Opening Statement by Prime Minister, at his monthly Press Conference at the NEMA Headquarters

By Timothy Harris,

Tuesday December 01, 2020-

My fellow citizens and residents, it is a pleasure to be able to update you on matters of national interest.  My goal is to have an open and transparent relationship with the people of St Kitts and Nevis on all matters of state. 

A major matter on the National Calendar is the 2021 Federal Budget. We are advanced in our finalization of the 2021 Budget.  As we have done since 2015, it is our intention to deliver the 2021 Budget way in advance of the statutory 60 day deadline after the beginning of the relevant financial year for the laying of the Annual Estimates.  In this regard, I am hopeful that with God’s grace I will be able to deliver the 2021 Budget Address on Tuesday, December 15, 2020.

In this year’s Budget Address I will outline programmes to chart the recovery effort made necessary by the impact of COVID-19.  COVID-19 is still with us.  An entire World has been scarred by it.  Its impact has been brutal on the health systems and people around the World.  As we speak, COVID-19 has infected more than 62,195,274 persons and caused 1,453,355 deaths globally.  There are millions who have been put out of work, airlines seeking bailouts and the cruise industry has drastically slowed down.  In fact, cruise business is literally at a standstill in our part of the World.

Here in St Kitts and Nevis, we have fared better than most in terms of COVID-19 cases and deaths.  Luckily for us we have no deaths caused by COVID-19.  We have 22 cases, the lowest number of COVID-19 cases of any independent state and only three cases are active.  The economic impact of COVID-19 has been severe.  Thousands of jobs have been lost, some persons and businesses are experiencing financial difficulties.  We have to reprioritize what we want to do as a people and as a Country.  Had it not been for our prudent financial management from 2015, leading up to the advent of COVID-19, the economy would have been destroyed and our people overwhelmed.  Our strong fiscal buffers gave us the financial space to respond. 

Thankfully, our Government responded quickly and decisively.  We announced a $120 million stimulus package – the biggest and most comprehensive in our region.  This helped to lessen the suffering in our Country and helped many to keep their heads above water, as we worked assiduously to reopen all areas for economic activity while recognizing that we must put the health and safety of our people first.  In other words a life saving strategy would apply. 

All of our export Manufacturing plants are operating under COVID-19 protocols.  About 90 percent of the employees at our main export manufacturing plants such as Jaro Electronics, KajolaKristada, Brush Company, API Harowe Servo Ltd, Sun Island Clothes, Carib Breweries (St Kitts) Ltd, Demerara Distillers St Kitts Ltd and Electrofab are back at work.  Our largest employer, Jaro continues its retrofitting to reengage more of its employees under COVID-19 protocols.

Border Opening

We are now one month since the reopening of our borders to commercial, regional and international travel.

Since the reopening of our borders to regular commercial traffic on October 31, 2020 our R.L. Bradshaw International Airport and Vance Amory International Airport have recorded 284 inbound flights and 283 outbound flights. Passenger movements recorded 742 arrivals and 753 departures for a passenger through put of 1,495. 

Our principal carrier so far is American Airlines.  Other smaller airlines are SVG Air, Trans Anguilla, Air Sunshine and other small charter or private carriers.  LIAT is due to begin a Saturday service to the island.  Speaking of LIAT, in order to assist with its orderly liquidation my Government has agreed to forego LIAT’s debt to St Kitts and Nevis in the region of $11 million.  We did this on request of the liquidator, taking into account LIAT’s ill health and as part of our commitment to regional integration and regional travel.  We accept that LIAT is the largest carrier supporting Intra Regional Travel and without LIAT there is a major void that has a significant impact on the ease of movement by citizens, residents and visitors to the region.  Mindful of the challenges LIAT has faced, we believe we must take this position in the best interest of the people of St Kitts and Nevis and the region as a whole.

So far the air traffic has been modest in terms of loads reflecting the international situation of low demand for travel particularly of long duration.   The opening up of our borders has facilitated the return of some of our nationals, permanent residents and overseas students. 

Acting on the advice of our experts, we believe we have taken the measures necessary to provide us with the best possible protocols for our continued safety in light of the ongoing threat of COVID-19.

Our careful step by step approach has allowed us time to test our systems of control and take necessary corrective actions as appropriate.  We anticipate improvement in passenger arrivals in 2021 given the good news of the imminent availability of a vaccine.  Several vaccines appear ready for human use and there is optimism that in the medium term there will be better control of the virus with resultant recovery of the global economy.

In the meantime we must act appropriately by strict compliance with the non pharmaceutical measures such as the wearing of masks, hand hygiene, and physical and social distancing.  The hosting of events with large crowds particularly where persons will consume alcohol or drugs and engage in constant face to face or body to body contact can lead to the spread of the virus.  These events must be kept to a minimum and better yet be avoided. 

Having regard to the foregoing, I have advised the organizers of the Annual Prime Minister’s New Years Gala that the event should be cancelled.  This event brings up to 500 persons in a single space at the Marriott Hotel.  I conclude it would not send the right signal to have such an event in the midst of a pandemic.  I extend regrets to all our patrons and encourage persons to contribute the moneys saved to a church or do a good charitable act in keeping with our all of society approach. 

Positive Signs

We will face 2021 with greater enthusiasm and a higher confidence in the stronger and safer future.  We take hope at the increasing confidence in the business community reflected in the following facts:

  1. Inspite of COVID-19, for this year so far, we have approved more business licences than in prior years.  Approvals for business licences for the year reached an all time high of 773 at the end of November 2020.  For the year 2014 there were only 419 approvals and in 2019 we had 623 approvals.  In sum more businesses are being formally set up than at any time in history.  This augurs well for increasing economic activity, jobs, and earnings.
  2. The FIRST Mortgage Programme through which my Government waives duty and customs service charge on building material
  3. ls for residential construction has reached a high of 140 for the year so far.  This is the highest number of approvals since 2014.  This concession on duties and customs service charge provides a significant savings to persons who are ready to build their first residential property and it is open not just to Government employees but to any citizen.
  4. TDC Housing Project at Dewars is expected to be launched in December 2020, bringing to completion about 30 homes for middle to high income families.
  5. The Royal St Kitts Hotel in Frigate Bay continues to demonstrate strong confidence in our Government and economy.  Mr Zuliani continues the build out of the Royal Plaza.  The second project called The Cove is nearing completion and will bring an additional 24 rooms in our hotel pool.  The Cove Condominium Project is expected to be completed in February 2021.  Mr Zuliani has promised to start another investment in high end luxury villas.  I anticipate a ground-breaking on the villa project in December 2020.  Construction of residential property and of any property for that matter means jobs for our people, money in their pockets, decent living, and a boost in economic activity through the purchase of goods and services.
  6. Significant Government Capital Projects will be implemented in 2021.

The STEP and GAE

The Government is moving forward with plans for the regularization and transition of the Skills Training Empowerment Program (STEP) Workers to Government Auxiliary Employees (GAEs).

The STEP has approximately 3,072  employees assigned across the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis.  Of this total 1,811 employees are assigned to the Public Sector (Ministries/Departments/Agencies and Parks & Beaches/Cleanup crews) and 1,261 to the Private Sector.  

Following the June 05th General Elections a STEP Regularization and Pensions Reform Committee was immediately established to chart the way forward and make recommendations to ensure these pronouncements are fulfilled. 

The Committee has to date submitted four (4) submissions for the consideration and approval of the Cabinet relating to the following:

  1. Establishment of the Government Auxiliary Employees Commission;
  2. Operationalizing of the New Contributory Pension Plan;
  3. Appointment of Members of the Government Auxiliary Employees Commission;
  4. Regularizing of the STEP Workers. 

I can report that members of the GAE Commission are now appointed.  Dr Henry Browne QC heads the Commission.  Other members of the GAE Commission are Mr Winston Morris, Agriculturist, Mrs Torfrida Rochester, Human Resource Specialist and Mrs Sylvia Isaac, Retired Registered Nurse.

To ensure during the transition that no migration of “Ghost Workers” takes place to the Government Auxiliary Employees (GAEs) a comprehensive exercise of employee verification was conducted by the Office of the Accountant General, the Government’s Human Resource Management Department with the assistance of Line Ministries and Departments in the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis and the Nevis Island Administration.  We are now satisfied that we can rely on the data.  We have started discussions with the STEP workers about a fair days work for a fair days pay.  New hours of work have been provided and are to be strictly adhered to.  Those who do not work will not be paid unless their absence was approved for a legitimate purpose such as illness etc.  We are working hard to elevate the level of respect, pride, discipline and industry among all STEP workers.  These values and positive attitude towards work are critical to the successful development of our young nation and needs to be complemented with a zeal for excellence in all that we do.

Fort Tyson Rise

The significant slippage of lands and collapse of road in a section of Fort Tyson Rise in Frigate Bay created high anxiety in the Country.  My Government sympathises with those affected by this event, especially property owners and their tenants.  We responded quickly to minimize loss of lives, injury to persons and mitigate damage to property.

I commend the agencies and departments of Government such as NEMA, Public Works and the Department of Social Services for their quick response to the situation.  I acknowledge the Department of Social Services for extending support to some tenants who became displaced.  The Department provided food and other necessities.  At this moment the area has stabilized and some homeowners and tenants have returned to their residences.  I am advised that Mr Alexis Hazel has provided assistance with the reinstatement of the road and all residents are now able to access their homes.  Gratitude is extended to Mr Hazel for his public spiritedness.

The general situation is one of calm.  The estimated damage has been put at EC $7 million.

Government Pay Day – December 17th

In order to accommodate VAT Day Sales the Government will pay its salaries on Thursday, December 17, 2020.  Just about 1,200 non-establishment workers will also receive their honorarium on December 17, 2020.  Beneficiaries of PAP will also be paid on this day.  I must call for discipline on VAT Days and I urge shoppers and suppliers of goods and services to practice physical distancing, wearing of masks and practice good hand hygiene.  As per usual the security forces will be on full alert to maintain law and order.

27th Anniversary as Member of Parliament

I wish to record my appreciation to the people of Constituency #7 who in seven (7) General Elections starting in 1993 elected me to serve as their Member of Parliament.  In 2020 they gave me my strongest mandate.  I owe a debt of gratitude to them and the people of this Country generally.  I shall continue to give yeoman service to my beloved people and Country.

End of Hurricane Season

The 2020 Hurricane Season ended on November 30, 2020.  We are grateful to Almighty God that we had no serious storm visiting our islands.  I commend the vigilance of the staff at NEMA who remained alert and aware as systems developed and kept the Nation informed throughout the period.  We will continue to build up the resilience of our Country thereby mitigating our vulnerabilities to climate change and associated more dangerous hurricanes.

Main Photo: Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Timothy Harris

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