Again the wheel of time has turned and, once more, brought us to a New Year’s day – a day of soul-searching for us, both as individuals and as a Nation. And when we make our reckoning, we cannot ignore the fact that we are a generation that lives in a period replete with upheavals – in the world at large, as well as in our tiny corner, St. Kitts and Nevis. We are a society struggling to mold its national image in the shadow of and under the constant pressures of economic difficulties and security threats.
Yet, we are at one and the same time a dynamic society. Few are the societies which resemble us, both in terms of our achievements and of the permutations of problems we have experienced during the course of the past year. And through it all St. Kitts and Nevis continues to constitute a home for those born of this beautiful twin island Nation and a melting pot for our friends and neighbours who are immigrating and becoming rooted among us.
As we stand on the threshold of a New Year and of a new Decade, we pause to look back and then turn our attention to the future. The past year was not kind to our country. On any analysis, we have failed in some material respects as a country. Our crime rate continues to be unacceptably high and even now has captured the attention of the world Media with its untold perils for our main tourism industry. Our economy finds itself in a crisis which is the deepest one during the 27 years that have elapsed between the birth of a sovereign St. Kitts and Nevis and today. Even as I speak to you on this glorious dawn of 2011, I am deeply concerned that all the indicators are there that this year for the first time in her history, our Nation may well find itself in the cruel grips of the International Monetary Fund and austerity measures imposed on us not from Church Street or Bath Hotel but from the corridors of power in Washington DC. As we reflect on the past year and seek to learn from our mistakes, perhaps the abiding lesson to be learnt is that actions have consequences and that decisions taken today may have disastrous consequences for us as a Nation in the future.
2011 must be about fiscal sobriety and sustainability and living within our means. The New Year must be about greater accountability by all of us for our actions and inactions. For far too long we have been fed empty platitudes that we could continue to spend and spend and spend and borrow and borrow and borrow without there being any consequences. For far too long we have ignored the growing problems of crime and anti social behavior in the vain hope that it they would disappear miraculously. For far too long, we have ridiculed and chastised those who dared to sound the alarm and castigated them as unpatriotic for telling the truth about where we are as a Nation and where we were obviously headed. For too long we have celebrated mediocrity in our country, celebrating failure as if it were Manna from Heaven. In 2011 all this must stop.
Our Nation must now face up to the reality of Value Added Tax, increased electricity costs and a host of new tax measures. Salaries and wages are likely to remain stagnant while the cost of living skyrockets. The unconscionably high national debt which we were all assured was irrelevant has now become the expressed reason for the raft of new tax and related measures. I wish our people to understand that this New Year promises to be exceedingly difficult on the economic front. There is no need for us in leadership to sugar coat the realities or pretend that they do not exist. Our people must understand that we have arrived at a point in time in the history of young Nation where more than ever before we will all be asked to make sacrifices. We will all be asked in the famous words of United States President John Fitzgerald Kennedy to ask not what our Country can do for us but indeed what we can do for our Country.
The economic challenges presented to us this year do however provide us with an opportunity to:
- leverage technology to achieve cost savings and improved services;
- strategise our offering of incentives to foreign investors to ensure that we yield maximum returns especially in terms of employment for our people;
- fully engage the business community to establish and implement a sound growth strategy;
- revisit unworkable ideas and impractical economic schemes which have led to harsh economic consequences for us all
- develop a new paradigm for moving our country forward which involves all of our people
- retool our economy with emphasis on education and training for our people to better equip them to confront and overcome the challenges in this new hostile world environment.
We must this year set about building an economy that is strong and robust. We must this year set about the urgent task of providing opportunities for our people in this the land of their birth. We must this year set about ensuring that our country is safe for our children. We must this year insist that this Country offers our people hope rather than despair.
To the youth of this country I implore you to recognize that your own presence here in this world is part of something infinitely bigger than yourself, to feel a sense of obligation awakening within you, spiritually inspired obligation to be the very best you can be for the sake of yourselves, your families and your Country. I challenge you to resolve to live an exemplary life, to adopt and express the most deeply positive capacities of the human soul, to make a positive and profound statement about your obligation to self and country, and to succeed. We need our youths to succeed if we are to survive and prosper as a Nation. It might well be trite to say but you are in every sense our future and you must engage fully in nation building. I wish our youths to be clear that you cannot build this Country from the jailhouse or the cemetery. There is no future in the gun or the knife. Turn your weapons into ploughshares and join the army of Kittitians and Nevisian in working to develop our Country.
I call on you to rebuke any and all who lead a life of crime, through your own example, through your own victory and unmistakable higher development. Let the criminals who reside in the shadows of our Society know in no uncertain terms that their deviant and disruptive pursuits will not be tolerated. There is no value in crime and criminality. There is no value in anti social and deviant behavior. The only true value lies in developing yourselves and serving your God and your Country. This has to be our clarion call for 2011. This has to be your purpose in this year and in this decade.
To my fellow Nevisians, as we enter an election year in Nevis let us try to renew and revive the highest ideals of this ancient concept of politics. Let us teach both ourselves and others that politics is and ought always to be a reflection of the aspiration to contribute to the happiness of the community and not of the need to deceive or pillage the community. Let us teach both ourselves and others that politics does not have to comprise the art of speculating, calculating, intrigues and secret agreements, but that it must be the art of making both ourselves and our Nation better. While we are wont to become passionate with our political support, let us do so with respect for each other. As I have said in the past, politicians will come and politicians will go. Our country is what we should be ensuring endures forever. Let us not therefore forget in the cut and thrust of our upcoming campaign that it is ultimately our beloved island of Nevis that matters most.
At the dawn of this New Year. Let us not forget that St. Kitts and Nevis is a country with hardworking, dedicated and engaged citizens. We are a healthy country by many key measures:
- We have a deeply cultivated and developed national spirit;
- We are blessed with social harmony and stability; and
- We are a Nation that possesses a huge reservoir of potential for goodwill, creativity and kindness.
With these fundamental tenets, toiling shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand and toe to toe; with a strong faith in the Almighty and a deep yearning for a better Country for all of our people, Kittitians and Nevisians indeed have the ability to do great things.
Despite our numerous problems as a young Nation, I continue to be confident in our capacity to confront and overcome our difficulties. We are and have always been a hardy and resilient people. Our historical journey to this point has not been an easy one but the worthwhile achievement of nationhood and the right to make our own decisions and chart our own destiny was not meant to be easy. Challenges will always come. Conquering them is what makes us strong. And therefore I say to you today that whether you live on the lush hills of Rawlins Mountain or the low valleys of Basseterre, my message to our people in this tumultuous time is that with the grace of God and the commitment to our country we shall overcome.
I wish a successful year 2011 to all my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, a year of recommitment to our values and restoration of tranquility, a year when politics regains its content, and a year when we begin the long march to extricate ourselves from our current economic crisis. It is time for all of us to come together for the good of our Nation.
May the God of grace and peace guide and guard us as I extend New Year greetings to all of you from my family and me. May God bless you and may God continue to bless the Nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.