PM Douglas: Labour delivers

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, MAY 24th 2013 (CUOPM) – Political Leader of the governing St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party, Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas says the determination and will of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis was clearly evident on Labour Day when huge numbers, embraced the abundant showers of rain and demonstrated a resolve to defy any attempt to steal their Government, and express definitively and overwhelmingly “your full confidence in Labour; full confidence in the leadership of Labour; and full confidence in the Labour Government that you chose and mandated to continue on the path of social and economic transformation.”

“Our performance as a nation in recent years is nothing short of miraculous. Indeed, the financial strides that our economy has made in the midst of the economic malaise that has gripped the world has drawn great commendations regionally and internationally, and has resulted in the designation of our country as a high-income country instead of a middle-income country. This places us in the highest categories of countries based on the income criteria established and used by The World Bank and other international financial institutions. Of course, we are also among the top performers in the world in relation to the Human Development Index published by the United Nations,” said Prime Minister Douglas at last Sunday’s 81st Annual Conference of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party.

Dr. Douglas noted that the IMF concluded their periodic assessment of the economy recently and the conclusion is the same as other assessments in recent years – St. Kitts and Nevis continues to meet or surpass the economic and financial targets it has set for itself and agreed with the International Monetary Fund.

“Indeed, almost every economic indicator is moving in the right direction. Inflation has dropped from 2.8% in 2011 to 1.3% in 2012. Our imputed international reserves which had increased by an impressive $54 million in 2012 have jumped dramatically by an even more impressive $100 million in the first two months of 2013,” Dr. Douglas told over 700 delegates and invited guests during the public session..

According to Prime Minister Douglas, the banking sector remains resilient and this has been confirmed by stress tests recently carried out by the IMF on the banks in St. Kitts and Nevis.

“The liquidity of the banking sector remains high as deposits continue to grow. To cater against any shocks to the banking sector that might have resulted from the global financial crisis, we had asked the IMF to provide funds for us to set up a Banking Sector Reserve Fund to enable us to provide support to our banks and protect the deposits of our people if this became necessary. I am pleased to announce that, to date, no bank in our Federation, has found it necessary to draw any money from this fund. In other words, the Fund remains untouched because not even a penny has been drawn from it,” said Dr. Douglas.

“I also want you to notice the approach of your Government. We do not wait on crises and then run around in a panic to secure funds. We develop concrete plans to deal with contingencies and we act pre-emptively even when we believe the likelihood of a crisis is minimal. In this regard, we intend to collaborate with the SIDF to establish a contingency fund to provide enhanced security for our people in the event of natural disasters or other contingencies. This will become essential because as a high-income income country we are unlikely to have easy access to development assistance, and we must demonstrate an even higher degree of self-reliance,” said Dr. Douglas.

“However, there is no better way of enhancing our security and mitigate the risks we face than to manage our affairs so that our books are kept in balance and that we accumulate money on the bank, especially in periods where we are spared natural disaster and similar calamities. We are therefore very pleased that our overall fiscal balance has moved far beyond the floor of $11 Million agreed to with the IMF to reach a surplus of $76 Million. We have cleared all of our arrears locally and internationally. We have eliminated the overdraft of the Federal Government, and have accumulated in its place very healthy positive bank balances,” he said.

Dr. Douglas said such performance, it is not surprising that each time he meets some of his colleague Heads of Government from around the region and the world, “they express surprise at the political gymnastics that we have seen in our country in recent month.”

“Each time, I have had to say to them that the gymnastic has to do with our Parliament, not with our people. We have intelligent and sensible citizens who refuse to be manipulated or fooled. They understand what is happening around the world and are able to compare the economic circumstances in St. Kitts and Nevis with the conditions elsewhere and to appreciate immense value of the effective, dynamic and strategic leadership of the Labour Government here in St. Kitts and Nevis,” said the Prime Minister.

He said that each time they are given the opportunity, whether at functions, public meetings, or rally or march, they come out in huge numbers to express their full confidence in the Labour Leaders; full confidence in the social and economic transformation that the Labour Government is spearheading in St. Kitts and Nevis with full confidence in Labour.

“Your confidence in us is well placed. We are now focusing on growth and the IMF has confirmed just week that economic recovery is at hand,” Dr. Douglas said.

He said the over EC$1 billion in private projects alone that are being implemented are likely to result in a significant elevation in the growth rate.

“Ross University is expanding its facilities; Construction work has recently commenced at Koi Resort & Residence and Imperial Bay Beach and Golf Residences; Golden Rock Commercial Estate is under construction; The expansion plans of the Marriott are being vigorously pursued, The Park Hyatt Hotel and the Pelican Bay Hotel are well advanced in their preparations to break ground; and construction at Kittitian Hill and at Christophe Harbour are continuing. In fact, Kittitian Hill is projecting that it would open a portion of its hotel and other facilities before the end of the next tourist season,” said Dr. Douglas, who added that it is expected that over the next eighteen months, hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested in St. Kitts and Nevis and this will dramatically raise the level of economic activity and create new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for our people. In other words, our investors, foreign and local, have full confidence in the Labour Administration.

Dr. Douglas said that the Federal Government is facilitating these developments by building supporting infrastructure including the improvement of the airport facilities and expansion and restoration of the roads which will be dramatically transformed over the next 18 months.

“Indeed, work on the repairing, rebuilding and securing the roads on the Southeast Peninsula commenced but will be accelerated with the award of the contract and mobilization of work in respect of the main road going through the Peninsula,” said Dr. Douglas.

He said that the government intends to do everything possible to ensure that the fruits of economic growth reach every citizen, even the most vulnerable.

“Specifically we will proceed with the implementation of an unemployment benefit scheme to ensure that our worker enjoy some income even while they are unemployed and are searching for new employment. We will pass legislation to ensure that every worker in our Federation enjoys health insurance under a comprehensive health insurance scheme and that after working for a prescribed period they would all enjoy at least a meaningful gratuity. We are determined that workers who have diligently made available their talents and energies to their places of employment over a reasonable period of time, would not go home empty-handed,” said Dr. Douglas.

He pointed to the People Employment Programme (PEP) which is also designed to bring the benefits of economic activity to more of the people, especially the young people who are usually most affected by unemployment.

“PEP gives them an opportunity to earn an income while, at the same time, acquire critical skills and experience that enhances their competitiveness in the labour market. It is my Government’s intention that so long as we are able to obtain funding for PEP we will continue it until the economy expands sufficiently to absorb all of the participants in PEP and provide them a permanent and secure place in the workforce,” said Dr. Douglas.

He pointed out further that in keeping with the Party’s philosophy that all of the people must share in the fruits of development, the Government has also collaborated with the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) to introduce the SEED, which provides interest-free loans ranging from EC$5,000 to EC$100,000, to finance start-up businesses; and the FREESH, which subsidizes interest rates on residential mortgages of up to EC$500,000 for new residential housing acquired by borrowers in the lower to middle income brackets.

Prime Minister Douglas emphasised that the Labour Government is a Government that delivers as during the last General Elections, debt was an issue hammered by the opposition.

“They no longer speak of debt because we have dramatically reduced our debt to some 135%, and it is projected to fall even further, to less than 100% of GDP. The fiscal deficit and the overdraft were also major issues for them in the General Elections, but today the deficit is no more and the overdraft has been eliminated so they now say nothing about deficit and overdraft,” said Dr. Douglas.

Inflation was also another issue that occupied the attention of the opposition during the last elections but the IMF is now reporting that inflation is less than 1%.

“Our comprehensive strategy of subsidies and duty and tax exemptions or reductions have put the brakes on the increase in prices so that the opposition no longer speaks of inflation. Power outages is another issue that they highlighted over and over during the last General Elections but they have seen the immense progress that we have made in improving the reliability of the electricity so they have lost their tongues. They brought fear to the hearts of people by the very scary images of crime and violence that they brought before our people in partisan media outlets, but crime has been reduced through our initiative to strengthen the leadership of the Police Force and even the very positive developments in our Force seems no longer worthy of mention by these partisan media outlets,” said the Prime Minister.

“They are now running out of issues so they now focus on personalities or write spurious and ridiculous articles under the name of foreign journalists and falsely claim that the articles were published overseas. This is desperation at the highest level,” said Prime Minister Douglas.

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