Opening Statement by Dr the Hon Timothy Harris, Prime Minister, at the Press Conference for Wednesday, May 31 2017

Introduction

I welcome all to this press conference, which I wish to open with a quote from the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle.  Aristotle neatly encapsulates where we are on our journey of building a better society for all. He said:

“At his best man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst.”

I want St Kitts and Nevis to be the best. In order to achieve this we must adopt a zero tolerance approach towards crime.  We will continue to strengthen our security forces so that they are resilient in their fight against crime.  We will put in place an infrastructure that ensures sustainability so that our legacy – the legacy of the Team Unity Government, will be one of which everyone can be justifiably proud.

 

Law and Justice

My government continues to confront the challenges to law and order and we are doing all that we reasonably can to reverse the trend of violent crime that has bedevilled our Country for over twenty (20) years, reaching the high of 36 homicides in 2011. This was an unacceptable state of affairs and we have been doing what we can to contain and reduce incidences of violent crime.  Our Commissioner of Police has advised that as at this date last year we recorded 15 homicides.  For the year 2017 (so far) we are down to 10.  This represents a significant 33 percent drop in homicides.  Although we are moving in the right direction we still must do a lot better on this score. I commend all the hard working law enforcement officers to give their very best to keep our people safe.  We thank them for being our unsung heroes.

The public has called for more severe penalties to be imposed on criminals, particularly repeat offenders and those committing offences related to the illegal use and possession of guns. My Cabinet has agreed to increase the penalty with respect to the illegal possession and use of fire arms. We would also wish that those on bail are not allowed to repeat their criminal acts without due sanction.  On this score, at the next sitting of the Parliament we will pass the Fire Arms Amendment Act and the Bail Amendment Act to make them more consistent with our people’s views and expectation of our justice system.

Given the prevalence of guns in horrific killings, we propose to seek Parliament’s approval in doubling the penalty for a summary offence from a term of a maximum of 10 years in certain cases to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 20 years.

The penalty for indictable offences is a maximum of life imprisonment.

Summary offences include importation or exportation of a firearm without a permit, manufacturing firearms without a licence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Dangerous criminals do not belong on our streets.  Every effort will be made to eliminate any opportunity that they may seize upon to victimize innocent people in our Country.

In relation to bail, we intend to make it more difficult for criminals to receive bail in relation to both a capital offence, such as murder and a firearm offence at the same time.  This will militate against criminals on bail exacting vengeance on witnesses and innocent people in our society.  We propose that the court would consider imposing a monitoring device for example, an ankle bracelet on certain persons as a condition of bail.  We believe that the risk of loss of lives has to be given appropriate weight in the balancing between loss of lives and liberty.

The Attorney General will elucidate on these legislative amendments.

As the agencies of law and order are at the fulcrum of the state’s legitimate response, we have strengthened the manpower of the police, re-organised and re-structured it along four directorates: Crime, Operations, Administration, Resources, Technology and Intelligence (ART&I), and Service Improvement. We have invested in mentoring and training via Bramshill Policing Advisers; implemented a new strategic plan; and invested in transportation for the Police, and the Defence Force, including the coastguard and prison service.

We have hired more persons at HM Prisons, the Police and the Defence Force than ever before. As we speak, 34 more police are undergoing more training at the Police Training School.  Some 28 others are being trained by the Defence Force. Additionally, 14 persons have been provided to work at HMP under STEP.

We have invested in forensics technology and we are heartened by the positive results.  The deployment of a new Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), has increased the speed of processing to such an extent that the cases dealt with for 2017, to date, have already exceeded the numbers that we were able to process for the whole of last year.

The CCTV project continues to be rolled out.  CCTV cameras have already been installed at Shadwell, Conaree, Taylors Range, Ponds Pasture and New Pond Site.  Considerable work has been done at the Command Centre.  What does this mean in real terms? It means that we have the increased ability to better detect and prosecute crime than ever before.  Security cameras are quietly recording events as they unfold and transmitting them to the command centre.

The new comparison microscope has provided speed, accuracy, and the ability to share information in real time with other experts overseas, resulting in firearms being seized and examined in relation to eighteen (18) crime scenes.  Twelve (12) arrests have been made, including seven (7) for homicides and three (3) for rape as a result of the DNA identification.  Two (2) arrests have also been made for burglary and robbery because of fingerprint evidence. Although these are early days and it is a work in progress, we can now secure evidence more accurately, and quickly move to arrest and prosecution stages.

Thanks to our second High Court and our second High Court Judge on St Kitts, cases are moving through our Court system more efficiently.  There is no break in the assizes.

 

Integrity in Public Service – Polygraphy

Author Douglas Adams once said:

“To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.”

In this regard, our recruitment policy now requires that before anyone is admitted into our police service, they must undergo vetting. The results of vetting provide another indicator of the reliability of these potential recruits, highlighting their vulnerabilities and strengths. The results from polygraph testing feature in a composite quality assessment which, when added to their educational level, references and background checks will provide a comprehensive profile as to their suitability for employment. Polygraph testing will be the norm at all levels of policing;-  it is being applied in the recruitment and promotion evaluations at our Defence Force, including Coast Guard and the Customs and Excise Department.

As with the police and our other security personnel, the polygraph programme is being implemented because when the public has confidence in the integrity of our security services, this leads to better information sharing by them with regard to criminal activity.

 

Prisons

We have been concerned about the entry of contraband in our prisons.  We are now procuring high tech scanners which will unmask illicit actors and products, thereby preventing them from entering into our prisons undetected.  The Committee for the Prerogative of Mercy has also been activated and in due course we will learn of its recommendations of mercy to any inmates.

 

Customs and Coast Guard

Our customs hardware will be further strengthened with greater intelligence gathering with our partners in US Law Enforcement Agencies. Our Coastguards fleet will be strategically engaged to interdict and intercept nefarious actors and their ill gotten bounty on our seas.

The strengthening of our borders is of paramount importance to us and, to this end, the Customs Department is implementing a number of measures that will make it more difficult for criminal activity and their purveyors to succeed in entering the Federation.

When intelligence of a credible threat exists, enhanced searches of cargo are undertaken to ensure that no hidden contraband has been secreted in the shipments. The K9 unit, which specializes in searching for guns and drugs, has been expanded with an additional three dogs, bringing the full complement to 12.

There is greater collaboration and intelligence sharing between Customs, Coast Guard and the Police. Within the next week, Customs will have an app in Google’s Play Store, where our citizens can anonymously provide tips to Customs and can express any concern they may have about an officer’s behaviour.

 

Information Sharing by the Public

We appeal to all with information or concerns regarding any law enforcement officer in our Police, Defence Force, Coastguard, Prisons and Customs to share that information or concern. Information leading to a successful prosecution of dishonest law enforcement officers will be rewarded. We do this to enhance the integrity of our law enforcement agencies.  Reason: those charged with protecting us cannot be the same ones who are undermining the integrity of the system and by extension, exposing their co-workers and civilian to danger and harm.

 

Overseas Recruitment

We have extended our recruitment effort overseas with a view to ensuring that adequate manpower is available for policing. By adding to the diversity of our human resource and the skill base of overseas recruits, we hope to enhance the quality of policing. We will however, give priority to every interested citizen who meets the standard for recruitment. These are opportunities for our own people to play a significant part in shaping the future direction, safety, security and well-being of our Country.

 

National Security Adviser

I am indebted to former Commissioner of Police Calvin Fahie who pointed out to me that our legislative resources must be in the full service of public safety and security.   In that regard, he pointed to a body of legislation, covering several areas which were dormant.  For example, the National Defence Council Act.  This Act calls for the appointment of a National Security Advisor.   That individual will be chief professional advisor on security matters.  Such a person should advise the government on matters relating to national security, assist in the coordination of national security activities among various government agencies, and encourage and facilitate cooperation among national security agencies.

I am pleased to advise that after extensive advertising, two (2) persons were shortlisted and interviewed out of a pool of just under 10 applicants. My Cabinet has agreed to the engagement of the successful applicant. The NSA will help us to build out the membership of the National Defence Council.

 

Legislation

Regrettably, as we attempt to reverse the trend of law breakers, some inconvenience has to be endured by law abiding citizens in order that the broader public good, safety and security for all, is achieved.

Following a very strong presentation by the Police regarding the need to enforce the vehicles and Road Traffic Act Cap 15.06 revised December 31, 2009, the government has given its support to the enforcement of the law relating to tinting of vehicles.

I am grateful for the broad public acceptance of the need to enforce the laws on the books including those on tinting especially in the context of the overwhelming evidence that the majority of gun related homicides are associated with the use of rental and or tinted vehicles to facilitate escape.

Non – compliance with the law can lead to a fine of $5,000 or imprisonment of up to 6 months. We therefore appeal to all and sundry.  Let good sense prevail.  Comply with the law.  Let the intelligence led policy guide the policy framework.

The Commissioner of Police recently met with private security service providers in St Kitts to discuss why this is a necessary step at this time.  A similar meeting with security providers in Nevis will take place shortly.

The seriousness of the crime situation must force the realization that it cannot be business as usual.  All we ask for is compliance with the spirit and letter of the law.

 

Parliament

I am pleased to report that the people’s Parliament will meet again on June 13, at which time – a number of Bills will be debated. During the course of 2016 my government convened Parliament on 9 occasions.  This compares very favourably to the state of play under the bygone regime. Under the last regime the Parliament only met 4 times in 2014 and 6 times in 2013.  We met 16 times over 2 years (2015 and 2016), and the last regime met 10 times in its last two years.

In 2016, we passed 15 Bills which were of importance to several sub-sectors. We addressed matters to do with the Fisheries and Marine Resources.  We passed laws to enhance the efficiency and efficacy of the tax systems.  (In so doing, we passed the licences on Business and Occupations Amendment Bill 2016, the Income Tax Amendment (No. 2) Bill, and the Tax Administration of Procedures Amendment Bill). Those who have investments in the British American Insurance Company were impressed that the BAICO (Plan of Arrangement) Bill 2016, was passed, providing for a systematic approach to payment as part of the OECS arrangement.  To facilitate the timely processing of severance claims by former sugar workers, we amended the Administration of Small Estates Act, thereby allowing payment of up to $25000 to be considered a small estate.  Hence claims were processed more quickly through the court system.

We responded to the challenges faced by the regional financial system of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union by passing the Eastern Caribbean Asset Management Corporation Bill. As a responsible member of the international community, we passed the Common Reporting Standards Bill which facilitates the automatic exchange of financial account information. We took steps to enhance our fiscal management framework through amendments to the Savings Bank Act and the National Savings Scheme Act.  Our legislative work has received commendation of the IMF and Global Forum.  Most importantly our people are satisfied, that the Parliament is working on their behalf.

We brought the 2017 budget early, passing the appropriation 2017 Bill on the 7th December – well in advance of the mandated 120 days for its passage in 2017.

By any criterion ours is a Parliament that has been actively at work on behalf of the people. I want to thank the Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly, the draughts persons and the support staff of the Parliament for their industry and discipline in facilitating the government’s parliamentary agenda.  Let me in this regard indicate my Government’s congratulations to the Speaker for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s meeting that is due to be held in St Kitts and Nevis next month.

Our Parliament is one that is functioning in a manner that is consistent with the traditions of the Westminster model of democracy. It meets regularly, and it is presided over by a Speaker of integrity, dexterity and experience consistent with our laws. This session of the Parliament is working well. For example, we have disposed of a motion of no confidence in The Speaker in quick order, in comparison to the shame and ignominy which had accompanied the 26 month wait for the Motion of No Confidence to happen under the past government. Truth be told, this situation was perhaps the first time in our history that the Parliament dissolved without tabling the motion of no confidence in the government. This was part of the bad governance of the former regime. It also came with a high cost to the Country of several million dollars in legal fees and incredible damage to the Country’s good name. Even the efforts of the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth to cause the motion of no confidence to be heard did not bear fruit.

We have come from a mighty long way of parliamentary malaise and have now been afforded a fresh start.  This conduct is worthy of emulation. Equally we are proud of our efforts to bring new legislation that will support the functioning of a Public Accounts Committee. All of this is reflective of our enduring commitment to good governance and democracy.

 

Health Security

Our Team Unity Government has a vested interest in the overall security of the Federation, not just our national security.  Our Nation’s Health Security is of paramount importance since, without good health and wellness, we would have nothing of value.  As such, I want to encourage our residents and citizens to pay greater attention to their health and wellness.  Prevention is still better and cheaper than the cure.  As CARICOM’s lead spokesman on Health, HIV and Aids matters, I wish to draw certain facts to national attention and for action.

 

Situation in the CARICOM Territories Re: Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (CNCDs)

The Caribbean region has the highest burden of chronic non-communicable diseases in the Americas.  The CNCDs are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. The CNCDs are responsible for more than 3 out of every 4 deaths in this sub-region.  In contrast with the other areas of the Americas, persons living in the CARICOM territories have the highest likelihood of dying prematurely from CNCDs between the ages of 30 to 70 years.

 

Challenge of CNCDs

The CNCDs, in particular hypertension and diabetes, are the leading causes of morbidity in the Federation.  The incidence of hypertension has remained fairly stable over the period 2010-2015 with appropriately 107 new cases per annum. During that same period the incidence of diabetes has trended upward with a mean of 95 new cases per annum.  Regarding complications of diabetes – like lower limb amputations, a mean of 39 cases were documented per annum during the period 2011 to 2015.  At present there are 93 cases of chronic renal failure and fourteen (14) are maintained on the two dialysis modalities (haemodialysis-12 & peritoneal dialysis-2).

The top three (3) medical conditions that are treated at the JNF General Hospital’s Accident and Emergency room are CNCDs – Asthma, diabetes and hypertension.  Moreover, most of the patients accessing care at the Out Patients Department at JNF have multi-morbidity or two and more concurrent chronic illnesses, in particular: (1) diabetes and hypertension and (2) hypertension, diabetes and cardiac disease.

There has been a 25% increase in incidence of cancers in the Federation between 2005 and 2015.  The most prevalent of such conditions in the Federation during the period 2010-2015 were cancers of the cervix, breasts,  prostate, colon and skin cancer.  Women are mostly affected between 50 and 59 years and the men between 60 and 79 years.

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for CNCDs.  In the Federation obesity has been estimated at 40% in the general population, with higher levels (49.2%) among women in 2008.  In 2011, the National School Healthy Survey revealed that 32.5% of secondary school children were overweight and 14.4% were obese.

 

Regional Response to NCDs

In July 2016, at the 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference, the Heads of Government of CARICOM arrived at consensus to support the following actions in an attempt to combat the persistent challenges posed by the CNCDs.  The Heads pledged to support the following actions:

 

  1. To ban smoking in public places
  2. To ban advertisement of potentially harmful foods which specifically target children
  3. To elevate taxes on foods high in sugar, salt and trans-fats

One year prior to this (September 2015), the Ministry of Finance, Government of Barbados implemented a 10% excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (including – carbonated drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices).  Also in 2015, the Government of Dominica implemented an excise tax of $0.20 per litre on soft drinks and 10% on energy drinks.  There is an expanding body of literature supporting the effectiveness of fiscal policies such as these in reducing the consumption of unhealthy foods, drinks and substances.

Here in St Kitts and Nevis our Cabinet must determine what actions will be taken to create greater observance with healthier living.  I appeal to young people not to squander their lives away through illness or violence.  Equally, our young people must change their eating habit in relation to sugary products, salty foods and exercise.

Dr Franceso Branca, the Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development said:

“Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet. The WHO recommends that if people do consume free sugars, they keep their intake below 10% of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5% for additional health benefits. This is equivalent to less than a single serving (at least 250 ml) of commonly consumed sugary drinks per day”.

We want a healthy society for a healthier future.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the mission of the Team Unity Government is to build a sustainable future for all of our people. In order to achieve this we will continue our work on reducing crime, protecting our borders, keeping our people safe and healthy, and promoting longevity.

We are a beautiful and resilient Country under God.  Let us break the silence and flush out the criminals who disrespect our people, disrupt our peace and are the purveyors of violence, rape and evil.  Let us as law abiding citizens and residents put aside our fears, our partisan politics and do what we must to rid the criminals of the shelter and protection which they are receiving in our homes, at our neighbours, in our alleyways and byways, in our communities, our churches, our institutions of learning, business places, political entities, etc.

We must redeem the times, consecrate the future and give paramountcy to the imperatives of law and justice by doing the best we can today and allow our great God to complete the job for us.

As I close, I wish to use this opportunity to salute all of our centenarians who today are being recognized on national Centenarians’ Day.  Last year, our Cabinet would have declared that May 31st of each year would be set aside to honour our growing number of centenarians.  This year, we salute our Nation’s 17 centenarians, namely eleven (11) in St Kitts and six (6) in Nevis.  We also highly commend the various family members, friends and healthcare professionals who continue to diligently care for this special group of citizens.

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