Opening Statement by Dr the Hon Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of the St. Kitts and Nevis at the Press Conference on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, at NEMA Headquarters
My fellow citizens and residents, thank you for joining me at this Press Conference organized by the Office of the Prime Minister. This is part of our good governance agenda. I consider this opportunity to give account to our citizens and residents a distinct privilege and sacred duty.
Today, I want to address the nation on the work and activities of our government over the last several weeks, with respect to three broad critical areas of national interest. These three areas are: safety, relief, and recovery. Over the last 17 months, your Team Unity Administration has focused its efforts on these three areas in order to deliver the stronger safer future we promised.
We have been working hard to keep our citizens and residents safe from the dreaded Covid-19 Virus. We have been providing much needed support and relief to those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been implementing initiatives that facilitate economic recovery. We believe that by focusing our efforts on these areas, we will ultimately deliver the best possible quality of life, and indeed the stronger safer future even in the face of this pandemic which has wreaked havoc across the world.
Safety and Security
Safety and Security are fundamental to societal order, good governance, and democracy. In 2015 we came to office against the backdrop of the disappointing failure of the past administration to keep our people safe. Homicides had reached a record high of 35 in 2011. Since assuming office, we have reorganized our security forces, and enhanced manpower. We devised and are implementing the first national security strategy. We increased budgetary support to National Security from $62.8 million in 2014 to a record high of $99 million in 2020, followed by $86.2 million in 2021. We created new programs like the Alternative Lifestyle Programme (ALP) and the Explorers Club. We are seeking to redirect our youths from the path of crime. We are emphasizing rehabilitation and reform in our prisons, and positive engagement with youths in society. Today we have the largest national group of young persons organized in constructive activities through the Explorers Club. Over 1200 young persons are participating in this club, under the tutelage of our Community Policing Team.
Major crimes including homicides are trending significantly downward. Of course, we want to reach the ideal of zero homicides per year. So far this year we have seven (7) regrettable cases. Last year we had 10 for the entire year. We will continue our unwavering efforts to keep our people safe. The loss of any life to crime is a tragedy.
COVID-19 has become a major threat to societal peace around the World. You would have noticed the number of deaths, the lockdowns and divisiveness across countries and societies, far and near. To effectively fight COVID-19 we need to work together for a broader public good which is our collective safety and security.
COVID-19 is an existential threat to human security. No one is safe until all are safe. Hence, we must fight together and present a unified front. The most powerful tool in our arsenal is vaccination. Our vaccination scorecard is an impressive one. However, we must not become complacent. Given the arrival of the Lambda variant and the prospect that other variants may have entered our Federation, we can expect a surge in cases here. We will only be able to check and contain it by having more of our people vaccinated. The higher the proportion of the population in society vaccinated, the safer we will be. We trust our people’s judgement. The vast majority of our people have done the right thing and of their own free will, they went forward and took the vaccine. They are safer because of it and our country better for it. I continue to appeal to our citizens and residents to get vaccinated.
Thursday August 12, 2021 was a very good day for the people of St Kitts and Nevis in our fight against COVID-19. We received a donation of 11,700 doses of vaccine. We took yet another step to protect our adolescents and adults from the virus. We made yet another significant step in our journey towards delivering the stronger safer future. On September 1st we will begin to administer the Pfizer vaccine. I must remind everyone that Pfizer vaccine will be available to every individual 12 years and older. Please begin to make appointments at your health centers.
Last Tuesday August 17, 2021, I reported to you on our comprehensive targeted and far-reaching stimulus package which has brought relief to our people, especially the poor and vulnerable affected by COVID-19. This stimulus package is also expected to contribute to economic recovery. We provided this package of support notwithstanding the very destabilizing impact of COVID-19 on Government tax revenues. We did this because we are committed to delivering the best quality of life to all of our citizens and residents. In fact, we have given several tax waivers and deferrals over the last 17 months even though this has further reduced cash inflows for the government. We did this because our people matter most. We feel their hardships and pain and we will do all we can to lessen their difficulties. We are asking our people to protect themselves, get vaccinated so that they can get on with their lives and contribute to their wellbeing and that of their families.
I am committed to supporting our people who are having a difficult time and require a hand up and a helping hand to usher them, out of poverty, out of abuse, out of a life of criminality, out of extreme dependence. Yes, I will never ignore those who are lagging behind. Our stimulus will help to temporarily bridge the gaps and inequality in our society. Our social safety nets are intended to reach the deprived communities and help them to improve their quality of life. Through our Poverty Alleviation Program (PAP) and a wide range of social safety net programmes across various line Ministries such as Health, Education, Social Development, etc. over $50 million will be spent this year to bring some semblance of dignity to our vulnerable sons and daughters including battered women, foster children, and those for whom we are bringing real improvement in other areas of their lives.
Income Support Programme:
The poor, vulnerable and unemployed are benefitting from my government’s income support program. I am pleased to report that:
A total of 3,733 applications have been received by the Ministry of Finance as of 23rd August 2021. A total of 1,886 applications have been approved so far. Claims will be processed daily until the cut off of 15th September 2021, when no further claims will be accepted.
Fuel Subsidy Programme:
A total of 106 applications from bus operators have been received by the Ministry of Finance as of 23rd August 2021. A total of 92 applications have been approved.
Disability Support Programme:
A total of 119 applications have been approved. Additionally, to support trainees at Ade’s Place we have provided a grant of $15,000 to that institution. Ade’s Place is preparing persons living with disabilities with skills for work and effective engagement in society. My government is serious when we say no one will be left behind, hence this special carve out for families taking care of persons living with disabilities.
Food Truck Vendors Support Programme:
All applications received were approved by the Ministry of Finance and paid by the Treasury.
On the Path to Economic Recovery
The recovery of our economy is moving apace. This is best measured by the performance of the key economic sectors.
At our Cabinet meeting on Monday, August 16th we took a decision to spur cruise tourism by making a major concession to allow vaccinated cruise passengers to enter the Federation utilizing antigen tests. In making this decision we took note of the following:
- Once visitors are fully vaccinated the risk of their transmitting the virus to our people is significantly reduced.
- The strong roll-out of our vaccination program has seen St Kitts and Nevis emerged with over 62 percent of the population fully vaccinated and over 73 percent having taken at least their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This significant higher level of vaccination provides a further level of protection against the virus. We must never become complacent or drop our guard.
- The coordinated efforts to manage cruise visits through bubble arrangements will result in a safe corridor of containment.
- With the advent of the Pfizer vaccine even more persons can be protected.
- The opening up of cruise tourism will put thousands of persons back to work, increasing income flows and business activity. For 17 months a large number of persons like taxi operators, employees at duty free shops at Port Zante and elsewhere have been without meaningful work. A brighter future now awaits them. They however should minimize their risks by getting vaccinated and observing all protocols.
- The heavy dependence of SCASPA and Solid Waste on budgetary support from the Federal Government will be lessened as they will receive steady inflows from cruise business. For 2020 and 2021 my government supported these entities to the tune of $12.4 million.
- It will safeguard our heavy investments in cruise tourism and consolidate the gains so carefully built up over 6 years by my administration. The success of this is that St Kitts and Nevis became a marquee port 2 years in a row, amassing over one million cruise passengers to our shores. The fastest growth in cruise tourism witnessed in the region. We will build on this even as we diversify around tourism and increase our stay over arrivals, thereby building a stronger and more resilient economy.
Turning to stay over arrivals. I am pleased to report the following:
- American Airlines – The Miami daily flight to St. Kitts will resume on Tuesday, November 2nd. The flight is already loaded.
- Delta – Atlanta, Saturday, daily flight will end at the end of this month and resume in during the Fall providing Saturday service only.
- United Airlines – The Saturday, Newark weekly flight, will resume on Saturday, December 18th, 2021, continuing to April 30th, 2022.
- British Airways – The flight should commence with once weekly service – October 3 and October 10th, 2021. Thereafter it is loaded to come twice weekly, Saturdays and Wednesdays.
- Canada – Air Canada Rouge is loaded to commence Sunday November 7th, 2021, to April 2022.
In sum, we are expecting a much-improved last quarter in 2021 relative to 2020 and a satisfactory winter season in 2022.
Our offshore institutions of learning are making a significant impact on economic life of our country. Thousands of persons come to St. Kitts and Nevis to participate in learning and work at institutions like Ross University, Windsor University, etc. Their participation in our economy has increased retail and wholesale activities, supported the restaurant and hospitality subsector, home and car rentals, etc.
Ross University has successfully repatriated about 1700 students and faculty to St. Kitts and Nevis.
Windsor University has advanced plans for reopening in the Fall of 2021.
Manufacturing Sector is showing signs of a strong come back. Most of the manufacturing entities are operating. Over 1,200 persons are back to work in the sector.
Exports have shown growth. Records from the Customs and Excise Department reveal that the dollar value of merchandise exports increased to $58.6 million for period January to July 2021 from $53 million in 2020 for an increase of 10.6 percent. The exports are mainly generated by our enclave manufacturing sector.
Agriculture and Fisheries
Crops, livestock, and fisheries are performing much better in 2021 relative to the same period in 2020. This is due to the targeted support being provided to this sector. Over the period January to June 2021, crop and livestock combined recorded a 25 percent increase in production. The dollar value of crops and livestock produced was put at $5.5 million, an increase of $1.1 million over the $4.4 million recorded for the comparative period in 2020. Gains in production were recorded in cabbage, onion, cantaloupe, cucumber, tomato, watermelon, and yam.
Livestock production recorded gains in output of beef (24%), goat meat (27%), mutton (7%), and pork (18%). Overall gains in production have been put at 20% over the comparative period in 2020. It is noteworthy that we have 1100 registered farmers with the Ministry of Agriculture. 970 are males and 130 are females. I urge all farmers to register as self-employed persons with Social Security, to protect themselves against loss of earnings due to sickness and to secure their pensions in later years. I thank them on their very good job so far as ambassadors of our food and nutrition security.
Overall fish landings for the period January to July 2021 were 442,830lbs with a landed value of $4.9m. This represented a 25 percent increase over the comparative period in 2020. The most significant year on year movement so far was seen in the landings of lobster fishery which increased 150 percent over last year’s outturn. Additionally, reef and demersal fish (snapper, hind, butter fish, doctor fish, etc.) surpassed last year’s output by 26 percent. Conch fishery has shown a 17 percent increase. 1,200 fishers were registered with our Marine Department as of July 2021. Commendations to our fisherfolks.
The significant improvements in fisheries output and income are the direct result of my government’s efforts to build an inclusive society where everyone can do well. Our stimulus package assisted our fishermen in securing inputs – fish pot wire, engines, buoys, etc. to ply their trade.
Several important private sector projects are taking place. The Royal St Kitts Hotel has started its third major project, PLAZA 2, while simultaneously building its luxury villa projects. The COVE condominium project is completed and is being furnished. Galaxy is about to start Phase 2 of its hotel project in White Gate. Phase 1 is being prepared for a soft opening. Phase 1 comprises 300 rooms. Hillsborough Suites and Residences is working to complete Phase I. This project will add 40 rooms to our residential stock.
The Royal Ltd is completing its phase 1 its 196 room condo project in West Basseterre. TDC Dewars Residential Development is progressing smoothly.
Private residential construction is continuing supported by our first-time home mortgage programme. Up to August 11, 2021, 90 applications for duty free concessions were approved on materials valued at $14.5 million.
Our CBI programme was this week ranked number one (1) by Professional Wealth Management, the magazine published by the prestigious Financial Times. This is a tribute to the high-quality performance by our employees and key stakeholders who work hard to maintain the platinum standards associated with our widely respected CBI program. The program has the most rigorous due diligence requirements and is the most efficient and innovative in the world. While the COVID-19 has affected the marketing modalities, the programme is performing well relative to our 2021 expectations.
This Team Unity Government promised a stronger safer future, and with God’s help we are determined to continue our progress in spite of the global crisis. With God’s help we will overcome the impacts of this pandemic. I have outlined some of the initiatives that we have been advancing to keep our people safe, to stimulate economic activity, and to provide much needed relief to our citizens and residents. While it is our belief that these initiatives are comprehensive and far reaching, we continue to promote the All of Society Approach that is necessary to support and solidify the strides we have made to date.
The pandemic is not yet over, and we do not know how soon it will end. Therefore, we must all take the necessary actions, individually and collectively, that will offer the best possible response during this period as we learn to live with COVID-19.