Last month’s general elections ushered in a democratic and constitutional government, which I now have the extraordinary privilege and tremendous honor to lead, with the Grace of God. I thank all who exercised their franchise on Election Day. Notwithstanding the bizarre and corrupt practices employed by those who shunned the idea of country above self, the people ultimately, divinely triumphed.
I can somehow get a sense of what Joshua and the Children of Israel must have felt after they marched around the walls of Jericho until they came tumbling down. This experience has taught us once again that when you are obedient to God’s plan, when you have faith and you walk in unity, anything is possible!! Thank God for all our prayer warriors.
Election Day and the next two days thereafter produced many dramatic and extraordinary events, including the unprecedented suspension of the announcement of election results by the Supervisor of Elections, and the removal of state assets by agents of the former administration. I want the people of our great federation to know that electoral reform begins today.
The election trickery during the campaign has no place in a free, democratic society. Therefore, in keeping with our promise to implement election reform, I have asked the Hon. Attorney General to look into irregularities of the entire 2015 electoral system. We need to know the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of this voting system as a basis for proceeding with true electoral reform. In addition, I have received confirmation from the Hon. Attorney General that certain matters relating to the 2015 electoral system have been referred to the police for investigation.
I am happy to report, that the results and returns of the general elections have been gazetted and published as required by law. The period for the filing of election petitions has expired. No candidate has challenged the results. All have accepted them as reflecting the will of the people. Let us remember that we are a democracy. No matter how we differ, we must continue to build on our young developing democracy called St. Kitts and Nevis. Our ancestors, those that sacrificed so much expect this from us!
The Government of National Unity has been given a clear mandate by the people of St. Kitts and Nevis to govern this country for the next five years. After our first 30 days, we can say that it is going to take a strong resolve to get this country on track after 20 years of a government that became accountable to no one.
The Government of National Unity will govern responsibly, humbly, fairly and justly. We shall remain true to our commitments, undertakings and promises to the electorate.
The Cabinet of Ministers has been completed. It comprises all the elected candidates on Team Unity’s slate plus the Hon. Wendy Colleen Phipps, a professional and independent businesswoman who has decided to bring her unique and diverse skills to serve the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. I am happy to welcome to public service, Senator Michael Perkins and Mrs Josephine Huggins. They have both served well in the public service and I expect excellence to be the hallmark of their tenure.
The Cabinet has begun immediately to work for you, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. Ministers have met with the leadership of their Ministries and familiarization visits have been taking place. They have also been meetings with stakeholders of their Ministries. Each Cabinet member understands what role his or her Ministry will play in helping to achieve the prosperity agenda.
While our government has settled down to the task of governing, the election losers continue on the path of delusion, nostalgia, confusion and silly political posturing. We are not daunted by their distractions and we know you the people are not daunted either. We are focused on the people’s Prosperity Agenda.
Some have told us that people want to know what we have found in the first month of governance. This will be the subject of several subsequent reports. Suffice it to say that we inherited a government, which was scandalous in its behaviour and had tarnished the reputation of our country to the extent that the two most important countries in the hemisphere in terms of our development, that is, the United States of America and Canada took bold public acts of censure against us. The U.S. Treasury Department issued an advisory in May 2014 and we lost our visa free access to Canada in November 2014.
Since taking office, the Foreign Affairs Minister and I have been in regular contact with these governments and with the government of the United Kingdom in an effort to recalibrate our relationship and to assure these governments and stakeholders that the necessary reforms will be undertaken by us to accord with international best practices and to avoid any security risks to any country.
The twenty-year rule of a “galloping dictatorship” created a dysfunctional civil service, over-politicized with some Permanent Secretaries, Senior Assistant Secretaries, the Speaker of the National Assembly playing the most political of roles, and the Chairman of the National Bank serving as party political organizer. Everywhere the party took paramountcy over the people and country. Under this Government of National Unity, we will change that culture because our people deserve better and will get better.
Let me be clear, my ministers have also reported back and I know from experience, that there are some great civil servants that work for this government. To those that serve this country without bias and with distinction, we say thank you and please continue. However, we are also aware of individuals who would wish to sabotage the people of this great federation because of their party loyalty. The government of national unity will not allow anyone to sabotage nor undermine the will of the people. You the people voted to change the direction of this country and this government will give you the change that you voted for.
As a responsible government, we have asked all political appointees of the former administration to do the honourable thing and resign. As a new administration, we must be afforded the opportunity to decide whether we retain those political appointees or change them in the best interest of the people of this country. To date we have taken a number of deliberate actions to have some of them reassigned and some repositioned.
We will complete the senior appointments in government and on statutory boards in due course. More information will be provided on these and other matters as we move forward. We are acting honourably not hurriedly.
We ask for patience as we work diligently on your behalf. The former government had twenty (20) years. We have had only thirty-one (31) days.
This period of transition gives us the opportunity to look at each ministry carefully. There are those that want to serve their country by working for government. You know that you can make your country better! We applaud you! We ask you to apply. We also ask you to be patient as we go through this transition period together.
We promised not to be a vindictive government. We will never be. That being said, we will not allow anyone to undermine and sabotage the people’s duly elected government nor deny the people the prosperity agenda for which they so decisively voted.
I am pleased to announce that the Citizenship by Investment Program will be strengthened, restructured and reorganized to meet the expectations of the people and other partners in the international community. We want the world to know that we are open for business. St. Kitts and Nevis appreciates that foreign investment is at the core of our economic viability. We are ensuring the long-term sustainability of our Citizenship by Investment Program as a win-win program for all the people. In this regard, we request the support and understanding of developers, service providers, agents and all interested parties as we do what’s right for the programme, for our country and for the international community.
We are poised to grow and strengthen the middle class, promote entrepreneurship, revive agriculture, invest in our human capital, build infrastructure, create jobs and provide an environment where all can prosper. The good news is we can grow and build together!
I understand the excitement that the possibilities of a new government brings. I too am excited, along with the cabinet, to have the opportunity to put our federation on the road to real prosperity. However, we must ensure that we start off the right way. We must ensure that we have the necessary processes in place to create the kind of governance culture that put our people first. We have to establish a new culture that focuses on making peoples’ life better regardless of the political party to which you are affiliated. We must ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must create a new and better normal.
Delivering On A Fairer Share For All
I understand that for many of you, the government of national unity means economic relief. You voted because we promised relief. You voted because many of you work two jobs and you want a fair share of this nation’s prosperity. You want a level playing field. There are poor families in this country who struggle everyday to make ends meet. They just need a helping hand. How do we grow our middle class if we continue to put unnecessary economic barriers that keep them from growing. Team Unity promised relief from the burdensome taxes and the high cost of living.
The people of St Kitts and Nevis suffered badly from the imposition of the highest introductory rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) in the Caribbean, at 17%. Many were hardly able to buy their food. Small and medium sized businesses had to close as their cost of doing business was too high. Single mothers had it hard to make ends meet. Poverty was exacerbated.
We are committed to fight poverty and to give the Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) the support, which they need.
I am pleased to report that we are keeping our promises. After all, a promise only has value if it is kept. We believe that the road to prosperity means money in your pockets to save, to spend or to invest. Lastly, low taxes are good for economic growth.
Therefore, effective April 07, 2015, VAT on all food in St. Kitts and Nevis will end. Not only will this ease the tax burden on families in our federation, it will stimulate economic activity, which will create employment opportunities for many. Team Unity promised a better way, we promised prosperity for all and this initiative represents a fresh start on that new journey.
We will deliver on our commitment to relieve our people of the burden of VAT on essential items like medicines and funeral expenses. These will take effect also from April 07, 2015.
Our priority will always be to ensure prosperity for all.
We are committed to Nevis being a true partner as laid out clearly in the Charlestown Accord. Constructive discussions are taking place and in due course we shall update the Federation regarding the implementation of that accord.
We are committed to free preschool education. We are committed to ensuring a Police Force, Defense Force, Coast Guard and Fire and Rescue Services which are highly disciplined, highly motivated and whose men and women are well taken care of, as they work night and day to protect and serve our people without fear or favour.
We are committed to fighting all crimes so that St. Kitts and Nevis can once again be rated amongst the safest countries in the world.
We are committed to the Teachers’ Union and all labour organisations. Equally, we are committed to all our teachers and students. We are committed to building a brand new Basseterre High School.
We remember non-establishment workers, as we do the regular civil service.
We shall help those on PEP to do more for themselves through training, entrepreneurship, discipline and industry.
We are committed to alternative energy solutions to help you save more money. In this regard, I can confirm that we have accepted an offer of several thousand energy saving bulbs from the Government of Venezuela. These will be made available free of cost to our people.
My beloved people of St. Kitts and Nevis, our best days are ahead of us. I want you to know that your Government of National Unity is focused everyday on making your lives better. We will not settle for just being good. This government wants to be defined as being great. Good is the enemy of great! It is time we enter a new era of greatness and excellence – excellence in our commitment to deliver a government that brought an era of prosperity to its people; excellence in our commitment to deliver to the next generation, a St Kitts and Nevis that is better than was given to us. Let there be no doubt, this government is WORKING FOR YOU!
You are the reason we are here. You are the reason we will deliver on our commitments. You are the reason our federation will thrive and prosper.
May God continue to bless you, and may God continue to bless the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.
I thank you!