PM Douglas highlights areas of success during the last 18 years of independence

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, SEPTEMBER 20TH 2013 (CUOPM) – The theme of this year’s Independence Celebrations, “Stability, Creativity and Prosperity,” to mark the 30th Anniversary of Independence provides a most fitting caption for the story of progress as a people.

And the Nation’s Prime Minister the Right Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas in his message to nationals, citizens and residents Thursday said even cursory look at the current state of the nation will reveal quite clearly and definitively that when the advancement of the people is measured by reference to these three standards that have been so aptly included in this year’s theme, “we not only score a passing grade, but we achieve a grade of distinction.”

He said that in measuring the progress as a people “we must take cognizance of the squalor, high infant mortality, high death rates and pervasive malnutrition especially among our children that was reported by the Moyne Commission when it visited our territory in the 1930’s. We must remember that as late as the 1950’s the vast majority of our people could not vote nor hold political office. This was a right reserved for the landed class, the people who owned the land on which we had toiled for centuries. It took many years of intense struggle by our people under the leadership of the Right Sir Excellent Robert Bradshaw to bring about the demise of this unjust system.”

The Prime Minister said that in measuring the progress as a people one must also recall that the main reason for the failure of the West Indies Federation was the view among some of the larger countries of West Indies that the small islands of the Federation, such as St. Kitts and Nevis, could not maintain themselves and would therefore draw upon the larger islands for succour and support.

“Indeed, even after many of our islands achieved Independence there was still considerable doubt expressed in relevant economic literature in relation to the viability of small island states such as those in the Caribbean,” said the Prime Minister, who pointed out that it took great courage for the people to move forward into Independence and nationhood.

“But we were determined; and we were confident in our worth as a people and in our ability to advance and accelerate the wheels of economic progress,” said Prime Minister Douglas, who noted that as early as 1975, the Labour Government, under the leadership of the Right Excellent Sir Robert Bradshaw, made Independence a part of its manifesto and won the General Elections on that basis.

“This initiated the struggle for Independence which was carried forward by our labour leaders (now deceased), the Right Excellent Sir Robert Bradshaw, the Right Excellent Sir Paul Southwell, and Sir Lee Llewellyn Moore. It eventually culminated in the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of our National Flag on September 19, 1983 in the presence of Dr. the Right Honourable Sir Kennedy A. Simmonds who was leading the country at the time and who had continued the pursuit of Independence,” said Prime Minister, who recommended the knighthood to the Queen for his predecessor.

Dr. Douglas said when his Government came to office in 1995 he was very conscious of the scepticism with which a number of regional scholars had written about the Independence of Caribbean Nations.

“George Beckford in “Persistent Poverty” had argued that although the form of Caribbean society had changed with nationhood and modernization, the plantation economic structure was still intact. Indeed, for many regional scholars writing decades after a number of Caribbean countries attained nationhood, political independence was a sham without economic independence. For them, with Independence and nationhood, ‘all had changed yet nothing had changed,’ said Dr. Douglas.

He said his Government was determined to make Independence have true meaning for every citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis and knew that it would require bold decision-making and that small incremental step would not be enough.

“We decided to implement a comprehensive set of social and economic policies that would ensure that our nation take a quantum leap into the new century that was ahead of us when we assumed office in 1995. We have held firmly to the view that people must be the centre of any successful development strategy. Consequently, our people have been the actors in the development process that we initiated here in 1995 and they have also been the object and purpose of our development effort. We could not see how it would be possible for our economy to make the required quantum leap in development if the majority of our young people were unemployed and in a state of frustration and disenchantment,” said the Prime Minister.

The Short-term Work Experience Programme was implemented within 100 days of assuming office and opened up new vistas of opportunity for over 1000 young people by giving them the training and experience they required to secure for themselves a permanent place in the workforce and to unleash their immense talents and capabilities for personal advancement and for the good of the nation.

This he said was consistent with the Labour Party’s philosophy that it is “our people who must be the primary instrument of development; and the empowerment of our people, through education, accessible health care, and other expansive social development programmes, is an important precondition for sustainable growth and development.”

The tattered, leaky and dilapidated buildings that carried the name, Joseph N France General Hospital were demolished and built in its place a brand new hospital offering spacious accommodation and state-of-the-art equipment and technologies for the benefit of the people throughout our Federation.

“The hospital can now proudly carry the name of our distinguished Nation Hero, the Right Excellent Sir Joseph Nathaniel France. We also reconstructed the Pogson Hospital in Sandy Point and made it a center of excellence in community medicine and in the fight against HIV Aids,” Dr. Douglas said.

In the area of education, the technological divide was bridged by distributing free laptop computers in the schools so that the local school children, rich and poor alike, would benefit from the world of information and opportunity that may be accessed through the use of computers.

“We have also expanded the financial resources available to our students through the Development Bank, Commercial Banks and Social Security so that more of our young people could pursue the careers or professions of their choice. At the same time, we have negotiated scholarships with friendly Governments so that our children could access tertiary education in Cuba, Taiwan, the United States, and Commonwealth Countries including Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Our aim is that every child successfully graduating high school in St. Kitts and Nevis would have easy access to professional training or tertiary education through loan financing or scholarships,” said Dr. Douglas in his nationwide radio and television address.

“We have also provided direct assistance to lower income families through the provision of affordable subsidized housing and through the implementation of an impressive array of social development programmes that give care, attention and assistance to the aged; protect the abused and the vulnerable; provide school uniforms to children of lower income families; provides free textbooks and meals to school children; pay the examination fees for student sitting overseas examination; assist poor families requiring medical attention overseas; and provide free health care to children and to the aged.

“We also made sure that even the lowest earners in our midst were provided increases in their income. Hence since we assumed office, our minimum wage has increased by nearly 75%, the minimum pension paid by Social Security was increased by nearly 50%, and the non-contributory pension paid by Social Security to indigents was increased by nearly 100%. Moreover, we still have the minimum wage under review because we are determined that we will protect and improve the standard of living of the lowest paid workers among us,” said the four-term popular prime minister.

He said the massive investment in the people has been accompanied by similar investment in physical infrastructure.

“Our roads network was expanded and upgraded; our air and seaports have been dramatically improved in terms of carrying capacity and the use of modern equipment and technologies; our telecommunications and internet services have been revolutionized through the introduction of competition in the industry, and our electricity services continue to be improved through expansion, modernization and enhanced reliability,” said Dr. Douglas.

The Prime Minister admitted that in the quest to ensure that the nation takes a quantum leap forward determined, to a large extent, was as result also of the hurricanes that left millions in damage during the first half of the term in office.

“Our aim was not just to repair and rehabilitate the facilities damaged by the hurricanes but to rebuild, improve, expand, and modernize those facilities. Hence, we did not just replace the pier at Port Zante but we completely redesigned it and rebuilt it while securing the entire land reclamation facility through an extensive revetment programme. Similarly, as I indicated earlier, our battered and tattered hospital was not repaired but it was rebuilt, expanded and modernized,” he said.

“In addition, for low income families with substandard houses in ghauts and waterways, we did not merely patch up their homes and put them back in the ghaut. We built brand new starter homes for them and for other poor families in various communities throughout our Federation. We also accelerated our housing programme through which we constructed some three thousand homes and increased our housing stock by at least 25%. Moreover, in recent years, we have also given duty concessions to low and middle income families to reduce the overall cost of their homes and permit them to qualify for loans at our financial institutions,” said the Prime Minister, who indicated that those initiatives resulted in substantial increases in debt.

“This was not unexpected. I know it is easy for some policymakers to be disingenuous and to seek to take credit for the programmes funded by debt but to deny responsibility for the debt. In our case, however, the Government understood fully that in order to move our country forward and lift our people out of poverty and deprivation we would have to increase the national debt. We knew that our people, empowered by the programmes funded by debt and guided by the strategic leadership of the Government, would find a way to reduce debt,” Dr. Douglas said.

Government he said was not prepared to retract from the massive initiative that had mounted against poverty.

“We knew that development processes must be appropriately sequenced and that we had to focus on people development before taking on the challenge of fixing our balance sheet. Of course, my public comments in relation to debt were taken out of context, distorted and broadcasted throughout this country with a view to persuading people that I was insensitive to the risks associated with debt. However, the tremendous success we have had in reducing debt after attaining some of the key people-centred development objectives that we had set ourselves, testifies to the validity and efficacy of our approach to development and debt management. Perhaps this is the reason why the comments attributed to me in relation to debt are no longer broadcast throughout the length and breadth of this country,” said Prime Minister Douglas.

He added: “There can be no doubt therefore that our country and our people have, over the years, made great strides in combating poverty and achieving greater prosperity. In addition, the hallmark of the development strategy implemented by successive Labour Governments has been the boldness and the creativity that we have demonstrated. When we introduced comprehensive education here in St. Kitts and Nevis it was viciously attacked but nearly a half a century afterwards, it is being commended by the World Bank and other international development agencies, and copied by developing countries all over the world, including some in the Caribbean. Our short-term work experience programme has been tailored and copied by countries within the region and beyond. Our programme by which we provide free laptops to students is under consideration in a number of Caribbean countries and is being tailored and adopted in a major Indian province.”

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