The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis is moving forward, and this is indisputable.
As it relates to Social Security, the first full three years of my Team Unity administration set an impressive record, registering the highest annual wage bill, the largest number of contributors, the largest number of employees, and the largest number of jobs.
This is a marked contrast to the negative growth that marred the first half of the previous administration’s final term. Indeed, St. Kitts and Nevis enjoyed above average economic growth in the first three years of my administration, and we are projecting a 3.5 percent growth rate for 2018.
The Federation is enjoying unparalleled progress on almost every front, with the St. Christopher and Nevis Social Security Board doing its part to contribute further to our country’s remarkable socioeconomic development.
As the Social Security Board celebrates its 40th anniversary under the theme Progressing Beyond 40 – Resolving to Reach All, I commend it for embarking upon an accountable and responsible investment strategy based on sound advice, community impact, and social return on investment (SROI) as measured through the potential for countless new jobs and a markedly improved quality of life for our citizens and residents.
I take this opportunity not only to congratulate the Social Security Board on reaching 40 years, but also to record my Government’s gratitude for its unwavering commitment and support. Notably, it has financed our $60 million-dollar developmental project that will result in the National Housing Corporation and the Nevis Housing and Land Development Corporation building hundreds of homes for low-income families and creating a wide array of jobs in the construction sector.
Recently, Social Security also came on board to help finance the second cruise pier – the Nation’s largest capital project yet – pledging US$7 million of the US$48 million cost.
The local labour force will again be expanded, as recruitment of pier construction workers starts in March 2018. Moreover, the additional pier will be an even greater boon to the workers in the thriving tourism industry who are gearing up to welcome a record 1.5 million cruise passengers per annum to our shores.
Fresh off of celebrating our third anniversary in office under the theme Opening Doors and Creating Opportunities Through Empowerment and Service, my Government fully endorses Social Security’s expanding reach, which is critical to safeguarding its longevity and continued capacity to fulfill its obligations to the constituents it serves.
In progressing beyond 40 and extending its lifespan, the Board must consider the reality that St. Kitts and Nevis has a growing retiree population that is living longer.
The 2015 Human Development Report on St. Kitts and Nevis compiled by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says life expectancy at birth was 73.8 years in 2014, 70.2 years in 2000, 67.3 years in 1990 and 65 years in 1980, three years after the St. Christopher and Nevis Social Security Act, number 13 of 1977 was passed.
I am proud to note that my Government initiated the annual national observance of Centenarian’s Day on the 31st of May, to honour our citizens and residents who are 100 years or older. As at May 31st, 2017, there were 11 centenarians living in St. Kitts and six on Nevis.
This means that when the Social Security Act was passed, these 17 persons would have been approximately three years away from the retirement age of 62. They have lived at least 38 years past retirement – almost as long as the Social Security Board has been in existence.
As people live longer, more money leaves Social Security’s coffers. It must therefore look to ways of taking more money in while protecting the livelihoods of its beneficiaries. Cutting benefits is not an option for my caring Government, neither is it a compassionate and tenable policy for the tens of thousands of people in St. Kitts and Nevis who depend on Social Security.
On behalf of the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis, I applaud the Social Security Board for taking on a very active and sensitive role in nation building, which also entails investment in the form of scholarships. The Social Security Board has positively impacted hundreds of students through its Susanna Lee High School Scholarship, the Robert Manning M.B.E University Financial Assistance Award and the Stanley Amory Technical Scholarship.
Its proactive stance in precipitating continued economic growth works to everyone’s advantage – a surge in the pool of educated workers and in contributions from employees and employers ensures Social Security’s stability, universality and viability.
N.B. This message by Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris is to appear in a special commemorative magazine that will be issued by the St. Christopher and Nevis Social Security Board in October 2018.