Indeed, we have amply demonstrated our proclivity for peace and love during the Christmas season and throughout our National Carnival celebrations. Our people have showered gifts and good wishes on each other; and they have participated fully and peacefully in the J’ouvert Jam and in each of the many successful and entertaining Carnival Shows.
I am certain that the entire Nation joins with me in congratulating Shakki (our Groovy Soca Monarch), Kalia Huggins (the National Carnival Queen), Konris (the Calypso Monarch), Siobhan Phipps (our own Caribbean Talented Teen), Anastasia our Female Calypso Monarch, Rock-a-Fella (the King of the Tents) and all other winners in the National Carnival competitions. I consider all who participated in the various competitions as winners because they all performed exceedingly well and each of the many individual performances has contributed significantly to the overall success of Carnival to date. I expect the performances over the rest of Carnival to be just as good and I crave outstanding success for all persons who intend to participate in the remaining Carnival events.
The excellence demonstrated by all of our artists and performers in the Carnival events has truly made us proud, and provides a good example of our capabilities as a people and of our ability to perform at levels comparable with people in any other nation of the world. It demonstrates our ability to compete effectively in international markets, notwithstanding our status as a small island nation state. In the midst of the perceptions and predictions of gloom and doom that seem to have taken hold of the minds of people throughout the entire global community, this reminder of our strength and capabilities as a nation is quite timely and appropriate.
We have weathered many a storm, actually and metaphorically, and we have overcome the mammoth challenges presented by those storms, through great resolve and determination, through superior leadership, and through the application of the outstanding talents, the capacity for hard work, and the exceptional intellectual resources that The Almighty has so bountifully provided our people.
I am persuaded that we are better prepared today to deal with the global financial and economic storm that currently affects our nation than we ever were. We have been working feverishly, with great success, to diversify and modernize our economy even before the demise of sugar in 2005. We built our infrastructure to a level where is has been among the best and most modern in the region. We modernized and strengthened our health sector with the result that we have increased our life expectancy to 73, and reduced our rate of infant mortality from as high as 25 per thousand live births to some 12 per 1000 live births.
We have sharpened the focus of our education system on the children at risk of prematurely leaving school and have at the same time produced performances in the CXC Examinations that are among the best in the Caribbean. We constructed thousands of affordable homes for low income families and providing many of them low-cost subsidized financing so that they do not face the risk of expulsion and embarrassment currently being faced by many homeowners in even advanced countries.
We introduced a fiscal consolidation programme with the help of the CARTAC as early as 2003, and as soon as it became apparent that the global financial crisis could linger on and reap havoc in our Federation, we escalated this programme into a full scale IMF supported programme. We also moved expeditiously to counter the huge risk of our very high Debt to GDP ratio through the implementation of a Debt Restructuring Programme.
We rationalized the Citizenship by Investment Programme that was established by the previous Government as early as 1984, and we have converted it into an important source of economic stability through its very positive impact on the real estate and the construction sectors and through the operation of the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF), which is funded by the contributions of persons obtaining citizenship under the programme.
Indeed, unlike in many other countries, the operation of the Citizenship by Investment Programme has ensured that no major ongoing hotel or condominium project has ceased construction because of the global financial crisis. Indeed many new and prospective projects are only possible as a result of the operation of this programme that is so critical to the economic performance of our nation. In addition, the SIDF has supported the financial sector through the mobilization of a substantial amount of financial resources.
The SIDF has also funded a variety of critical projects in our Federation, including environmental projects, education and training, entrepreneurial development, airlift support and tourism development, and social and economic infrastructure. The resources expected to flow to the Government from the Citizenship by Investment Programme have also been taken into account in the IMF supported Programme and has served to substantially reduce the level of adjustment that our people and our creditors must bear as part of the programme.
The accounts of the SIDF have been audited and, because of the national significance of this import Foundation, I have requested the independent Board of Governors, which is responsible for this Foundation, to make available the audited accounts of the Foundation for public scrutiny. I am certain that the public would, on examining these accounts, commend this important institution for its outstanding contribution to the development of St. Kitts and Nevis.
We understood that in a crisis of the magnitude of the global financial crisis, the risk for vulnerable groups including young people and low income families, are especially high, and we were not prepared to play games with the livelihood of these groups or compromise the future of our people by unnecessary delay arising from short-term political or other considerations. We combined the outstanding technical resources of our Ministry of Finance and Development with the best technical advice available regionally and internationally to craft and implement a programme to protect our country from economic devastation, and we proceeded immediately with its implementation.
Citizens and Residents, as your leader, I am not prepared to play politics or to bury my head in the sand and claim that all is well. I understand that the only way that my Government can continue to bring real value to the people of this country, is to look at the problems we face honestly and realistically with a view to arriving at the best possible solutions. Hence, I have no hesitation in saying that I know the global crisis has inflicted some pain on our people and indeed on people all over the face of the globe. I also know that the measures that we were forced to introduce to protect our people and reduce the risk of economic mayhem and devastation, have created some difficulties and hardships, during this period of adjustment.
But I am also persuaded that we would have been much worse off if we had not introduced he measures or if we had sat idly by and done nothing. Moreover, I am convinced that the sacrifices that we have borne as a people have not been in vain. As a result of the pre-emptive and creative policy initiatives of the Government, we can look to the future with hope and optimism.
Indeed, after a decline in output of 2.7% in 2010, we expect that when statistics are prepared for 2011 they would show that our growth rate would move out of negative territory and that this year the economy would grow by 1.5%. Moreover, the signs in the key sectors of the economy are quite heartening. In Tourism, for instance, stay-over arrivals are expected to increase by 5.9% in 2011 and expand even further this year. Cruise ship arrivals which crossed the half million mark in the 2009-2010 season is expected to jump to a massive 650,000 in the 2011-2012 season.
In addition, the manufacturing sector, which reported a decline of some 19.6% in 2009 grew by 2.2% in 2010 and is expected to have grown by some 6% in 2011. This improved performance is expected to continue into 2012. Similarly the construction sector, after declining in 2010 and 2011 is expected to grow by 3 percent in 2012.
As I reported in my recent budget presentation, we are also very pleased that a number of major projects will continue to be implemented in 2012. In particular, we have been advised that construction activity will continue at Kittitian Hill and will be boosted significantly during the course of this month so that by year end some 90 rooms, a spa and golf course should be in operation as part of the first phase of the project.
We are also quite heartened that a range of projects involving hotels, condominiums, villas and other tourism-related residential units are being implemented and will continue throughout this year and beyond. These include Marriott Residences, Christophe Harbour, Ocean’s Edge, Sunrise Villas, St. Christopher Club, Manor-on-the Sea, Sundance Ridge, Peninsula Cove, and condominiums at Scotch Bonnet. We also intend take whatever action is necessary to rebuild the momentum at Beacon Heights to ensure that this expansive and important project realizes its objectives of providing modern homes for our citizens and residents, spurring economic activity, creating employment, and generating returns for Social Security.
We also expect that a number of other growth enhancing initiatives will serve to propel the economy in 2012. We will make additional lands available to commercial farmers and will foster the creation of groups or clusters of farmers to take advantage of this initiative. We will also build dams in a number of areas, including Phillips’s, Estridge, Mansion and Fahies, to provide water to farmers, especially those with farms at high elevations. We will continue to train our fishermen and encourage them to employ new technologies and modern methods of fishing. We were particularly pleased that fish landings increased by a massive 29.8% in 2011 as a result of enhanced training and the adoption of the vertical long-line fishing method through the assistance of the Japanese International Cooperative Agency.
We are also pleased that the SIDF will step up its activities in relation to the funding of small businesses, including young entrepreneurs, through the Development Bank and other local financial institutions. The SIDF will also introduce a new construction financing programme that would assist low income families encountering difficulties in meeting the down-payment requirements for the acquisition of new homes.
Citizens and residents, we are quite pleased with the progress that we are making in respect of the fight against crime. We would like to commend the Commissioner and the entire Police Force for their determined effort to take back our streets. The efforts of the Army and other Enforcement Agencies such as Customs Department have also helped considerably in the fight against crime. Of course, that battle against crime is still ongoing and Law Enforcement Agencies will continue to intensify their activities in fighting crime. The Government, through the Anti-crime Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister will continue to support the work of the Security Forces by providing the appropriate legal and policy framework for the effective discharge of their crime fighting functions.
We appreciate that we must continue to train our Security Forces and to empower them to carry out their very challenging functions. Hence during 2011 some 40 Police and Defence Force Officers benefitted from training in crime scene management provided by the United States Embassy Force Detachment Program and the Unites States Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In addition, four (4) Officers from the Financial Intelligence Unit received training from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the United States Government in financial investigation, money laundering and intelligence gathering.
We are also continuing to improve the physical facilities of the Security Forces. Hence, the new Dieppe Police that was constructed through the assistance of the Government of Mexico, was opened in November, to serve the people living in communities from Harris’s to St. Paul’s. In addition, we have already broken ground in respect of a new Police Station in Tabernacle to serve the people living in communities from Lodge to Harris’s. We will continue to upgrade the technical and physical resources of the Security Forces through Funds from the European Union. This EU-funded initiative will focus on policy formulation, institutional strengthening, the provision of modern equipment, police training curriculum development, and the construction of a new police training facility as well as a prisoner rehabilitation centre.
Of course, even as we vigorously implement various law enforcement initiatives to combat crime, we also continue to address the underlying social causes of crime. Hence, in 2012 we intend to open the New Horizon Co-ed Rehabilitation Centre after implementing an intensive training programme to prepare the relevant staff to carry out their functions at the Centre. We are moving forward with the development of a National Child Protocol with a view to securing its early implementation. We intend to eradicate child abuse and the associated pain and trauma, which often result in psychological problems leading to criminal and anti-social behavior.
In the education sector, we are implementing research projects to probe the effect of various teaching and learning variables on the performance and behavior of primary and secondary school children. The studies will focus on a number of issues including the effect of single sex classrooms, school climate, students’ risk behavior assessment, and school needs assessment. The Education Department is also strengthening the structure for the delivery of the Caribbean Vocational and Educational Qualification with a view to ensure that all of our students, the technically inclined as well the academically inclined, would be provided a balanced education that gives them the opportunity to explore and prepare themselves for careers in areas of studies that are consistent with their interests and aptitudes.
We believe that while Law Enforcement will always play a critical role in the prevention and detection of crimes, the work of our Security Forces would be made much easier over the long-term if we address the social factors that give rise to the propensity to engage in criminal activity. Hence, we are tackling crime on both fronts. Our aim is the creation of a progressive and prosperous country in which our people can go about their business peacefully, harmoniously and free of fear.
Citizens and Residents, my message to you on this first day of 2012, is to be of good cheer. Your hard work and sacrifice during this period of global mayhem is already yielding results, and will bear even greater fruits as the year progresses. As a medical practitioner, I have learnt that even the finest of medicines that bring wholesome definitive relief, quite often entail some short-term difficulties.
I am confident that the programme for economic recovery that my Government has enunciated, will help us overcome every short-term difficulty or challenge and will bring great benefit to our people over this year and well beyond.
From this very brief synopsis of some of the key initiatives of My Government, it should be clear to you that the ship of state is in good hands and, notwithstanding the occasional waves, we are well on the way to the attainment of a better quality of life for our people and for future generations. Of course, many of our citizens have gone beyond the call of duty to secure the continued progress of our nation.
Today, let us take time out to recognize a few of them for their dedicated and exceptional service. In this regard, I pleased to announce that Her Majesty has awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) to Mrs. Morlene Whittaker for her long, dedicated and outstanding career in the public service. Her Majesty has also awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) to Ms. Dorothy Hector and Ms. Theressa Richardson respectively for their outstanding contributions to the public service. I congratulate each of them on my own behalf and on behalf of the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Citizens and Residents, the global economic environment is very challenging and it has brought difficulties to countries all over the globe. Even countries that are considered advanced or developed countries continue to struggle to find a way through the economic maze that was brought about by the global financial crisis. We have had our difficulties but we have moved quickly to establish a clear path out of the economic quagmire that has enmeshed much of the global community.
Of course, we understand that our performance depends on the performances of other countries around the world so we know that new and unpredictable global developments could throw new boulders on the path we have defined for ourselves. Hence, we cannot relax. We must continue to combine our talents and resources, put petty differences behind us, and press hard against the wheels of economic progress. Let us take inspiration from our outstanding achievements as a nation and from the exceptional progress we are already achieving through the implementation of our programme of economic recovery. Let us move steadfastly to our cherished goal of creating a new society that we would be happy and proud to bequeath our children and future generations.
Citizens and Residents, Happy New Year to each of you. May the Almighty God bless us even more abundantly in 2012 and beyond.
I thank you.