I am pleased to be able to host this, our first Press Conference for the year 2018. I give God thanks for divine Providence and for the many accomplishments to date of our Team Unity administration.
Record Third Consecutive Year of Growth
Speaking of accomplishments, I can report that preliminary estimates indicate that our economy will expand for the third consecutive year under Team Unity. For 2018 the prediction is that our economy will grow by 3.7 percent. This excellent record to date compares well in contrast to the first 3 years of the last term of the by-gone administration which according to the IMF recorded negative growth rates in 2010, 2011, 2012 of -3.8, -1.9, and -0.9 percent respectively (see IMF press release No.14/138 dated March 27, 2014). For 2017, the economy grew by 2.6 percent to reach $1.86 billion at year end. Areas impacting positively on our economic growth in spite of the economic disruption and set back occasioned by 2 category 5 Hurricanes are construction services which grew by 9 percent, agriculture expanded by 14.3 percent due to better weather conditions boosting crop yields, increased production of meat and greater fish landings. Growth in the hotel sector and financial services was marginal but positive at 1 percent and 1.3 percent respectively. Wholesale and retail trade grew by 3.4 percent and public administration by 3.1 percent. Manufacturing declined by 6.5 percent as a consequence of adverse changes in the international market for our products. Note that St Kitts and Nevis among independent states has the highest per capita exports in the OECS and the third highest exports per capita in CARICOM, outdone only by the Bahamas and oil rich Trinidad and Tobago.
A major challenge for our economy is to reduce the level of imports. As a small state, deficit on a merchandise trade account is not unexpected as most of what we eat, drink, wear and utilize are imported. However, the sheer high magnitude of food imports is a matter of concern. More must be done to achieve higher import substitution of food products. We have accordingly increased the share of monies going to the agriculture sector. The Recurrent Budget for agriculture moved from $7.1m in 2014 to $9.2m in 2018 for a 30 percent increase in recurrent expenditure. Significant additional funds in the amount of US $241,000 have been committed to the agriculture sector by the Republic of China (Taiwan).
We are encouraged by the efforts of Park Hyatt and other hotels to add more local fresh produce including fish, vegetables, condiments etc to their menu. Each dollar not spent on imported food means one more dollar available for spending on the domestic economy increasing our per capita GDP which is now the largest in the OECS and the second highest in CARICOM.
Moreover, our Agriculture Fund to be managed by the Development Bank will provide additional soft loans to our farmers and fishers at low interest rates. The Agriculture Fund will be established at an initial sum of $1.5 million.
2018 will witness the largest and most effective delivery of capital projects in history. Our housing programs will continue apace.
Our FIRST Time Home Owners programme has facilitated homeownership by 317 applicants over the 3 year period 2015 to 2017. Based on initial applications for the year so far, the demand for 2018 will significantly outpace last year’s number of applicants which stood at 117 applicants. 267 persons have benefitted from our HELP program at NHC.
The NHC continues its phased delivery of our Housing Solution. I am advised that on or before March 01, 2018, 121 housing solutions will commence across the Country. Details on our $10m Civil Service Mortgage facility are being finalized for implementation in the first quarter.
Our surfacing of the island main road will start during this quarter. The build out of the National Heroes Park will resume by next week with the construction of the welcome centre and the 5 statues of our national heroes will be erected long before September 16, 2018. The government printery, coast guard headquarters, and the customs building will move ahead.
Private Sector activity will increase with the Radisson Hotel, KOI Resort, Ramada, all set to open this year. Meantime, a major hotel shall start Phase 1 of its construction before the end of this month.
2018 growth will be driven by activities in construction, stay over, and cruise tourism, financial services, and other business services.
All these developments mean plenty jobs for our people, higher earning potential and money multiplying through the economy.
The St Kitts and Nevis which we govern is a well sought after destination for investment, education, research, work, residence and holiday. The question to be asked is why such great confidence by discerning people in St Kitts and Nevis? The answer is that our Country is being excellently managed. Its fiscal house is in order. Property rights are protected. Workers rights are legislatively enshrined and stability and democracy are alive and well. There is a free press. A functioning Parliament, meeting regularly and delivering legislation for the good government, peace and well being of our Country. There is an independent Court whose functionaries are determined by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission independently of government. After approval by the Commission and having passed through the office of the Chief Justice, Judges are then assigned to various jurisdictions in the OECS.
3 Luxury Hotels to Sign Up in 2018
I am happy to announce that at least 3 luxury hotels are showing serious interest in operating in St Kitts and Nevis. In a matter of weeks, I shall be able to say definitively which luxury hotel resorts are seeking us out. Something tremendously good is happening here. One of the three luxury hotel brands is the Ritz Carlton Resort.
We have serious interest by not 1, not 2 but 3 of the World’s top brands in naming St Kitts their home. To God we give thanks.
The future of our Country has never been brighter. Our tomorrow with God’s help will be better than our today. I pray God’s continuing favour on this Federation.
We envisage an inclusive growth that benefits all in our society – our bar operators, our taxi men and women, our vendors at Black Rocks on our beaches and elsewhere. There must be a right way to do things. We appeal to all citizens and residents to do things the right way, to respect the law, including the property rights of others, to educate and train themselves to do excellently what they pursue for a living. Bring the right and positive attitude to what you do.
Your Government will stand for justice for all – both small and large. Our Constitution and our laws demand no less.
We will uphold the spirit and content of the law as they relate to access to our beaches. We will work with developers to ensure that their deep sense of social responsibility encourages them to create appropriate facilities and amenities for local people to offer a high quality product or service to visitors to our islands. All of us must act sensibly, justly and with mercy as we achieve prosperity and other blessings from God. The growth and development must never be put on pause for lack of cooperation and discipline by any of us.
Yesterday my Cabinet invited the beach bar operators to attend a meeting to discuss the matter of their leasehold tenancy at South Friars Bay. I thank the operators of ShipWreck, God Father, Discovery and Sunset Bars for gracing us with their presence and updating us to their realities.
Truth be told, all lands at the Peninsula are now privately owned not government owned. Indeed, when the former discredited Douglas administration acquired lands there, they ceded such lands to foreign private interests. More than this the Douglas administration disadvantaged at least one local person in Dr Wycliffe Baird in its haste to satisfy private foreign interests.
In any dispute that arises there, the government is then unlikely to be a direct party. We are prepared always to use our good offices to bring reconciliation and amicable resolution to disputes, especially where the ordinary people are up against the mighty and heavily resourced foreign interests. It was with this intention of availing the good office of the government to assist that the bar operators were invited.
I will not disclose the confidence of the meeting particularly as we must meet with the sellers and prospective buyers of the property in South Friars Bay.
It is public knowledge that all of the operators know the lands they presently occupy is private land. They know the private party. They entered lease arrangements and consented to vacate the demised properties within one month’s notice. What they want now from the private owner of the lands is facilitation.
My government has requested and received confirmation that the seller and buyer will avail themselves for a meeting with the government to see how best a facilitation can be provided.
We are stepping up for fairness and justice. We are stepping up for the operators because we care. We are stepping up because we are a Unity government and we will never abandon our people nor will we ever be indifferent to the legacy of history, our struggles and victories and the call of our conscience to be not just on the right side of history but more importantly on the right side of the people.
Many of my colleagues in the region have hailed the proposed $500 support to households earning less than $3000 per month. Recall in my Budget and New Year’s Addresses I indicated “following preliminary household surveys, Team Unity will institute a new national policy which will provide a supplemental income of $500 per month to households earning less than $3000 per month.”
Parliament will meet on February 13, 2018. I appeal to all Parliamentarians to be on their best behaviour. Stick to the content of the Bill and avoid the side show. I urge greater respect and cooperation with the Hon Speaker as he presides and exercises decorum in the House. The Parliament is governed by rules including rules of the Debate. Let us all abide by them.
The matter of the possession and use of a Dominican diplomatic passport is before the Court. This is a matter of grave constitutional, political and Parliamentary significance to the Commonwealth family with their rich Westminster model of democracy. Recent cases in Jamaica and Australia attest to the significance of this matter.
The Constitution specifies who can be a member of the Parliament and how membership in the House is invalidated or brought to an end. Dr Douglas then will defend the case as to whether he is in breach of the Constitution at section 28(1)(a) and the National Assembly Elections Act.
Parliament must guard itself against imposters and fraudsters parading as duly elected members. In this regard, the question of eligibility of a member to serve in Parliament is a significant matter. Government has asked the Court to make a determination on this matter. I understand that this matter is slated for hearing on February 26, 2018.
Elected members of Parliament must serve their constituents and Parliament loyally and faithfully. There must not be divided loyalties between duty to constituents and Parliament on one hand, and loyalty to a foreign power on the other. When such conflict raises its ugly head, the member ought to resign.
The Foreign Minister of Taiwan is due to visit our federation on February 02, 2018. This visit will further consolidate our historic bilateral relationships which started in 1981 with an agricultural cooperation agreement and in 1983 we became diplomatic allies. Since 1983 we have been Taiwan’s best friend, ably supporting its international agenda and advocating its place in the World Health Assembly, WTO and the United Nations Assembly among other entities.
Changes in Diplomatic Landscape
Ms Sherry Tross will serve the Federation as High Commissioner to Canada effective early February 2018. The appointment of Ms Tross comes after the successful completion of an extended tour of duty of Ambassador Shirley Skerritt-Andrew. Ms Skerritt-Andrew served at the OECS Missions and Embassies in Brussels from December 2008 to November 2013 before she led our High Commission in Ottawa for the period June 2015 to December 2017. She did a very good job.
Mr Michael Blake joined the diplomatic corps on December 05, 2017, and will add support to our diplomatic outreach in Cuba.
The OAS has brought the tenure of Terrence Craig to an end effective December 31, 2017. We thank him for his service to our federation and we await the OAS naming of their next representative to our beloved Country.
The Venezuelan government has recalled its Ambassador Rὸmulo Camilo Henríquez Gonzàlez to Caracas. We are advised that he will serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela. The recall comes after he has been in service of his government in St Kitts and Nevis since April 2013. A normal tenure of an Ambassador is usually 3 years, before rotation or recall.
His Excellency served well and I record my government’s appreciation to him on the completion of his tenure.
St Kitts-Nevis Defence Force
Personnel changes are imminent at our Defence Force Headquarters and Coast Guard. These changes have become necessary given the retirement of Lieutenant Colonel Commander Patrick Wallace at the end of February 2018. I wish to record our appreciation to Commander Wallace for his long and meritorious contribution to the safety and security of the Federation. The Defence Force Board has recommended that Major Anthony Comrie, who heads the Coast Guard as the most fit person to assume leadership of the Defence Force. Accordingly, on March 01, 2018, Mr Comrie will assume this position.