My Fellow Citizens and Residents,
My very best wishes are extended to you for 2019.
Like a beautiful reflecting pool filled with our wishing coins, the New Year stands before us aglow as a symbol of promise and possibilities for our people and country to achieve even more than we did last year.
In our moment of retrospection, we can pause to reflect on what for St. Kitts and Nevis has been a tremendously successful 2018.
There is much for us to be grateful about; at the start of 2019, we know that we can have an even stronger foundation upon which we build a future for our beloved Federation and its people.
It is this idea of positive metamorphosis and transformation that is at the heart of every New Year’s wish and resolution – and it is what guides my Team Unity administration in laying out our New Year’s agenda for the country.
We commence 2019 from a unique position. Our fiscal health is at its very best. We have no IMF Stand-By Agreement. We paid off the $117 million debt to the IMF in 2016, which was left behind by our predecessors, thereby earning our right to sovereign control over fiscal policy prescriptions.
Having sustained economic growth for four years in a row, we can build on this momentum and continue to create the right economic conditions for citizens and residents in 2019.
Our people expect more jobs, the opportunity for higher wages and salaries, increasing foreign direct investments and overall improvement in their quality of life.
In my 2019 Budget Address accompanying the Appropriation (2019) Bill, 2018, I outlined several growth drivers of our economy and how we would sustain this progress with greater agricultural production, strengthening the manufacturing sector, a surge in construction, expanding tourism, etc.
We have budgeted $150 million of capital expenditure to improve the quality of life and living in St. Kitts and Nevis. The continuing of the resurfacing of our island main road, the completion of community roads in Molineux, Lodge Project, Cayon, Sandy Point and Challenger’s, to name a few, will continue. We will continue to invest in the socio-economic infrastructure of the country.
The Old Road Bay Rehabilitation and Expansion project will get started as part of our commitment to rebuild that road in a more resilient way – that is, stronger and better. This is an enduring theme for this Team Unity Government and the country.
We anticipate further improvement in our Security infrastructure, to wit, the construction of the Sandy Point Police Station, the completion of our Coast Guard, the Customs annex building and the widely anticipated Basseterre High School. Our investment in the Basseterre High School, with its model learning spaces, its lab, its emphasis on science, technology, math, engineering, music and arts, comes from personal experiences and knowledge of the transformative role of education. Education is the key to opening new paths for everyone and for doing so at every stage of their lives. Those who since 2012 failed the students and staff of Basseterre High School will not be allowed in 2019 to deny our students and teachers the best of their future.
We have committed to spend over $30 million to reform the education sector, focusing on curriculum reform, re-emphasizing technical and vocational training, certifying our programmes and lending clarity to the kind of competencies our people should achieve.
There is still much work to be done to close the gap in our Security infrastructure.
We place the health and well being of our people at the heart of what we do. In the Health sector, we expect the St. Peter’s Health Centre to commence and the Tabernacle Health Centre to be completed. These centres will be important access points for good, quality care so that people can seek care for themselves and get better faster. We care for our people. The health of our people is critical to the well being of our nation, and so we will advance our Universal Health Insurance project.
These significant central government expenditure projects will be complemented by major investments, such as the further build-out of our 2nd cruise pier, housing developments by the National Housing Corporation (NHC) and the Development Bank through the robust implementation of our Government Employees’ Mortgage (GEMS) programme. Some 153 applicants will draw down on the $30 million invested by our Government.
More will come in the Human Settlements sector. By redeeming some 500 acres of land, we will free up 4,500 plots of land for our young and not so young to own a piece of the rock, particularly in Cayon, in Lodge, in Ottley’s and LaVallee. We give wider choice to our people and encourage all to exercise the right to own. We are encouraged to be part of the Prosperity Agenda.
Turning to our support for commerce and our commitment to energizing business, private sector projects will include the commencement of the restoration and renovation work of the Ottley’s Plantation Hotel. Work will continue apace on several hotel properties under construction. TDC is to commence a middle-to-high income housing development at Dewars, and several other projects are to come on stream.
We will support all efforts at entrepreneurship, as a vibrant private sector is a sine qua non for economic well being. In addition to creating the right circumstances for businesses and individuals to thrive, we have ensured that we run the business of government by observing the highest standards.
In 2019, we shall advance our already expansive delivery of the good governance agenda. We have, to date, restored our Parliament to regular sittings. Last December, for example, our Parliament sat 3 times. This brings the number of sittings for 2018 to a record 11 sittings in 12 months. In 2014, the Parliament met for business only 3 times. So in one month, we accomplished what our predecessors took 12 months to do. In December, one of these sittings was devoted to debate and vote on the Motion of No Confidence put by the very group that refused to table, debate and vote on 3 Motions of No Confidence submitted to the National Assembly under their watch during 2012 and 2013. The former regime refused to allow a debate and vote on the Motions of No Confidence even when it was crystal clear that it did not command the support of a majority of the Members of Parliament (MPs). Yet with such an abominable record, they – who are now in Opposition – called for an urgent debate on an ill-conceived Motion.
We are committed to a better way and this includes observing the principles of democracy, so we have facilitated the Motion of No Confidence and it was defeated, in fact becoming a Vote of Confidence in this Government – in what it has achieved and in what it plans to do going forward on behalf of our beloved people. Democracy is at an all-time high, firm and secure under Team Unity.
Truth be told, Team Unity had advanced the good governance agenda further than its predecessors by:
(1) Passing the Freedom of Information Act
(2) Operationalizing the Integrity in Public Life Act, and
(3) Passing the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Act. This Act has been hailed by the former Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Baldwin Spencer as a landmark legislation, advancing the work of the PAC. Our own Director of Audit and the Accountant General have hailed the passage of the Act as an encouraging development in good governance.
(4) We have opened up the state-owned broadcasting station, ZIZ Broadcasting Corporation, to the extent that news items are made of press conferences by the Opposition – a historic first! Another historic first during the last 20-plus years has been the airing of the Christmas Day address by the Leader of the Opposition on state-owned radio and TV. This facility was never given to former leaders of the Opposition.
(5) We have improved access to justice by increasing the number of resident judges available in Basseterre. Additionally, we intend to open a Family and Juvenile Court, thereby protecting our young people and enhancing juvenile justice while simultaneously providing better opportunities to resolve family issues.
(6) We will tackle the matter of marijuana decriminalization or legalization.
(7) New policies and legislation to enhance the good governance agenda will be acted on in 2019. We will move ahead with legislation on term limits, electoral reform, the reform of our Citizenship by Investment Programme, and we will legislate on a reasonable time for debating and voting on Motions of No Confidence. No Parliament in our view should be held hostage to the dictates of creeping dictatorship, evidenced prior to February 2015. So we will amend the Act on Public Service to enhance the rights of civil servants while simultaneously protecting the government from those who wish to sabotage and stymie its functioning.
I am honoured and privileged to be afforded the opportunity to serve my country and the beloved citizens and residents as Prime Minister. It is an awesome and onerous responsibility.
With God’s help and the prayers of many, we have kept Team Unity alive and well. We intend over the next 10 years to open new paths for all of our people, and that is why I was personally moved to assist directly nearly 4,000 families with a top-up of EC$500 monthly. These persons have been touched personally by our caring Government, and their lives have been made better for it. Some people do need a helping hand to enable them to enjoy a life of choice and independence.
Thousands have had their lives improved, homes repaired and renovated, grants for farming and fishing, jobs created, their sons and daughters put on scholarships. My Government will always be compassionate and we will have a heart for the poor.
We will implement programmes to help more of the sons and daughters of poor families, and we will empower those with rough beginnings to improve their lives, their standing and status by adopting to a life of responsibility.
The task of nation-building calls for a progressive agenda for St. Kitts and Nevis. We aim for a society where every boy and girl, every man and woman, should be able to go as far as their talent, their ambition and effort would take them. We aim for a society that is just and where everyone accepts his or her obligations and responsibilities.
I remain committed to the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis being a great equalizing nation where it is possible to rise to greatness no matter what family you were born into – indeed, even if you grow up walking barefooted and wearing patched clothes, each and every one of you can travel the path to success and respectability, and each and every one of us can rise – rise in standing and stature like so many have done, bringing joy and inspiration to our families, our communities and our beloved nation.
If as a country we are to remain ahead of the game, we need our people to seize the opportunities as they emerge so that we can continue to be stronger and better. This means being disciplined, productive, and showing greater creativity in solving problems and exercising choices for our upliftment and that of our country.
Our Cabinet is excited about 2019. We feel that our country and people are favoured by God. Let us therefore go forward together in this New Year, building a stronger and better future for all. To God be the Glory. I thank you and I wish all of you a Happy New Year!