My fellow citizens and residents, it is a pleasure to communicate with you again via this Press Conference.
Today, I am happy to report on some wonderful developments taking place in our Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.
The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) has issued its report (June 2018 Economic and Financial Review – St Kitts and Nevis pages 63-79) on the economic performance of St. Kitts and Nevis for the first six (6) months of the year. The Bank had reason to report optimistically on the performance of our Country. “Data for the first half of 2018 indicate that the economy of St. Kitts and Nevis expanded at an accelerated rate relative to the performance of the corresponding period of 2017. The increase in economic activity was sustained by buoyancy in the hotels and restaurants; transport, storage and communications, real estate, renting and business activities sectors. Increases in value added were also recorded for the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Consumer prices fell by 1.3 percent on an end of period basis. The fiscal position of the Federal Government increased to a larger overall fiscal surplus during the period under review, compared with the corresponding period in 2017.”
Our country stands uniquely superior to many with the consistency of economic growth quarter after quarter, year on year. In the last term of the former regime, economic growth was negative in 2010 (-3.8), 2011 (-1.8), and 2012 (-0.9). In contrast, the economy grew by +4.8 percent in 2015, +3.2 percent in 2016 and +2.6 percent in 2017, according to the IMF. IMF Press Release 14/138
Speaking to the future, the ECCB’s evaluation of our economic prospects gives us much hope that our tomorrow will be better than our today. To quote from the report:
“Real sector prospects will be fuelled by developments in the construction sector, particularly in public sector activity, supported by ongoing investments in resort development in the private sector. Major infrastructural projects in St. Kitts include intensified work on the second cruise pier (US$47.0m), the resurfacing of the island main road, the construction of the East Line Bus Terminal, the resurfacing of the airport runway and taxiway ($35.0m) and the completion of the National Heroes Park (US$2.0m). In the private sector, construction activity in St. Kitts will be headlined by intensified work on several hospitality projects including the Sea View Gardens Hotel and the King’s Pavilion Hotel in Basseterre. Construction activity also continues on the KOI Resort and Residences which is nearing completion; the T-Loft Pirates Nest Resort and Residences. The commencement of work on at least one other high-end luxury resort in the latter half of 2018 could further boost construction activity. In Nevis, work continues on the construction of various villa developments and private residences.”
The buoyancy of the St. Kitts and Nevis economy is evident. The capital projects are moving apace, generating jobs, income, convenience, comfort and a platform, for further growth. Our island main road resurfacing programme is expanding.
Our East Bus Terminal is soon to be officially opened. It’s a beautiful facility. The facility ($2.8 million) and the consequential relocation ($1.2 million) of Public Works to the SSMC compound were delivered at a total cost of $4 million. All will agree that this is a worthwhile investment and that it is so many times superior to what is now at Bakers Corner serving as a congested Bus Stop and Street. Anthony Huggins and Son is the main contractor for the East Line Bus Terminal. Ivan Stevens and Errol Williams worked on the factory end for the relocation for the Public Works repair shop.
Hurricane Housing Assistance
Our housing repair programme has brought comfort, convenience and safety to over 2,000 households. Never before has any government responded so excellently to the felt needs of ordinary people for housing solutions in the aftermath of hurricanes. I was personally moved by the testimony of Pastor Pinto Williams and the huge improvement our programme brought to him and thousands of others. According to the Pastor, he does not have to “sleep with pots and pans” on his bed anymore, “thanks to the Harris-led Team Unity Administration.” His story is repeated by many others across the Country, such as Petrona Thomas of Middle Island; Starshield of Sandy Point; Mrs. Yvonne Chumney in East Basseterre; Carol Freeman in St Paul’s; William Jefferson of Parson Ground; Lionel French of Saddlers, Petronella Eddy of West Farm and Donna Dasent of Lime Kiln.
GEMS Ground Breaking
Our Government Employee Mortgage (GEMS) financing programme administered by the Development Bank has made it possible for our government employees to own their own homes. To date, some 99 applications have been approved at a value of $17.9 million.
Fifty-four (54) applications are fully funded under the Government mortgage financing programme and 45 applications are a blend of Government mortgage financing and Development Bank funds. This means that the mortgage amount exceeded $300,000 for a single applicant or $450,000 for joint applicants. Any additional financing beyond these thresholds will be from the Development Bank.
Loans are being drawn down: 70 of 99 approved loans are from St. Kitts, 29 of 99 approved loans are from Nevis. Fair Share!
Another 47 applications totaling about $11 million are being held pending the completion of the turn-key models which will start soon.
A total of seven (7) applications are in the advanced stage of processing totaling $1.3 million.
In sum, 153 (99+47+7) applications totaling $30.2 million are being supported under our Team Unity GEM progamme.
The Development Bank will break ground on six model homes shortly. This will provide an opportunity for persons to see, first-hand, the types/models of homes that they can access under this programme. Home ownership is a critical aspect of the economic empowerment of our people. This government has done more than any other administration to expand and improve our housing programme. While over 3,300 families have benefitted from Team Unity’s Housing Solutions, we are working to double the number of beneficiaries over the next 7 years of my Team Unity administration.
The statistics on our Country’s most expansive housing programme speak eloquently to the tremendous benefit that my Administration is adding to the lives of our people.
Our historic record between 2015 and 2018 is an unparalleled best. Our record indicates the following:
FIRST (first-time homeowners’ programme) – 413 beneficiaries (2015-2018):value of materials acquired under this programme $87.6m
HELP- 450 households
NHC- 239 homes
HRP (Hurricane Relief/Rehabilitation Programme) – 2000 households
SKNANB – 100 mortgages – GRASP (20), FREESH (80)
DBSKN – 153
3,355 families have benefitted in some way by our Team Unity’s expansive housing programme.
Our Growing Agriculture Sector
ECCB’s report speaks to growth in the agricultural sector: poultry, tree crops, livestock turned in good production outcomes. We want greater production and efficiency in agriculture. As the son of a farmer and sugar worker, I stand with all farmers and fishers. Beyond our budgetary allocation to the agriculture sector, a total of 230 farmers received agricultural grants through the Development Bank totaling approximately $1 million. Additionally, under our special loan support for agriculture, 18 farmers received loans totaling EC $1 million. The loan financing was at a manageable 5 percent interest. Eleven (11) farmers reside in St. Kitts while the other seven (7) whose applications succeeded hail from Nevis. The loan amounts ranged from $5,000 to $261,000.
Two Discounted VAT Reduced Days
This year we will afford consumers two shopping days of reduced VAT Rate. My Cabinet has approved the recommendation from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CIC) and the Ministry of Finance that Friday, December 14th and Thursday, December 20th be declared Discounted VAT Rate Days.
All tangible items that are presently subject to 17% VAT will qualify for the discount VAT Rate.
Non–tangible items such as the supply of professional services will continue to be subject to the 17% VAT rate.
Services such as legal fees, restaurant supplies, rent, tickets for the game of chance (lottery/ raffles), top-ups and phone cards are NOT eligible for the VAT reduced rate.
Our prosperity agenda is positively impacting our people. More are receiving their fair share. More are at work. More are contributing to Social Security. The highest earnings were received under Team Unity. More businesses are being registered. Indeed, under Team Unity, annual business licences peaked at 490 – its highest level ever. We are a better steward of the Country’s resources and our performance has been superior to those whose squandermania, profligacy and mismanagement led to their rejection in February 2015.
I wish to commend our law enforcement agencies, to wit our Police Force, Defence Force, H. M. Prison Services, Customs and Excise Department, Fire and Rescue Services, for their work to date. The RSS has brought added manpower to our efforts at law and order, thereby allowing the training of our recruits to continue uninterrupted.
These recruits will pass out in December, bringing vital support to law enforcement at our most hectic time of the year. Church leaders, the business community and ordinary citizens have expressed words of gratitude for the improved safety and security in our Federation. My Cabinet is very pleased with our law enforcement efforts and the success of the RSS mission to date.
I remind our citizens and residents to obey the law, and to respect the law enforcement officers at all times. Please give our law enforcement officers the benefit of the doubt as they follow the intelligence provided to them by local, regional and international agencies. Truth be told, in our democratic country, law abiding citizens have nothing to fear. Those who commit crimes and harbour criminals, on the other hand, will always be fearful of law enforcement officers because their ways are evil, and their actions are contrary to law and order, peace and good governance.
We will never surrender our Country’s peace and security. Moreover, we will not be distracted from the work of the people – their homes being expanded and repaired; jobs being created; care is being provided to the indigent and poor, and enterprise and entrepreneurship facilitation is taking place etc. Meanwhile, we have about 80 vacancies across our security agencies for which we invite our young men to apply. Jobs are available. Come forward and serve your Country.
We continue to build out our CCTV project. We have prioritized Nevis’ Command Centre, Old Road, Newtown Ground, St Paul’s, Saddlers, Tabernacle, Molyneaux, Phillips Village and Cayon for action in the New Year.
Keeping our promise to our people. We will do all in our power to keep our people safe, but security starts with each individual, each institution, each community doing its part to keep safe and cooperating with the agents of law and order. When we see something, please let us say something.
Government Auxiliary Employees (GAE)
The by-gone administration had promised to improve the lot of Government auxiliary employees since 2007. In its customary betrayal, the Douglas Administration stopped their annual December payment popularized as “holiday pay” without warning and without incorporating them into the pensionable establishment, as had been promised.
My administration is a model employer. We have been fair to all workers. My Government has engaged an actuary to assist us in resolving all outstanding issues relating to the incorporation of our GAEs in the pensionable establishment. We promised that if the necessary work was not completed by September we would restore the holiday pay to our GAEs.
In keeping with our promise, during the course of December 2018, around 1,250 GAE workers will receive a holiday pay. A Promise made. A Promise kept. We are upfront and honest about what we can and will do. We always make our people our priority.
Talking of promise, we will disburse the first payout under the Poverty Alleviation Programme to households earning less than $3,000 per month in December 2018. Recall that qualifying households will receive a monthly stipend of $500.00.
Speaking again of promises kept; I am pleased to announce that the National Consultations on Universal Health Care got started this Monday in Basseterre and will continue twice weekly until December 10, 2018. I invite the public to go out and speak about the quality of health care you deserve. My Government, by this major intervention, intends to revolutionize health care and put St. Kitts and Nevis ahead of every other Nation. We want our police, health workers, STEP workers, teachers, and senior citizens to have the peace of mind which comes from the assurance that their health needs are covered thanks to our Team Unity administration.
Nowhere in the world has any other government been as generous as we have been. We have managed well, saved funds for the time of need. We have saved also to provide our people a fair share. We are investing in our people and our works are visible everywhere. We have kept our major promises and actioned most of them 18 months ahead of the constitutional due date for an election. No government anywhere in the OECS, CARICOM, or in the wide world has been able to do what we have done. The permanent critics of the government and those too bitter to commend the good works of our Government cannot stop the progress in the land. We will continue to confound them by our outstanding work on behalf of the people.
God has smiled on our Team Unity Administration. To Him I give all Glory.