But we also accept that these new opportunities are fashioned with their own unique challenges.
Today, we have become more service-oriented and have embraced more strategic steps to navigate the many financial and economic obstacles that confront small developing Caribbean nations like ours.
Unlike other countries that are blessed with natural resources of gold, diamonds and oil, this proud nation of St. Kitts and Nevis relies heavily on its two greatest assets…its natural beauty and its resourceful people.
We are convinced that these two natural resources have largely been the influential factor for so many new citizens who have embraced the opportunities provided in our 31-year-old Citizenship by Investment program, CBI.
The options to invest or to contribute to a fund that is designed to guide our new pathway for a more diversified economy have not only delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in much needed revenue, but the CBI has become a model adopted by sister Caribbean states.
They too have realized the strategic significance of the CBI as a new source of revenue that does not place the burden on an already over taxed citizenry.
The experience here in St. Kitts and Nevis is truly a casebook study. For instance, when one examines the Fiscal Accounts as reported by our Federal Government, it would reveal that since 2010, Non Tax revenue has become the single largest contributor to the treasury.
For example, in 2014, just last year, this portfolio brought in EC$414.73 million; in 2013, EC$391.49 million and; in 2012, $245.61 million.
It is no secret that our CBI Program is the prime impetus for the upsurge in large scale Foreign Direct Investments that have blossomed across the two islands. This has revitalized the construction sector generally, providing hundreds of jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers.
This new injection of funds to the treasury has bolstered the revenue streams of the government, enabling it to be more proactive and generous in the provision of numerous social programs and infrastructural improvements.
But, what has been even more encouraging is the positive impact on existing enterprises involved in varied retail and wholesale activities.
It is therefore obvious that the CBI is a model that can work, but it needs fixing.
If we are to be honest though, it has long been a program in need of greater transparency.
We as a Chamber have called for this, on many occasions in past years and we are reminded that the partners in the present government, while in opposition, up to four months ago, also advocated for a new openness.
We are convinced that a “home-grown” Caribbean solution with the assistance and collaboration of experienced extra-regional agencies and friendly governments is our best option to structure a new paradigm that is anchored in greater transparency, accountability and professionalism.
This is why the St. Kitts and Nevis Chamber of Industry & Commerce, not only welcomes this historic and important meeting, but we also support the theme for today’s conference –Transformational Leadership: Efficiency and Good Governance.
Today places us at the milestone of a new beginning and an opportunity that we ought to accept within the context of our own national realities and vision for growth and development throughout our entire region.
But in order for us to safeguard that future to which we are all committed, we must also engage in internal and critical analysis, designed to strengthen our CBI programs and to protect them from the external threats that can only close the new fiscal space that the CBIs deliver.
The objectives of this conference therefore would be better served if the deliberations were allowed to flow in an atmosphere of frank and open examination of the harmful steps taken in the past. We encourage you to use this opportunity to identify the central issues that have inspected the programs in each nation state.
And the resolve by all should be, to find workable solutions to correct the weaknesses wherever they may exist.
The good news is that our own government here in St. Kitts and Nevis has already expressed a commitment to introduce new measures and tighter protocols as occasioned by the intervention of the expert advice of IPSA International.
The Chamber invites the government to share the latest IPSA Report with private sector stakeholders like our organization. Greater knowledge of the problems and recommended resolutions could better guide our involvement.
We as the Chamber support the efforts of the government and we encourage them to continue along the path of corrective measures. The framework of cooperation should include a joint approach between fellow Caribbean states in order to seek consensus to deal with “this growing contributor to economic activity in our countries.”
As the main and largest private sector organization in St. Kitts and Nevis, the Chamber is grateful for the kind invitation to participate in today’s opening ceremony and the opportunity to share the perspectives of Non-Governmental Organizations. This is a good start, but we equally believe that there is an ongoing role to be played by our organization.
The search for new answers to bolster our CBIs could be better served with the private sector taking a seat at the table. I wish therefore to indicate that we are ready and willing to assist Government in finding the right solutions.
In closing, it would equally be important for our private sector body to support our government’s appeal for timely review of current impositions of visa restrictions and fiscal advisories. A clear set of guidelines would be welcomed as our government and its friendly allies to the North continue to work together in the best interest of their countries, their economies and national security.
We remain hopeful.
Permit me to extend very best wishes for the deliberations to follow and to share the expectation that your focus would be placed on the wellbeing of the people we serve.
May God bless you!