My Fellow Nationals, with a New Year about to begin, I wish for you – and for us all – God’s
guidance and mercy.
2020 was a trying year indeed, but a New Year gives us the opportunity for a fresh start and so, with courage and compassion for all, we must embrace this chance for a new start and step forward with faith. At the same time, let us now aim to benefit from a comprehensive, strategic reflection on the year that was.
Before there was any sign of what would soon engulf the globe, our Federation entered 2020 with the expectation that elections were near, and that our democracy would move forward – intact.
Instead, on came the month of March and with it the onset of the coronavirus; dashing hopes and causing many to sink into despair. Unemployment. Underemployment. Mounting debts. Foreclosures. Evictions. Broken families. Domestic violence….experienced by our people throughout the Diaspora – and right here at home. Added to all of that, we here at home also had to face the added pressures of excessive lockdowns plus a State of Emergency.
Despite the circumventing of freedoms and liberties, we of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party held fast to our true values, committing ourselves to adhere to the time-honored mantra of our Party – “For the Good That We Can Do”.
Without seeking votes in exchange; without placing our Party’s insignia or logos on the
packages, without in any way attempting to benefit politically, AND WITHOUT REGARD TO THE PARTY AFFILIATION OF ANYONE, the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party channeled urgently needed resources into emergency food relief for ANYONE hit hard by the pandemic; and basic supplies for ANYONE unable to provide for him or herself and family. We did this across the length and breadth of this country and were honored to do so because, as we said then, the Next Gen SKNLP truly cares.
May I use this opportunity to again commend and thank our frontline workers in Health,
Security and Commerce and our teachers for their sterling service provided during this time.
The challenges that await our Federation are tremendous. And the repercussions of the global pandemic will be such that we, as a Federation knowing that we are in this together, have no choice but to now put all politics behind us, and work together – in earnest – to bring economic activity back to pre-Covid levels. We must establish target levels of economic growth and apply all our ingenuity and insight to ensure that the people of this Federation are protected with reference to their standard of living, and that the many plans which had to be put on hold due to the pandemic can, indeed, be resumed.
In light of the challenges that await us all, I am deeply troubled by the Government’s recently presented Budget. The Government’s Budget was a multi-faceted array of deceptions, overlaid with the repeated taking of credit for successes that everyone knows resulted from the drive and initiative of others.
What I would like more than anything, would be to be able to present to you an outlook for 2021 that is hopeful, prosperous, and a source of solid encouragement to nationals at home and abroad. As the leader of our nation’s Parliamentary Opposition, however, I am honor-bound at this most critical juncture in world history to be straightforward – a responsibility which no-one in the administration seems willing to assume.
The Government intends to borrow monies to fund its 2021 operations. This, I find personally heart-wrenching. It took tremendous ingenuity and hard work by Labour Administration, which I had the honor to lead, and considerable sacrifice by the people of our country, to bring our debt dramatically down. Not only did we dramatically slash our debt, you will remember, but we also built tremendous cash balances – some $1 billion to be exact – to be used for the stability and growth of our nation.
Nations all over the world are seeking to bring relief to their citizens. And they are doing this via a range of means: Fiscal expansion. Economic stimulus programmes. Yet the Estimates presented in the Government’s recent Budget show no evidence of real stimulus programmes here in St. Kitts and Nevis.
And why, we must ask, would this Government have to borrow, to fund its 2021 operations
1) The Labour Administration turned over to this coalition Government some $1 billion in the Consolidated Fund, just 5 years ago;
2) The Government since 2015 has consistently boasted of the tremendous surpluses at its disposal. Which means that there should now be more than enough funds available to dramatically stimulate this economy;
3) The Government did not spend enough during the pandemic to explain the current lack of funds;
4) The Government has also not announced new plans or initiatives for 2021 to assist those who are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic.
If this coalition Government has indeed been experiencing surplus budgets over the past 5 years, how does one explain the squandering away of $1 billion of the people’s money – without accounting for it?
The optimist in me hopes and prays that, at some point during 2021, faced with the pressing real needs of the people, the Government will make a clear about-turn. That they will wake up to the economic and social realities of this unprecedented era.
While I served as Prime Minister, our country faced many crises of natural or external origin. And in the process of facing and managing these crises, I learned that stimulating economic growth is the single most important catalyst for a return to normalcy. It is the single most important tool if a nation is to avert a financial crisis. This Federation must find ways to stimulate economic growth in order to generate more opportunities, resources and stability for our people. Without success in this arena, the Budget exercise will mean nothing.
I urge the Government to have us to return to Parliament without delay in the New Year, in order to pass a Bill providing assistance to both the previously vulnerable as well as those newly made vulnerable by this global pandemic.
And I further urge that the Government move to quickly and wisely speed to invest the requisite monies to take the health sector out of the quagmire in which it now finds itself in the middle of a pandemic.
The suffering across this Federation is real. There are many, of course, for whom life has
proceeded merrily along. There are thousands and thousands, however, for whom life has lost any glimmer of hope. Those put out of work by this crisis, and those who are now underemployed for the same reasons, are in serious need of help. And I urge that, as long as their employment status remains the same, we provide to them assistance in the amount of $1500 per month – without any social security registration criteria.
We must find a way to provide Rent Assistance to those who have fallen behind with their rents.
For in doing so, we assist not only the tenants themselves but, indirectly, landlords who must fulfill their mortgage obligations to financial institutions – which, clearly, would also stand to benefit.
In addition, to ensure the social stability of our nation, there must be a moratorium on
The Value Added Tax (VAT) should be reduced to 14 percent from 17%.
My Fellow Nationals – if even one half of the one billion dollars my Administration left in the
Consolidated Fund still exist, this could – and should – be put to meaningful use immediately for the benefit of the people.
The ordinary, non-wealthy members of our society cannot be asked to once again endure, during 2021, the hardship and insecurities imposed on them in 2020.
2021 will test our resolve to be visionary, fair and compassionate. And all of us, regardless of party affiliation, must – TOGETHER – find the inner drive and fortitude that the moment demands. “We’re all in this together”.
In closing, let us remember and pray for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as they deal with the uncertainties and dangers pertaining to the La Soufriere Volcano.
In spite of the challenges we face, God has been most merciful to our Federation. May we be forever mindful of this. May we gain strength and courage from this. And may we, as we begin this New Year, seek, with grateful hearts, His Divine guidance and mercy.
May I use this opportunity to commend our nationals for participating in the 49th Anniversary of our Sugar Mas Carnival Celebration and proudly congratulate the Winners of the various competitions:
EBJ Harmonics – winner of the Panorama National Steel Band Competition and Gloria Esdaille-Robinson “Queenie G” who was crowned Senior Calypso Monarch.
I wish us all a blessed New Year.