Fellow citizens, residents and media, it is with delight and a sense of humility that I take this opportunity to speak to our citizens and residents of the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis, and to invite all of us to help build a most beautiful and prosperous St Kitts and Nevis. I am pleased to report that the prosperity agenda is a work in progress and, so far, significant milestones are being achieved.
Take for example, our Country was one of the best performing states in the OECS, CARICOM, CDB borrowing member states, ECLAC, and the Americas for 2015. For 2016 we continue to put in an above-average performance. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) projects a moderation of economic growth in 2016, and a modest 2.6 percent for the currency union as a whole. We are expecting that we will record a growth rate of just about 3 percent. Our projected growth rate can be compared favorably to that of the UK (1.8%), USA (1.6%), Canada (1.2%), and Europe (1.7%). The IMF recent country report tells us that St Kitts and Nevis will lead the region in 2017 with a projected growth of 3.5 percent. International reports paint a picture of St Kitts and Nevis with a robust economy and above average performer globally. While we are inspired by that recognition we will not sit on our laurels.
Our inflation rate is negative 0.9 percent as at June 2016. Lower prices were reflected in food and non-alcoholic beverages (down 5.7 percent), and transport (down 2.6 percent). This reduction in the inflationary costs has been attributed by the IMF to my Government’s VAT removal policy and more economical prices for energy.
Our fiscal accounts up to September 2016 record a recurrent surplus of $120.3 million, an overall surplus of $124.2 million and primary surplus of $141.6 million. Coming out of the Monetary Council Meeting held last Friday, October 21, 2016, we know that St Kitts and Nevis is projected by the ECCB to have the highest primary balance in the sub-region for the 2016-2018 period. This is a major achievement for our new administration.
Recurrent Revenue for the first nine months totaled $480.7 million – 9 percent above the 2016 budget. Tax Revenue of $293.6 million was up over budget and the 2015 comparator. I am delighted to report that, relative to the budget, favourable variances were realized in all categories of revenue except taxes on international trade and transactions. This reduction is a consequence of tax concessions which we have been according to businesses and hotels of all types.
On the expenditure front, personal emoluments, wages and allowances of $154.2 million constitute 43 percent of recurrent expenditure. Pay for performance, and increased efficiencies will be pursued continually by my Administration. Government recorded savings in relation to last year from claims against Government, particularly claims associated with the Angelus Resort settlement, professional and consultancy fees, insurance expenses. Interest payments were lower than the budget by 23.9 percent, due in part to decreases in interest payments on bonds and treasury bills. In keeping with our Manifesto pledge to provide budgetary support to the NIA, I am pleased to say such subventions now total over $40 million.
Update on Budget Preparation Process
The Budget preparation cycle runs from January to December of each year culminating with the presentation of the Budget Address and Draft Budget Estimates in the National Assembly. The National Consultation on the Economy and the Estimates Committee Meetings are two prominent events in the Cycle. We are well on the way with the preparation of the 2017 Budget having concluded the Estimates Committee Meetings which provided an important forum for information sharing, decision making and policy formulation.
The 2016 Annual Estimates Committee Meetings were held from October 12-14th, to consider budget proposals from all Ministries, for 2017. Cabinet is determined that the Government should continue on its path of fiscal prudence that has led to the realization of a notable surplus on the main fiscal accounts. In addition, the Cabinet has given a commitment that there would be a balance budget for 2017.
Going forward, there would be a concerted effort to improve efficiency in the implementation of capital projects and the overall Public Sector Investment Programme. This will ensure that the Public Sector continues to directly contribute to the economic growth in the Federation. The Cabinet has already approved a number of significant projects involving public infrastructure, education, and the health and security sectors will be pursued early in 2017. Additionally, our comprehensive housing programme will unfold early in 2017.
Revenue would be enhanced by continuing reform initiatives with the Customs and Excise, and Inland Revenue Departments and the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programme.
We expect that the 2017 Budget will be delivered well in advance of the constitutional deadline. Indeed we expect our 2017 Budget to be delivered by mid-December 2016.
Safety and Security
The prosperity which is ours to achieve will elude us unless we take a strong stand to uphold law and order. The loss of 2 lives yesterday was tragic and I hereby extend sincere condolences to all families and love ones in mourning. Indeed the loss of any life in this brutal way in which retaliatory killings linked to gangs and drugs are taking place cannot be countenanced by those who want law and order.
This is why my Government on advice of our security forces invited the RSS into our Country. Mark you this was not the first occasion for the RSS to be invited here. The RSS was invited here in 1989, 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2007. There was no disaster in 2007, nor riot.
With the upsurge in homicides there was clear and pressing need to call in the RSS. We are a Treaty member of the RSS. We are up to date in our contributions to the RSS. The RSS is available to all member states on request and we will never recoil from their use when our security forces require additional help.
The Commissioner of Police has advised us that Operations Safe Street was an outstanding success and the calm and quiet we experienced over the last 5 weeks attest to this. The JNF Hospital personnel reports a welcome respite from gun related incidents during the deployment of the RSS relative to the same period in 2015. Between September 01st and October 15th, there were 4 gunshot cases and during the same period of 2016, there was no reported incident of gunshot trauma at the JNF Hospital.
Let me again thank my Colleague Heads of Government for being so responsive in allowing their citizens to serve and protect our citizens and residents in St Kitts and Nevis.
Immigration Round-up on Saturday, September 22, 2016
Much has been said over the past few days about the Immigration initiative that was conducted on Saturday, October 22, 2016 in East Basseterre. I must state, categorically, that this exercise is part and parcel of the larger law enforcement initiative to bolster law and order in the Federation. The Immigration Officers, Police and other law enforcement agencies have been addressing all critical national security issues and, as such, immigration violations would not be overlooked in this endeavour. Moreover, it must be stressed that last weekend’s immigration exercise came in response to the public’s growing concerns. These complaints from the public to law enforcement agents run the gamut of the following:
Loud music/ noise (a violation of the Noise Abatement Act)
Suspected illegal operations being carried out at the bars
Fights and chaos in the area: often after 7 am on Sunday mornings, which cause disturbance to persons worshipping at the Methodist Hope Chapel on George Street
Allegations of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a serious international human rights violation and we will never allow our Country’s good name to be sullied.
Almost 100 persons were detained and, as their status was verified – on a case-by-case basis – as being legitimately in the Federation, they are being released. Among those arrested by the Police were citizens of Jamaica, U.S.A., Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Some 29 of those individuals remain in custody, given that they are here illegally. The individuals in question have overstayed and have been in violation of our Immigration Laws since as early as 2010. Some of these persons had only been granted provisional entry to attend funerals, weddings, or visit sick relatives, and they refused to voluntarily leave the Country or seek extensions from the appropriate authorities. The law is the law. As a genuine effort is being made now to uphold the law, violations of our laws will not be tolerated.
Our Team Unity Administration had instituted a 90-day amnesty period from July 18, 2015 to October 16, 2015. This was meant to give a large number of non-nationals the opportunity to regularize their status. The 2015 amnesty period resulted in 34 persons regularizing their status, i.e. 21 Guyanese and 13 Jamaicans. There was an amnesty in 2014. In that period, a total of 62 persons benefitted: 13 citizens of the Dominican Republic (DR) and 49 from the rest of CARICOM. This means that the majority of the illegal immigrants who were detained by police had ample time and opportunity during the last two amnesty periods to have their status legitimized. In St Kitts and Nevis as in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, USA, Canada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, there are consequences for non compliance with the law. Throughout the world every responsible state pursues an appropriate immigration policy.
The Police and Immigration officials were upholding the law. They were working to protect our Country. The vicious attacks on them by the political agents were unwarranted and irresponsible. You cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time. You cannot condemn the Government for allowing too many illegal immigrants to be in our Country and at the same time cry hypocritical tears when illegal immigrants are being processed in accordance with our laws.
I want to place on record our appreciation to those law abiding citizens who alerted the Police and Immigration Department to the breaches of our laws that were taking place and urged action. I applaud the services of the Police and Immigration officers for doing their duty. We are a welcoming destination. People are free to come and stay but it must be done legally and properly.
I want to make the following points:
This is a general principle of international law which withstood the test of the Myrie case, save where community law imposes an obligation on the state. The principle is that an automatic right to entry and stay in a country is accorded only to citizens and permanent residents. Every entrant in a jurisdiction has the responsibility to ensure that he/she is in good standing with the law.
Our Police Officers and Immigration Officers are committed to uphold the law. We expect that they do so 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and at least for the full 365 days of the year.
Compliance with the law cannot be encouraged on a selective basis.
As I ponder on the attitude and some of the rhetoric of the Opposition, their detractors and the uninformed over the past several weeks re: the issue of law and order, and the work of the Police, I see a cunning, calculated and deliberate effort to:
Shatter confidence in the security forces
Cause distrust among the public
Undermine legitimate law enforcement efforts
Destabilise the Government with the warped goal of gaining political advantage out of adversity
The Opposition’s messaging has been hostile to the arrival of the RSS; to the stop and searches being carried out as part of Operation Safe Streets; and no doubt, to last weekend’s immigration exercise. It is as if at every turn there is a concerted attempt to undermine efforts at preserving public safety, and the execution of the duties of security officers.
Crime has no respect for personalities or social classes: it touches one, and it touches all. Persons who are spending their time undermining the Police and other security forces are unprepared for the unintended impact their actions could have on the maintenance of law and order. The Police cannot conduct the business of public safety without the cooperation of the public whom they serve. It is a symbiotic relationship that exists between Police and citizens/residents. Each one needs the other to succeed, to secure peace, and to provide a safe environment for all to live, work and invest in St. Kitts and Nevis. The solution to crime, the reduction in crime, and the prevention of crime demand everyone doing his or her part to support the efforts of law enforcement agencies – if, for nothing else than the fact that it is the right thing to do for love of Country.
Appointment of new Senator and Deputy Speaker in the Federal Parliament
I am pleased to report that a new Senator has been appointed to the Federal Parliament. Today our nominee took the oath of office in the presence of family, friends, Cabinet Colleagues, and the Governor General who administered the oath of Office. This individual, who comes highly recommended, is none other than Mrs Akilah Byron Nisbett, of Mattingley Farm Housing, Basseterre, St. Kitts. Mrs Byron-Nisbett is a well-trained professional in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) field, having previously worked at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank where she most recently served as a Systems Analyst. She recently assumed duties in an ICT managerial position with the St. Christopher and Nevis Air & Sea Ports Authority. She is a supportive wife, and loving mother of three. For a number of years she has been involved in the organisation of the annual Haynes Smith Miss Caribbean Talented Teen Pageant. Mrs Byron Nisbett is a former member of the St Kitts and Nevis Youth Parliamentary Association (SKNYPA), and has the distinction of representing the Federation in 2000 at the Commonwealth Millennium Youth Parliament.
Following the appointment of the new Speaker of the House, the Hon Michael Perkins in July 2016, a vacancy for a Senator emerged in Parliament. Unlike the former regime, we determined not to allow such vacancy to continue for the inordinate period of some 5 years. This abominable example we told you we would not allow. In keeping with our word, we will nominate a Deputy Speaker at the next sitting of our National Assembly.
Our Team Unity Administration welcomes the appointment of Mrs Akilah Byron-Nisbett and is confident that she would make a meaningful contribution to the development of this Country. Her bold act of surrendering a lucrative career at the ECCB, in the fast-growing ICT sector, speaks volumes about the importance this young woman attaches to national service through self-sacrifice. Her appointment as a Senator also augments the female complement within our Parliament, for which my Cabinet is grateful. Her presence certainly adds credence to our Team Unity Administration’s commitment to the cause of greater involvement of women in the leadership of our Nation, including, but not limited to, the political life of our Country. As such, we also view Mrs Byron Nisbett’s acceptance of the call to national service as being demonstrative of the actions of a good role model for our young people.