WHEN IN SKN, DO AS YOU LIKE

Indeed, the flow of capital and labour is a natural, and accepted, part of economic activity in just about every country on earth.

But not entirely, because notwithstanding the existence of the World Trade Organization(WTO) and other organizations which oversee international trade, and even including our own CARICOM, this flow of capital and labour is not free, or even fair.

You see, while capital and labour from the larger, more powerful nations (especially those which inject large amounts of money into the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank(CDB), etc., and which, for all practical purposes, control those institutions) may be able to move into a place like St. Kitts & Nevis with relative ease, the reverse is not the case.

If you doubt me, try opening a business in the USA, England, Canada, Germany, India or China, for example. Try secure a licence, and visas and work permits for yourself and your employees. In other words, try to get a ‘level playing field’ with your competitors and counterparts in those countries.

Indeed, try to get set up in business in Trinidad, Barbados or Jamaica, whether as a manufacturer, a trader, or, armed with your CARICOM Skilled Nationals Certificate, as a professional.

Try these things and get back to us with your results.

For us in St. Kitts & Nevis to achieve what’s best for us, we must avoid the loose and laissez faire approach. Instead, we need to have a policy, a system and an attitude which are hospitable and accommodating to clean money, clean entrepreneurs, clean industry, good people, and labour skills that fit our particular needs and respect our people, our laws and our patrimony. And a policy and a system which are managed.

Also, the Government must see to it that the sons and daughters of St.Kitts & Nevis are appropriately and strategically educated, trained up (home-grown, and adopted, intellectual capital and skills sets are vital) and otherwise prepared, positioned and facilitated for entrepreneurial and employment opportunities so that citizens are assured a fair chance of empowerment and of protection against marginalization and subjugation.

A Government which, not having done these things, claims that its people are exposing themselves to marginalization and subjugation in their own land as foreign capital and labour make their way in, is a Government which has failed, indeed betrayed, its people in the most seminal of ways.

Leaders who tell people to get ready for the world of the WTO, but who don’t help them get ready, indeed, who keep them under-educated and generally under-tooled for the world of the WTO, should be kicked unceremoniously out of office.

Leaders who don’t capitalize on the provisions in the rules of the WTO, CARICOM and other organizations which allow them to ensure that their people are protected and given a fair chance of survival and success, deserve an emphatic and immediate expulsion from office.

St. Kitts & Nevis is a loose place right now. Anybody can come in here and virtually do as he or she pleases.

People come here, get work, set up shop, get licences, Social Security cards, and so on, just like that! We have rules, but it seems that we don’t. And people just come in and do as they please.

You know the saying :”When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Well, sadly, here’s another saying:”When in St. Kitts & Nevis, do as you like!”

More so if you have a big friend.

These people come in here and realize instantly( in fact, they find out long before they land here) that we don’t respect ourselves, each other, or our own country. So from day one, they do it to us.

While I was the Minister of Immigration and Labour, the contract to construct the Pogson Hospital in Sandy Point was awarded to a Chinese firm. At the start, the firm applied for about fifty work permits, including a couple cooks. I didn’t approve.

Then one day a few local workers complained to me that they were being paid EC$32.00 weekly. At the time the national minimum wage was $250.00, I think.

I went to the site and asked for an explanation, and I was told that that was the amount that had been budgeted for wages. How were they approved? I was shocked.

And, of course, no Social Security payments were being made.

The contractors preferred to pay return airfares for about 50 workers from China to St.Kitts and back, then pay them EC$32.00 weekly, than to save the airfare expense and pay Kittitians and Nevisians the minimum wage, and, of course, the payroll deductions.

It might’ve been in the firm’s, and China’s interest, but I didn’t see it as being in the interests of the people of St.Kitts & Nevis. Indeed, I considered it disrespectful and offensive.

I recall another incident in which Chinese people were installing air-condition systems all over the place, without work permits. Even at the Port Authority and other Government facilities.

I spoke to the person, a Chinese man, and told him that he and his workers were breaking the law. He said that he would take immediate remedial steps. But he never did. So I prepared a deportation order for the illegals.

At the time the Prime Minister was overseas, and I was told that he had heard about the deportation order and wanted me to hold the matter until his return to St. Kitts.I complied, of course.

When he and I discussed the matter, he’d already been briefed by the Chinese employer of the illegal workers.

I told him that I’d given the employer plenty time to correct the situation, but that the employer had ignored me. I told him that I was concerned about people coming to St. Kitts all the way from China( or from anywhere else) to do work which locals were well qualified to do. I told him that it was wrong.

I complained that the Chinese chaps were even doing work at the Port, and my boss told me that they possessed certain skills in this particular work at the Port which our locals did not. In a respectful way I made it clear that that was nonsense.

And when, eventually, he ran out of excuses, he told me:”( the employer) is our friend”.

I wondered then and there what the local refrigeration people were to us. Enemies? Today, the same Chinese air condition chaps service many, if not most, of the Government offices and departments, even the Police Headquarters.

They’re right in there! Think about it.

Now the Government of China’s plan to be the world’s leading manufacturer and economy is premised, among other things, on the intense internal pressure that it faces, with a population of 1.37 billion people, to create and maintain a high level of jobs and other economic activity and social stability. Just last week, there were protests in China against foreign workers. Interesting.

The Chinese Government, in its quest to grab what it considers to be its necessary and perhaps its fair share of the planet, and having learned well from similar efforts by other countries past and present, has been aggressively buying up massive portions of the world’s raw materials, or production rights of those raw materials, and also occupying as much economic space as possible, notably in so-called Third World; and in every case it has migrated significant numbers of its citizens to those overseas locations, not solely to be engaged in production, but also as merchants, restaurateurs, etc. The whole shabang!

I don’t need to mention, important as it is, that China also owns most the debt of the USA.

The strategy is to expand and project China’s economy into the commercial and financial space of other nations throughout the world, and to physically put its people in those other nations.

A brilliant move, and in China’s best interests, as it grows the demand for its goods and services, buys itself influence and favour in host countries, relieves itself of the pressures of mass population( and the attending risk of mass social upheavals and instability), and sets up a line of remittances back to China from all over the world as its people flock to Western Union outlets in Sierra Leone, Trinidad, St. Kitts, and so on.

And it has suited the millions of Chinese citizens who have migrated through the process, as they’ve been given a chance which they’re most unlikely to have had if they ‘d remained in China.

The Government encourages citizens to migrate in a number of ways, one of which is that it provides them with capital financing at the very gentle interest rate of 2% per annum.

Nobody is St. Kitts can get funding at such a low rate. The banks demand 8%-11%.So we’re immediately at a disadvantage. Of course, if $100-$200 million became available from the SIDF at, say,3%-4% interest to fund home-grown business development, then we could be cooking on gas. And perhaps that would help to drive the bank rates down, which would be good.

The Chinese Government also helps with the rents and other outgoings for its citizens in these parts. Our Government can’t match that. So our people are put behind the 8 ball again.

By some miracle which I’m still to understand, the Chinese immigrants are also given pretty much a free hand with work permits. And in a number of cases, they‘fool’ host governments, telling them that the young fellow who they want to bring in is a cousin or a nephew.

The upshot of all of this is that labour costs for these people are minimal (remember, $32.00 a week), which means that locals are left out in the cold.

In addition, China manufactures a lot of counterfeit and cheaper goods, and their systems of quality control are relatively poor, which means that goods bearing well known labels are not necessarily the real thing and don’t comply with, say, U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, or other internationally accepted manufacturing standards, and in the process, consumers are put at risk.

Further, a number of invoices are set out in Chinese, a language which nobody at Customs or elsewhere in Government understands. Yet they’re accepted, I’m told.

In addition, under-invoicing appears to be as much the rule as it is the exception.

The bottom line : (1) operational costs of these Chinese businesses are much lower than those of their local counterparts; (2) while goods are cheaper, quality control and counterfeiting are worrying issues;(3) locals are deprived of job… and the argument that the price reduction more than makes up for the loss of employment is beyond illogical, especially given the fact that people without jobs, and they’re on the increase in our country, don’t have the money to buy the cheaper goods anyway; (4) Social Security is deprived of funds; (5) every week money is sent out of the economy unnecessarily as businesses and their Chinese $32-a-week workers line up at Western Union; (6) local businesses are put to a disadvantage; and (7) Government loses revenue.

But this is not a stand-alone problem for us. And it’s not just about the Chinese, although they pose particular challenges. The truth is that foreigners are simply doing to us what we do to ourselves and what we allow our leader and others to do to us.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when in St. Kitts & Nevis, do as you like!

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