My fellow citizens and residents, a New Year has dawned.
We look to 2021 with much hope, much optimism and much excitement despite the challenges we faced in 2020.
While the shadow of COVID-19 still hangs over us, there are many bright signs of a happy New Year ahead.
Here in St. Kitts and Nevis, the future which we promise to deliver is a stronger and safer future for our young people, better jobs and wealth generation for our working population, expanding opportunities for our entrepreneurs, and support for each of our citizens and residents to realize their full potential.
The future we will enjoy in 2021 and beyond depends solely on our ingenuity, ambition and industry today.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues its impact on our Federation and the rest of the world. Nevertheless, this year we will rebuild our economy. We will rebuild our workforce and redouble our efforts to keep the Federation healthy and safe. All of us must come together to restore our economy and our standard of living to its pre-COVID-19 levels and above.
Part of our plan will see a significant improvement in the delivery ethos of our people. Our employees in the public and private sectors must not only render loyal, but efficient, effective and courteous service.
In 2021, we will begin to build out our pay-for-performance programme while we revisit the Regulations and Laws governing the public service. High performance must become the norm, and sterling performance must be identified and rewarded so others can be motivated to follow.
Our future will be stronger and safer as we enhance the quality of our technology infrastructure and provide greater access to the benefits so derived.
Our ICT build-out will ensure wider use in every domain and facet of society. That is why in my 2021 Budget Address I lauded the projects to be unfolded by The Cable this year. They include:
Provision of free Wi-Fi hotspots in all Community Centres in St Kitts;
The offering of up to 200 specially developed High Speed Internet Packages to approved entrepreneurs by the new Ministry of Entertainment, Entrepreneurship and Talent Development; and
The deployment of a multi-million dollar fibre to the home network upgrade which would result in High-Speed Internet to all households in St Kitts.
Our E-Government reforms will continue with our build out of E-payment platforms across key revenue collecting agencies, such as the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise Departments. Our Land Registry, Departments of Health and Labour will enhance their information systems, all in a thrust to make government more modern, efficient, elegant, viable and responsive to the demands of an E-society.
We are serious about people’s empowerment and development, hence our investments in our citizens will continue. Our tremendous investments will be employed to enhance the level of skills and general human resources of our people. We have budgeted $10 million to defray economic and other costs of our students’ participation in tertiary level training, at the University of the West Indies (UWI), University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), Monroe, and others. Tertiary level education makes the greatest contribution to our country’s growth and development. This will be complemented with our Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme. New and improved learning spaces will be provided at our secondary schools in St Kitts and Nevis and at our Advanced Vocational Education Centre (AVEC) in St. Kitts. We shall commence construction of the Basseterre High School (BHS). It will be the most modern and cutting-edge secondary school in the region.
Our health sector investments will enhance our primary health care delivery, step up our fight against Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and a state-of-the-art Cardiac Unit at the JNF Hospital will be another significant deliverable. National Health Insurance (NHI) will advance closer to implementation in 2021. Of course, our major challenge will continue to be containment of the COVID-19 pandemic. The availability of a range of vaccines is good news. Better news will be for vaccines that are safe and efficacious to become universally available. Your government has taken the proactive step to pay in advance to secure our access to vaccines. These are expected to be available by the first half of 2021.
My government will work with all parties and entities to consolidate the early recovery of our economy. Our $192 million capital budget will see implementation of 113 projects including the BHS, road networks, health centers and JNF Hospital Phase III. Our solar energy project will commence. All these will result in more jobs and better incomes. Our hotel sector will continue to bring more rooms into operation for staycations i.e vacation in place and quarantine purposes. Some 13 residential facilities namely: Royal St. Kitts Hotel, OTI, Oualie Beach Resort, Bird Rock Apartments Complex, Golden Rock Hotel, KOI Resort, Ocean’s Edge, Paradise Beach Resort, Park Hyatt, Potworks Estate Apartments, St Kitts Marriott Hotel and Marriott Vacation Club, have all been approved by the Task Force as sites for vacation in place or quarantine. We are open for doing business in a safe way.
The opening of our borders fully in the last quarter of 2020 has resulted in a steady but very modest flow of arrivals providing a fresh lease on the livelihoods of our taxi operators, hotel employees and growth in businesses especially those which provide security services. Since the opening, and up to Sunday 27th December 2020, our airports: R. L. Bradshaw and Vance W. Amory International had a throughput of 862 flights and a passenger throughput of 2,323 passengers.
My Government made a promise to create more jobs. And we shall deliver on that promise. We want to get our people back to work. For those unable to regain jobs we shall ensure that any severance payment due is paid. In 2020 we advanced $15.6 million to the Severance Fund. My government has budgeted a further $7 million for severance payment in 2021. These payments will be made as soon as practicable. Every effort will be made to improve the efficiency of processing claims in the future.
In this regard, we expect a report to Cabinet shortly regarding the feasibility of setting up an E-platform for the Labour Department and Social Security to interface with each other on severance payments and related matters while observing and conforming with data privacy and data protection issues. This is in keeping with the new ethos of efficient and responsive government. Further, we shall move to implement actuarial recommendations on the Severance Fund, Long Service Gratuity and Unemployment Benefits. We are committed to these initiatives, and this evidences our advocacy for critical historical labour values that seem to have been diminished over the years. Moreover, this demonstrates our love and concern for workers. We will continue to protect our workers and ensure that their future is safe and secure. These are important Labour values, which further demonstrate our commitment that our workers are protected at all times.
Your Team Unity government truly represents working class values. We deliver on them, and to increase worker empowerment my government will extend duty free concessions accorded to first time home builders to the Teachers’ Union, the Labour Union, and any of our Credit Unions and Banks which will undertake to build new offices or to make significant renovation of existing offices, and engage in approved residential developments within the next twelve (12) months. This should spur further construction activity in our country and enhance the quality of our built environment. Applications will be processed within 3 weeks of receipt of same by the Ministry of Finance. Similarly, the FIRST mortgage programme offering duty free concession to first time homeowners remains open to applicants for the next 12 months. Applications will continue to be processed by the Ministry of Finance. This is the best time for our people to become part of an inclusive property-owning society. This will give meaning to our concept of peoples empowerment.
My Government has been attentive to the concerns from various local couriers, shipping agents and their customers, as it relates to the delivery of goods by suppliers in the United States of America to their facilities in Miami. The said goods should have arrived in the Federation in December, 2020. However, due to backlogs in Miami, these goods did not arrive by the December 31, 2020 deadline. Accordingly, our citizens and residents could not benefit from the usual US$200.00 concessionary allowance on their imports.
In light of this, it is agreed that to facilitate non-commercial entities importing goods, the allowances will be extended to January 31, 2021.
We understand that this crisis has affected different persons and segments of the economy in different ways. Therefore we will:
extend the due date for the payment of Businesses and Occupation Licenses for all Businesses from January 31, 2021, until March 31, 2021.
ensure that the Inland Revenue Department works with affected businesses to help them stay current with their existing tax liabilities by allowing them to enter low-interest payment plans to ease their cashflow situations.
Taxi and Tour Operators unable to pay their Businesses and Occupation Licenses for 2020 & 2021 would be allowed to license their vehicles provided that they enter into a payment plan for the settlement of any outstanding Businesses and Occupation Licenses.
We have ushered in the best working relationship between St. Kitts and Nevis. The historic and unprecedented support of the federal government and the new spirit of cooperation and unity advanced by my Team Unity Administration, have brought much to our citizens and residents on Nevis. Not least among them is substantial direct budget allocations totaling well over $220 million since 2015. Funding for projects on Nevis is now commonplace. We have given support for law enforcement: a brand new Police Station and Fire Hall at Newcastle, and installation of CCTV. We have also provided assistance in the following critical areas: the fight against COVID-19, the construction of Technical and Vocational spaces at High Schools in Nevis, the payment of economic costs for students from Nevis, joint procurement of pharmaceuticals, and for the operation of STEP in Nevis. You would recall the SIDF’s support for such important projects in Nevis as the new diagnostic wing at the Alexandra Hospital, the Mundo Track, and the new Nevis Treasury Building. For 20 years prior to your Team Unity Government there was no Federal Government structured program of support to the people of Nevis. Team Unity has been making a real positive difference. Team Unity is working for you.
In order to further strengthen the bond of friendship, love, mutual respect and cooperation between our citizens and residents of Nevis and of St. Kitts, I shall this year, reorganize the functioning of the Federal Office in Nevis. The goal is to better serve our people in Nevis. We have advanced the bond between the Federal Government and the Nevis Island Administration and more importantly the people to people contact between Kittitians and Nevisians is at the highest and best level in history. A Federal Office that is courteous, efficient, and effective, will allow more to be done. It will allow and enhance access to my office by our citizens and residents on both sides of the channel, and relieve Nevisians of the inconvenience of having to travel to Basseterre to consult with their Prime Minister.
My government will continue to do all it can for all of our citizens and residents. We do so out of love and consideration for all. This has been the reality for the last five years. From time to time we must remind ourselves that this is one State, one Federal government to serve all the people of the State. I am humbled that it is my government which has thus far in our Nation’s history, presided over the best personification of St. Kitts and Nevis as (in the immortal words of our National anthem) “a nation bound together with a common destiny”.
As we embark together on this new year of limitless promise, let us remain rooted that we are One People, whose destiny is inextricably linked not just by constitutional arrangements, but through history, geography, ties of family and friendship. Our two islands must always work together if we are to reach our fullest potential. We have seen how that cooperation over the last five years made us a leader in the region and the hemisphere, on so many developmental and performance indices, including the United Nations Quality of Life Index, the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index and debt to GDP ratio. We will rise or fall together, but rise we must. It will take all of us working together, pooling and engaging our talents and resources, to continue to make our beloved Federation the best example of a progressive, well managed small island state.
As a true son of our beloved federation, I know that our shared prosperity must extend and manifest equally for all our people, from my father’s hometown of Cotton Ground, Nevis, to my mother’s in Tabernacle, St. Kitts. It is my pledge as Prime Minister to do all that I can always, to foster this endeavor. As Prime Minister with unbreakable familial ties to both islands, I will do all I can at such a time as this to make my beloved Federation the best example of a progressive and united small island state. I enlist the fullest support of all our citizens and residents to make it a reality.
May we, this year and beyond, have the faith to believe with all our hearts that our people and our collective purpose will build a greater Nation. May we always do as much as we can, engaging our industry, ingenuity, creativity and innovation, in order to leave a Nation more beautiful and prosperous than we inherited. May we this year and beyond work to build and maintain our communities together. We must share the burdens and the problems of our brothers and our sisters and more importantly solve them together. We will continue to strive for and maintain unity of family, community and Nation on this path of self-determination and prosperity for all.
We should never backtrack from the All-of-Society approach which has worked so very well this last year. I am trusting in Almighty God, and in our resilience and spirit of shared responsibility, as we work to make St. Kitts and Nevis the Garden of Eden which Marcus Garvey envisioned it to be.
May God’s blessings be upon us all, this New Year and may He continue to bless the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis. I thank you for the honour and privilege to serve you and my beloved Country.
Happy New Year to All! May God continue to favour us in St Kitts and Nevis and may He keep us safe.