Opening Statement by the Hon. Prime Minister, Dr. Timothy Harris at the Monthly Press Conference on Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 at the Parliamentary Lounge, Government Headquarters

Introduction
Good afternoon and Happy New Year. This year, we open an exciting new chapter in the history of our Federation.

By working together, 2020 can be the year we make our streets even safer, build bigger and better homes, create even more jobs, and provide more opportunities for our young people and for every other person. This will be the year we position St. Kitts and Nevis for a safer, stronger and brighter future.

Future generations will look back and say – “2020 is when St. Kitts and Nevis really stepped up. This was the year Team Unity consolidated the gains and built the safer, better and brighter future.”

And what an exciting future we have within our grasp.

Your Team Unity Government continues to deliver our long-term plan to keep our Federation heading in the right direction and to build a stronger and safer future.

Today, I will update you on the progress we are making and the new measures we are putting in place, to make that brighter and better future a reality.

Carnival and Community Safety
I must begin by thanking and congratulating everyone involved in the most successful Carnival season in our Federation’s history. Carnival’s success shows just how far we have come. The unprecedented large crowds showed what can be achieved when we strengthen and support our security personnel while creating an enabling environment to move at-risk youth from engaging in anti-social behaviour to becoming more productive citizens.We vividly recall the time when our streets were unsafe.  People were scared to leave their homes.  Mothers worried if their children would return home safely.  Gunfire, violence and murder were a regular part of our lives.  It seemed those days were here to stay.

Thankfully, that is in the past. To God we give the glory for our growing safety and security under Team Unity.

The people demonstrated their confidence in our safer communities by making this Carnival season the largest and the best in our Federation’s history. Record turnout was recorded at the Calypso show and other events.

Children, families, friends and even former foes laughed and danced together through the many events. Our J’Ouvert and Last Lap events were free of major incidents. Respect for law and order was high and noticeable.

During Carnival, people told me how safe they felt, how excited they were and how they never believed events in St. Kitts and Nevis could be held this way and without crime.

Our expats/returning nationals who came back are today saying that something good is finally happening in our Federation and they are proud of the progress being made.

Gratitude
I thank the police officers, the attendants and the security staff who gave of their time to make this Carnival the best ever.I also thank my friend and colleague the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Shawn Richards, for all the hard work he and his team undertook to make this Carnival season not only the best but the safest.

We have seen what can be achieved when we are at peace – so why would anyone want to question that? Why would anyone want to change that? Unfortunately, there are some unpatriotic people who would rather put politics before the lives of our people and seek to score cheap political points.

But why do they want to take us back to the bloodshed, violence and death of the past? The record 35 homicides in 2011 was a collective shame. We must save our people from the senseless killing of each other and the disruption of our society. Too many mothers are in pain, because of the breakdown of law and order for 20 long years. We want a peaceful St. Kitts and Nevis – free of homicides.

As Prime Minister, I will do all I can to keep my Country safe.

We have come too far to turn back now.

We all know that it isn’t by luck or by chance that our streets are becoming safer. It is because Team Unity is putting people before politics and working to deliver a better future for all of us.

We cannot take our progress for granted.

2020 is not the time to go back to the same old ways, with the same old policies under the same old rejected leadership of the past. Instead, working together with a unified approach, we can build a safer, brighter and better future for all our people.

Health of the Economy
We stand on the threshold of a stronger and safer future because we have a strong economy.Our economy continues on the path of positive economic growth in 2020. This year will be the 6th year in a row (2015 – 2020) in which positive economic growth will be realized in St. Kitts and Nevis under Team Unity.

In contrast, in the last term of the rejected administration, the growth rate was negative in 2010, negative in 2011, negative in 2012, and positive in 2013 and 2014 – for an average growth rate over the 5-year period of just about 1 percent per year. The economy grew insignificantly over that time (2010 – 2014) despite the windfall of Citizenship-by-Investment (CBI) inflows.

The year 2019 recorded increased output in manufacturing, tourism, construction and retail and wholesale sectors. The St. Christopher Air & Sea Ports Authority (SCASPA) reports that our manufacturing enclave subsector did very well. We recorded 69,695 tons of merchandise, up 43,786 tons over the 25,909 tons realized in 2018 for a massive 169 percent growth in manufacturing exports year on year. This positive growth is expected to continue in 2020, with output driven by Harowe Servo and Jaro Ltd in the main.

The manufacturing enclave sector realized increases in job creation in 2019, led largely by expansion of production lines at Kajola Kristada. Over 1,084 workers are employed in this sector, comprising 142 workers at the Carib Brewery, 325 workers at Jaro Ltd, 222 workers at Kajola Kristada, 37 workers at Brush Ltd, 225 workers at API Harowe Servo, 68 workers at Electrofab and 65 workers at Sun Island Clothes. We are so proud of our workers in the manufacturing sector who are very skilled and very industrious. It was so unpatriotic of the opposition to rejoice when the vagaries of a highly competitive international market caused Lutron to close.

All the workers at Lutron were offered jobs by Jaro Ltd, and we are happy for them and we commend Jaro Ltd for absorbing these workers.

VAT Day Sales
Our economy’s strength was reflected in a boost in consumer spending on VAT days. For the two discounted VAT Rate Days in December 2019, our Country recorded sales of 219 vehicles at a cost of approximately $21 million – up from the $17 million recorded for vehicle sales in 2018.  This is a staggering 23.5 percent increase in dollar sales for vehicles.Of the 219 vehicles sold in just 2 days – 45 sales occurred in Nevis and 174 took place on St Kitts.

TDC was the largest beneficiary with 103 vehicles sold followed by S.L. Horsfords with 70 sales and C&C Auto Services with 46 sales.

In 2014, there were 155 vehicles sold on VAT days and 197 vehicles were sold in 2018.

Record Revenue Collection
The level of tax revenue is also a good measure of the health of the economy since this is a principal source of Government’s revenue.The two major revenue collecting agencies of the Government are Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise Departments.

The Inland Revenue Department collected a record $266 million in 2019 – its best collection to date – while the Customs and Excise Department collected $191 million – its largest collection since 2009.

Record Business Licences
The dynamism of the economy led to a record of 658 business licences being approved for January to December 2019: the largest number of business licences issued in any year in the history of the Country.These are not just numbers.  These are men and women who have expressed their confidence in the right direction our Federation is heading, and who want to be an active part of building that stronger future. These men and women come from all walks of life and all geographical areas of St. Kitts and Nevis.

People are confident in the health of the economy, and we encourage this upsurge in entrepreneurship.

More businesses mean more jobs, more wages and more opportunities for our young people, and for their parents, guardians and loved ones too.

It is a welcome development and one that we are keen to encourage.

Strengthening Our Tourism Sector
A key contributor to our economic strength is the vibrancy of our tourism sector.The tourism sector recorded 1,045,846 cruise passengers for 2019. This is the second year in a row that we crossed the million-passenger cruise arrival milestone. Air arrivals at RLB International Airport totalled 163,453 passengers up 7 percent or 10,113 passengers over 153,340 arrivals in 2018.

In 2020, we intend to invest more in tourism.

A significant part of that investment will be made by the St. Christopher Air and Sea Nevis Ports Authority (SCASPA). We inherited a woefully inadequate and rundown tourism infrastructure. Prudent fiscal management never before practised as the rule allowed us to make significant progress in correcting the run-down infrastructure. We have rehabilitated our infrastructure at the RLB International Airport by investing in:

  1. Resurfacing of Runway, Taxiway “B” & “C” in asphalt.
  2. Installation of brand-new Runway solar lighting system.
  3. Installation of a new elevator within the Departure Hall.
  4. Installation of new conveyor belt systems and baggage carousels.
  5. Resurfacing of Taxiway “A” in concrete. Alpha Taxiway would be fully operational in the first quarter of 2020.
Our aim is to make RLB International Airport the most used, most user-friendly, most efficient and most effective airport in the region. These transformational developments did not occur in 20 years. In less than 5 years, we have progressed in leaps and bounds. We need to lock in these gains by ensuring a return of the Team Unity Administration.The operational second Pier saw a record four cruise ships docked at Port Zante – an historic occurrence. There are positive signs that the tourism sector will continue to grow over the coming year, providing real opportunities for our people.

New Hotels Opening
We anticipate that over 1,000 persons will secure new jobs in the hotel sector during 2020. This is a most significant development.KOI Hotel began its soft opening on Jan 10, 2020. This is a 102-room resort under the HILTON Curio Collection Brand. This beautiful seaside property has provided employment for close to 100 persons, and this number will increase as the Hotel’s market profile strengthens.

Work continues apace on Phase 1 of Sea View Vista Hotel.

T-LOFT at Wyndham and Ramada are both expected to complete Phase 1 of their properties and open later this year.

All these positive developments will provide good jobs for our people and strengthen St. Kitts and Nevis’ reputation as the most sought-after tourism destination.

The strengthening of our tourism sector shows that international investors are also confident in our economy and the right direction our Federation is heading, and they want to be an active part of that journey.

We welcome their enthusiasm and will be working hard over the coming year to attract even more investment.

Housing
A strong economy, free from Labour’s IMF debt, means we have the resources to invest in our people and the infrastructure that they need to lead fulfilling lives.Some argue that there is no more important infrastructure than a home. It is an intergenerational asset critical to the economic freedom of our people.

That is why your Team Unity Government is committed to building bigger and better homes for all our families.

This month, the distribution of the National Housing Corporation’s (NHC’s) housing solutions will continue apace. On Friday [January 17th], 15 houses will be distributed to beneficiaries in Phillips’ Village, Christ Church, Belle Vue and Tabernacle.The ceremony will take place in Phillips’ Village. Other distribution ceremonies are to be held shortly in Sandy Point, St. Peters, and other areas around the Island.

While these fortunate citizens are getting their first opportunity to own their homes in NHC projects, the Team Unity Government is continuing to actively build homes on individual lots.

Only Team Unity believes in delivering bigger and better housing.Only Team Unity has the resources, through strong economic management, to do so. That is why, to date, my administration has assisted well over 3,000 persons with housing solutions. This is a phenomenal achievement. We have accomplished this historic feat through the agencies of the NHC, our HELP, our Roof Repair Programme, our Government Employee Mortgage programme (GEM) and housing initiatives with other strategic partners.

Yes, we have made a start – a very good start – but there is much more we need to do.

Land Redemption
We cannot provide more homes if we do not have more land on which to build these homes. Labour’s high IMF debt meant land was poofed away – land which should have gone to our citizens instead.Your Team Unity Government is working to reverse this terrible mistake.

This year, we have redeemed another 200 acres of land from Labour’s Land for Debt Swap.  This brings to 400 acres the quantity of lands redeemed for ordinary people at a cost of EC $200 million.

My Government will make hundreds of lots available to the ordinary people of Lodge/Ottleys, Cayon, Sandy Point and Lamberts in particular, and to our citizens and residents of our Country in general.

These lands will be used for residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural purposes.

We must never go back to that dark period of free-for-all and fiscal mismanagement that led to the shameless surrender of our land, our patrimony and Country. Should our beloved Federation incur high debt like we had under Labour, all our achievements would be killed stone dead.

False Promises
During the past few weeks, the Douglas Labour Party announced a series of promises. Their actions prove – yet again – that old Labour has not changed.They are still the same old Party with the same old policies that will lead to the same high levels of debt and bankruptcy of our Country.The desperate Labour leaders are peddling promises they simply cannot pay for. Some have noted that they had 20 years to do the very things they are now promising to do. Why didn’t they do them then rather than come in an act of desperation hoping to fool the people?

Be it at La Vallee Greens or Gatwick – Douglas’ Labour can’t manage money. Their unfunded, uncosted promises would plunge St. Kitts & Nevis back into crippling debt. Labour’s approach is a danger to our economy and a danger to the future of our Country, and we must reject this approach.

Personnel Matters
Your Team Unity Government continues to strengthen our administrative structures and ensure the best people are appointed on merit to senior positions.Further to discussions at Cabinet, I am pleased to announce the following personnel changes:

  1. Ms. Sheridane Warner has been designated as the incoming Chief Personnel Officer. She will succeed Mrs. Torfrida Rochester who has applied for retirement. Mrs. Rochester’s calm, competent way of handling matters is her hallmark attribute. I commend Mrs. Rochester’s professionalism and service over the course of her career in the Civil Service.  I congratulate Ms. Warner on her promotion to Chief Personnel Officer. Ms. Warner’s temperament, training, experience and progressive outlook should serve her well in her new assignment.
  1. Mr. Ron Collins will take up the post of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Post, Urban Development and Transport. I commend Mr. Collins for his service and deliverables in the Ministry of Labour, Ecclesiastical Affairs, Social Security and Nevis Affairs.
  1. Ms. Sharon Rattan will take up the post of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Ecclesiastical Affairs, Social Security and Nevis Affairs.
  1. Mrs. Kerry Tuckett has been promoted to Matron at the J. N.F. General Hospital. Mrs. Tuckett brings years of professional experience and superb qualifications that will help to advance quality health care in St. Kitts.  I congratulate her and I thank former Matron, Mrs. Sonia Daly-Finley for her long and meritorious service.
We expect that these experienced officers will settle in well in their new posts.
Reparations Committee
Ms. Carla Astaphan has been named chairperson of a broad-based Reparations Committee. The Committee will pursue the 10-point plan enumerated by CARICOM with necessary adaptations, starting with an extensive public education programme on Reparations and issues related to our relationship with Africa.
Conclusion
2020 is the year that will determine the future of St. Kitts & Nevis for generations to come.We have much to look forward to under Team Unity.

New hotels, new investments in housing, new resources for health and education, a real focus on agriculture, unprecedented investment in information technology, and the advent of National Health Insurance which will save our people the worry about the cost of medical treatment, particularly in their old age or when they are unemployed.

Imagine the potential we can unlock in our people, especially our young people, if these gains are locked in. Imagine the future we can give our young people if we keep our economy strong.

Your Team Unity Government commit ourselves to building that stronger and safer future. 2020 should not be the year we go back to the past.

We cannot turn back now.

It is not the time to go back to unfunded promises and high IMF debt again. No, we will not go back there.  There is too much at stake to turn back and lose it all now.

Let us instead make 2020 the year St. Kitts and Nevis embraced a stronger and safer future and set our nation permanently heading in the right direction.

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