross monthly income below EC$3,000.
We are also assisting the people of Nevis, staying true to the Charlestown Accord, which the leaders of the political parties comprising Team Unity signed on December 17th, 2014. This has brought newfound equity in the relationship between the Federal entity and the Nevis Island Administration, resulting in regular budgetary support and the SIDF’s funding of projects in Nevis.
The greatly enhanced relationship between St. Kitts and Nevis is a far cry from the dark day that will forever live in infamy – April 23rd, 2014 – the day the Douglas-controlled St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank dishonoured the cheques issued by the Nevis Island Administration to pay the salaries and wages of public servants. These hardworking public servants went to collect their cheques, but were told to hold on because of a roughly $62 million-dollar overdraft that the CCM administration had inherited in January 2013.
On the 5th Anniversary of Team Unity’s launch, my Cabinet colleagues and I reflect on exactly why the people of St. Kitts and Nevis wanted a change, and we consider how much our Team Unity Government has righted the ship. We encourage all of you to do the same.
In 2014, there was the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (FinCEN’s) advisory, plus the Canadian government’s revocation of our visa-free status. St. Kitts and Nevis’ passports were also issued for a time with the country of origin concealed; the fallout from this fiasco prompted the Douglas administration to issue an urgent passport recall in December 2014.
Today, we can proudly say that qualified St. Kitts and Nevis passport holders are no longer required to undergo a visa renewal interview at the U.S. Embassy in Barbados. This recent development is a strong indication of the much-improved relationship and goodwill between the United States and the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis under the Team Unity Government.
We can also be proud that independent analysts rank St. Kitts and Nevis as the best performing government in the OECS and CARICOM. For instance, on the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index for 2017 to 2018, St. Kitts and Nevis has a global rank of 28.
The World Justice Project says, “Effective rule of law reduces corruption, combats poverty and disease, and protects people from injustices large and small. It is the foundation of communities of peace, opportunity and equity — underpinning development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights.”
Five years ago today, we entered a watershed moment that opened the doors to genuine unity and cooperation in our country; the Team Unity Movement has been building up our nation and creating history with a sense of purpose and justice ever since.
We are committed to this idea of unity, recognizing that it is bigger than all of us. We also recognize that the vision we had five years ago will always live on inside of us – as long as we stay focused on serving all of the people and ensuring a more cohesive country.
We shall not let up in serving and empowering all of you, the citizens and residents of this fair land. We have come too far and achieved too much for you, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis, to stop now.
To my Team Unity colleagues, I say a sincere thank you for staying the course and doing the hard work that the people of St. Kitts and Nevis needed to be done. It is a wonderful experience to serve with all of you, and I – as well as so many – look forward to many more years to come as we continue working as a team.
May God bless us all!