SWRF office opened: $16m to benefit sugar workers and boost economy

Harris proffered that the Team Unity Administration is now “righting a wrong that existed far too long”.

“We are doing this carefully and responsibly by establishing the institutional mechanism to ensure accountability and transparency,” Prime Minister Harris stated.

The prime minister explained further that the SWRF Committee is a Special Purpose Administrative Body established by Cabinet to “undertake all the work necessary to ensure the fair disbursement of the EC$16 million that has been received and are to be put to the benefit of former sugar workers”.

According to Prime Minister Harris, the settlement of the unpaid $16 million was a serious campaign promise made by Team Unity while it was in opposition, and he was pleased, with the EC$16 million grant from the Government of Venezuela, to be able to deliver so quickly following the elections. During 2005 to 2006, after the sugar industry was closed, the Labour Government paid out $28 million as part of the compensation package.

According to Harris, only the $28 million was paid “out of a promised $44 million gratuity pool”. “The outstanding $16 million has remained unpaid for almost 10 years.

During the pre-election and post-election periods, former prime minister and now opposition leader, Dr. Denzil Douglas, has maintained that there were no extra monies that were to be paid to sugar workers.

Venezuela-RepsBut Prime Minister Harris blamed the former Labour Party administration for neglecting to resolve the matter quickly, especially in the context of the substantial revenues earned by the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF).

“You must put in context this fund (SIDF) received significant resources, and on hindsight, the former government could have looked back even in 2010, even in 2011, even in 2012, even in 2013, even in 2014… They could have looked back during those times of a bonanza in the SIDF fund that brought to the country over $1.4 billion… And for $16 million, they did nothing to bring an end to the disquiet and real grievances that the former sugar workers had,” Harris opined.

Premier Vance Amory, in his capacity as Minister of Labour and Social Security in the federal government, said the SWRF was a significant means to help qualified former sugar workers improve their lives. He reminded citizens that for many years leading up to 2005, the economy of St. Kitts and Nevis was figuritively carried on the backs of former workers in the sugar industry, as for many years, it was the only foreign exchange earner of significance in the country. He acknowledged the Government of Venezuela and thanked them for their assistance.

According to the prime minister, Venezuela’s $16-million-grant will not only benefit sugar workers, but it would benefit the country, as it circulates for activities such as education, domestic and household supplies, medical and healthcare, housing and recreation.

“I am certain that many of the supermarkets and the hardware stores, they are going to do something good, because they know that it is 16 million dollars more that will be available in the economy,” Harris said.

The SWRF Committee comprises representatives from Business, the Labour Union, Government and Social Security. The plan is to disburse the $16 million, through a qualification process, by the end of September this year. Application forms and information are now available at the office on South Square Street in the former CLICO Building.

Attending the ceremony where former sugar workers, government officials including the SWRF Committee, representatives of the Trades and Labour Union, as well as diplomatic representatives of the Government of Venezuela.

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