by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): In 2020, COVID-19 was the primary economic stunner for global economies; now, with the Russia/Ukraine war, supply chain disruptions, and inflation, a more noticeable hike in the standard of living is being felt by the masses and is likely to continue.
“The elements of relief are consistent with our efforts to protect our people from the rising costs of living caused by forces external to us, like the Russian/Ukraine war, which has triggered a shortage of energy, agricultural inputs, food etc. and subsequent high prices,” said Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris during the June 29 Cabinet press conference.
Dr. Harris informed that the government has been attempting to curb the rising cost of living through financial assistance programs. The Income support program that pays $1,000 to individuals out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic has paid out $7.8 million to 3,120 people for 2022 so far.
The differently-abled support program has paid out $398,000 to 158 individuals for the year, with people who are differently-abled are a family with someone differently-abled receiving $600 a month.
The Prime Minister spoke of other ways the government is helping to lessen the burden of increasing expenses “One, we have waived the payments for consumption of water for individuals who have been laid off or have experienced a reduction in earnings as a consequence of COVID-19; two we have waived the payments for the consumption of water by farmers, that is to boost the agricultural sector. We have removed VAT and import duty from selected hygiene items; this is to allow us to better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We removed the import duty and customs service charge on selected items including vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, cough and cold preparations and vitamin supplements.”
Others include the reinstatement of the annual duty-free concession on the purchase of tyres, brake shoes and brake pads; the reintroduced duty-free allowance for non-commercial importers to September 2022; reduced duties and taxes on ingredients to make bread for six months after bakers made attempts to get an increase in the cost of bread approved and more.
While the government has instituted, continued and expanded financial support programs to mitigate the issue, the assistance may not be enough.
On Nevis, Premier Mark Brantley said that while efforts to mitigate the cost of food have been implemented after a meeting with several supermarkets on Nevis, he was shocked at the information shared by the owners of those establishments.
“Best Buy, Valu Mart and RAMS and I was troubled by what they told me because they basically said to me, thank you for what you’re trying to do, but it’s not going to make a difference. Because they’re telling me that every week that the order, the prices from your suppliers are going up; there are serious shortages, serious manufacturing, [and] production issues that [are] leading to escalating prices around the world. And because of that difficulty, we are caught in the balance.”
Brantley suggested a behaviour change is needed to survive the increasing cost of living in the Federation.
“Again, I am asking our people to change behaviour. We have since COVID been advocating more agriculture on the island, to plant something in your backyard, and our farmers we are encouraging them to produce more using technology, including shade-house technology. But more than that, I’m encouraging our people to buy local because by buying local, we can insulate ourselves somewhat from those exogenous shocks. So instead of buying sweet peppers in the supermarket that come in here for a Miami; we don’t even know what quality they are, we don’t know how long they were picked; what they might have been sprayed [with] to keep them looking fresh; we have no idea. And instead of doing that and buying that, and you’re buying at $3 this week and $5 next week and $10 the week after, why not buy local? When you buy local, you know exactly where it comes from, and we know that we’re supporting the local economy.”
The Premier explained that we, as a small country, are caught in a situation that is out of our control in the face of globalised economies that rely on each other for survival. When larger countries face issues that affect their economy and cost of living, it is expected that the effect will trickle down to smaller developing and poorer countries that depend on those larger countries.
“When I hear President Biden, the president of the most powerful and richest nation in the world, giving a speech about cost of living in America, inflation in America, and if they can’t bring it under control with their might and their production capacity, then I just use that as an example to set out how difficult it is to do; for a small island like ours, which is an open economy and where we import most of what we use.”