My Fellow Citizens and Residents, Cabinet Colleagues, Representatives of the Media. Welcome to all of you.
Four years ago, Team Unity was elected to make our great federation stronger, safer and more prosperous for all our people.
We started the journey to clean up the mess Labour left behind.
Today, it is a privilege for me to update you on the stronger, safer future we are building for all our people.
This is in keeping with the levels of transparency and accountability we promised before the last election and which we are delivering.
Team Unity continues working to create more jobs and opportunities, especially for our young people, to alleviate the cost of living pressures people are feeling and to have our voice heard and respected on the world stage.
First, I wish to report on my recent trip to North America.
Report on Overseas Engagement – Sept. 23rd to Oct. 1st, 2019
I led the St. Kitts and Nevis delegation to the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City. Several other high-level meetings occurred in the run-up to, and in the margins of, the UNGA, including high-level meetings on Universal Health Coverage, Climate Change and Sustainable Development. Other members of my delegation included the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Aviation, the Honourable Mark Brantley; Minister of Public Infrastructure, the Honourable Ian Patches Liburd; Attorney-General, Senator the Honourable Vincent Byron; St. Kitts and Nevis’ Ambassador to the United Nations, His Excellency Sam Condor; Permanent Secretaries in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Prime Minister, Ms. Kaye Bass and Mr. Andrew Skerritt, and other officers from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Permanent Mission of St. Kitts and Nevis to the United Nations.
We accomplished much for the Federation and people of St. Kitts and Nevis, and provided strong advocacy on issues that matter to our citizens and residents. These matters include job creation, climate change, correspondent banking, de-risking, the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme, human resource development, etc.
It was a proud moment on Friday, September 27th, when the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, at long last, acceded to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. I was pleased to be a part of that historic moment as the signatory on behalf of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Friday’s signing delivered on my Team Unity administration’s promise to Lance Corporal Joseph Bergan, the President of the St. Kitts-Nevis Association of Persons with Disabilities and members of the differently abled community that we would get it done for them. And get it done we have! Another promise delivered.
Treating Differently Abled with Respect
We in the Team Unity administration take the approach that the differently abled are first and foremost people with a need for validation just like everyone else. Many of them are and have been, for many decades, productive and upstanding citizens who have given their all to our Country, but are now affected by disabilities such as visual, hearing or mobility impairments. Members of our distinguished elderly community who have developed disabilities are industrious citizens like retired senior civil servant and social activist, Mrs. Sylvine Henry; Earle Clarke, and the list goes on. They and others like them spent their peak creative years contributing to the economic, cultural and social development of St. Kitts and Nevis, so it is only right and fair that their interests be prioritized at a stage in their lives when they need the benevolence of their country the most.
My Government has been mainstreaming care and consideration of the differently abled in our society. You see that reflected in the upgrade and rehabilitation of the island main road in St. Kitts. Wheelchair-accessible sidewalks have been incorporated into the road upgrade plan. Sidewalks with wheelchair access have also been included in the plan to enhance the South Frigate Bay Area, specifically in the vicinity of the Strip.
Our East Line Bus Terminal, and the refurbished Basseterre Ferry Terminal, which opened last year, both have wheelchair ramps – and so does our new Inland Revenue Department at the John Gumbs Building on the Bay Road. We will soon be operating a lift at Government Headquarters. This has been done in an attempt to make doing business in Government Headquarters much easier for disabled and elderly people. The new Government Printery will also be wheelchair accessible and it too will have an elevator.
I wish to take this opportunity to announce that families with children suffering from autism can expect to see, in the next fiscal year, major changes in the State-funded support mechanisms for education, training and treatment of these special children. I am advised by the Ministers of Education and Health that in fiscal year 2020 a spacious Government property at Fortlands will be repaired and purposely re-designed to accommodate all autistic children in St. Kitts.
Consultation with the Diaspora
While in North America, I held two hugely successful consultations with our nationals abroad. These events took place in New York on Thursday, September 26th and Monday, September 30th, 2019 in Miami, respectively. Both events had a huge turnout of people, plus thousands more who followed via live streaming.
The diaspora feedback was heartening to hear. As I travelled around, people told me they noticed real positive change was happening in St. Kitts and Nevis.
People mentioned the improvements in our infrastructure, our safer communities, the increased tourism and that more jobs and opportunities are now available for our young people.
The other issues covered included our good governance and our prosperity agenda. Our positions on the Motion of No Confidence, Tenure of Office of the Prime Minister, Electoral Reform – in particular residency requirement to enhance the fairness of the representative parliamentary democracy received much discussion and support. My Cabinet Colleagues (Brantley, Liburd and Byron) contributed excellently to the consultations. I am so very proud of our talented Cabinet Team and I enjoy working with each and all of them.
I commend our organizers in New York and Miami, Florida for facilitating such successful events – the largest and best to date.
In particular, I salute and thank the staff at the Mission in New York, Joe Mason, Leighton Esdaille and others for organizing the event in New York and Monty Browne, Sharon Benjamin, and Lennox Liburd and those other citizens who in less than 36 hours organized that hugely successful encounter in Miami. The citizens and well-wishers are very supportive of Team Unity and they are confident that we will have the opportunity to continue rebuilding St. Kitts and Nevis for another five years.
I thank my Cabinet Colleagues who gave me support at the UNGA meetings and the Independence Church Service. I reflect how Ministers Brantley, Liburd, Byron and I sat down for hours and with our staff crafted our country’s statement to the UNGA. We were a team working at its best in New York and Miami. We gave real meaning to Unity at work.
Together, we are really better.
We continue making progress in rebuilding St. Kitts and Nevis after Labour’s years of neglect.
No other government has delivered as much as we have in the short-term of less than 5 years. Take our record of support to:
- Former Sugar Workers. We promised to pay former sugar workers and assigned beneficiaries the additional resources denied them by the former government. For the record, the former Government paid 968 former SSMC workers in 2005/2006. In contrast, we have provided financial payout to 2,221 beneficiaries. The sum of EC $16 million was provided by the Government of Venezuela and an additional $1.5 million came from the Consolidated Fund to satisfy 192 beneficiaries whose claims were tied up in Court processes because the sugar worker died intestate, or there were family issues. These 192 beneficiaries will be paid on or before October 15th, 2019, subject to the requisite paperwork being completed.We had set up a temporary office to deal with this project.Now that this project is ended, I must thank Permanent Secretary, Mr. Osbert DeSuza for his leadership. I record my thanks for the support staff of the Sugar Workers Restoration Fund Office for their work.The office will be closed permanently by end of October.A herculean task has been well executed as Team Unity delivered on its Fair Share Agenda to the former Sugar Workers.Another promise delivered.
- Double Salary. Even after paying off Labour’s IMF debt and with improved fiscal management, we are able to pay double salary to public servants and Statutory Corporations in St. Kitts and Nevis in 2016, 2017 and 2018. I commit to pay again in 2019. Four times in a row. No other government in the history of St. Kitts and Nevis has done what our Team Unity Government is doing. Four double salaries back to back. It has not been done in America or England nor in the Caribbean. Only in St. Kitts and Nevis and only under Team Unity. We do this and we maintain a surplus. We paid $100 million to reclaim land from the Douglas land-for-debt swap arrangement to make this land available to the people of Cayon, Lodge Village, Sandy Point and Fig Tree. The people of our great Federation work hard and deserve to be prosperous – this is for them.
- First-Time Home Mortgage Programme. The Team Unity Government knows how important housing is to our people and we are committed to supporting them. Under this programme, persons who are building their first home are afforded duty-free concessions by the Government as part of our people empowerment programme through property ownership.
The former administration did not do enough to provide persons with homes.They had 20 years to make a big difference. They fell far too short on delivery.In 2014, 114 applications were approved under the first programme.In contrast, since 2015, 525 applications have been approved on building materials totaling $147 million.Whilst we are encouraging home ownership, the same old Opposition just moan and complain.
Additionally, in response to hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have supported over 2,000 families with renovation and repair works, and in exceptional cases new homes were built.The NHC is well on its way to delivering 400 new homes.The Wellington Road condos are moving apace.Opportunities are increasing for home ownership.
We are making a start, but we know that we still have more to do to ensure all our people who want a house can get one.
- National Consultation on the Economy. On October 8th, 2019, we will proceed with National Consultations against the backdrop of a buoyant economy, which has grown year after year since 2015. In contrast, in 2010, the economy under the Douglas administration contracted by 3.8 percent. In 2011, it contracted by 1.9 percent and in 2012 it contracted by a further 1 percent. Over the last 5 years, 2010 to 2014, the economy grew at an anemic rate of just about 1 percent on average per year.
We will not have a stronger, safer future if we do not keep our economy growing.That is why we will focus on the modernization of the economy and particularly the impact of the digital economy in improving the efficiency and effectiveness, production and productivity of St. Kitts and Nevis.This means that the Team Unity administration will be continuing on its public sector reform agenda, by moving to a performance/merit-based system of reward.By this, I mean that we will be improving our international competitiveness by ensuring that labour rates are tied to performance, output and productivity.These principles are very much at work in the private sector and their application will benefit the public sector and our Country as a whole.
A strong economy means we can continue to create more jobs and deliver more opportunities for our young people, especially in the tourism, agriculture and services’ sectors.
We are engaging the socio-economic actors against the backdrop of a significantly improved security environment.Homicides are down 43 percent over the period January to September 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. In 2018, we had 22 homicides at this time.This year, homicides have fallen to 12.Still too many, but this significant drop in homicides is a huge relief which is welcome by all patriotic citizens and well-wishers of our Country.
The HTA, Tourism Department, CIC, Churches and the man on the street all welcome this new season of peace and calm.All except the desperate Opposition are happy.We give God thanks for His blessings.We urge all persons with illegal weapons to turn them over to the security officers.We commend those who have already done so on this positive development.Total major crimes for the year so far are down 29 percent – one of the best performances over the last 10 years.
As of yesterday we recorded a 42 percent reduction in break-ins; a 24 percent reduction in sexual assaults; a 25 percent reduction in non-fatal shootings, and a 24 percent reduction in larcenies.At-risk groups continue to display positive behavioural changes and have developed a renewed trust in the police. This was reflected in recent times by the handover of 30 illegal weapons and some 96 rounds of assorted ammunition.
Let me congratulate Commissioner Hilroy Brandy and his high command, as well as Lt. Col. Anthony Comrie and his officers for their work. I commend the Initial Engagement Teams in Nevis and St. Kitts for their outreach to vulnerable groups and thank the families and friends who have been urging our young men to change from a life of crime to one of productivity, driven by entrepreneurship and respectable employment.