My beloved fellow Citizens and Residents,
I greet you with optimism and hope as 2018 beckons us to a new and higher level of engagement, productivity, growth and development at the individual and Country level. We use this opportunity to reflect on the many great achievements over the last year and to consider how well St. Kitts and Nevis has grown and developed. At the turning point of the year, we can now look forward with renewed hope, confident in the knowledge that having built strong foundations over the last 35 months, our tomorrow will be better than today.
At the broad macro-economic level, we approach 2018 with a tax-free budget, the third consecutive year of this remarkable achievement by our administration. Having inherited a huge debt of EC $1.8 billion, we could have made the case to impose new taxes, but that is not what we wanted to do because we knew that would have harmed the well-being of our people whom we care so much about. Instead, we removed VAT from all food, educational materials, medicine and funeral expenses, resulting in a very manageable cost of living and one of the lowest levels of inflation.
We aim over the near future to make St. Kitts and Nevis the lowest tax jurisdiction in the world, allowing citizens and residents as consumers and producers greater choices and control over their incomes. We trust the wisdom of the economic actors and we believe in giving our people full control over their future and destiny.
Since 2015, each year our Country has experienced positive growth. This is in contrast to the prolonged 4-year period of negative growth from 2009 to 2012 as cited in the IMF Press Release of March 2014. According to IMF data during the 5-year period 2010 to 2014, the average growth rate hovered at just over 1%, with 2010, 2011 and 2012 recording negative growth rates of: -3.8, -1.9 and -0.9 percent respectively.
The contrast now is very evident. We have above average economic growth in the first three years: 2015, 2016 and 2017. For 2018, we are projecting a positive 3.5 percent economic growth rate. Our projections are anchored in the largest public sector capital projects now ripe for implementation during 2018. This includes a major island main road resurfacing programme geared at providing the best possible road network in the region. Neglect of the public infrastructure by the past regime led to the deterioration in the quality of our island main road at a considerable cost and inconvenience to the owners of vehicles and pedestrians. The roads in some areas will be made wider and more user-friendly. We intend to offer a better tomorrow to road commuters and users. We put the interest of our people first.
The perennial challenge of the disruption of our public road in the western side of the island and Old Road in particular will be addressed by the second quarter of 2018. The inconvenience and loss to our economy in production and productivity cannot be tolerated. My Government will begin the implementation of a better and resilient solution to the problem at Old Road Bay. We do so because we are a superior government and the people deserve better, which Team Unity in the short space of 35 months is delivering to them. Without a good quality road network, the Country cannot thrive. The humbug of inconvenient travel due to a poor road network is not part of our vision for St. Kitts and Nevis.
The hustle and bustle of our Christmas and Carnival seasons demonstrated the urgency of building a modern East Bus Terminal. This Terminal will be ready ahead of our 35th Anniversary of Independence. Our Fisheries Complex at Old Road and the Fisherman’s Cooperative Building in Dieppe Bay will be restored to a state fit for purpose. Our new Basseterre High School (BHS) will get started and our health sector build-out will continue. This is genuine progress, which we are delivering to our people and the electorate who wisely voted for Team Unity.
Comfortable homes enhance the well-being, productivity and conduct of all. Property ownership is a critical element of our prosperity agenda. In this regard, the National Housing Corporation (NHC) will expedite delivery of the 300 homes funded by the Social Security Board. Our first-time homeowner programme (FIRST), which has delivered over 300 solutions since the advent of Team Unity, will deliver a further 200 mortgage solutions in 2018. Additionally, the first tranche of our housing solutions targeting public servants will be launched in collaboration with the Development Bank during the first quarter of 2018. We want more persons to be proud homeowners and we invite all to begin to save for their future home.
We will help identify investment opportunities for those who want to play their part in investing in nation building as well as reaping the rewards that flow from such investments.
To this end, my Government is inviting local entrepreneurs to invest in home construction to help satisfy the wide-ranging demands for home ownership. We envision a large and vibrant middle class. We want to raise awareness for those persons with capital so that they will seize the opportunities that exist. My Government will facilitate the acquisition of lands by private parties on affordable terms to provide homes to middle-income families all around the Country. The Ministry of Sustainable Development will earmark such housing developments around the Country for this new thrust in home ownership and entrepreneurship. We will do this because people matter most to us. We want them to experience progress and prosperity.
Over the last three years, the growth in new businesses entering the formal economy has been phenomenal. For the first time in history, the number of business licences issued by the Inland Revenue Department exceeds the 400 mark. Net business formation has been at its highest level under Team Unity. In each year – 2015, 2016, and 2017 – business licences exceeded the 400 mark: a historic development; indeed, by 2016 it peaked at 490, the best record to date.
In 2018, we will encourage more of our citizens to seize opportunities, to create more jobs, and to expand the choices for our people. The horizon of opportunity is beckoning all.
Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. However opinion is not “Fact.” Facts are independent of personal opinions, and the facts speak to a St. Kitts and Nevis under my leadership that is doing very well compared to its peers in the OECS, CARICOM, Latin America and the Caribbean and the world. We are part of a small Country that is towering above the constraints of size. Our economy is growing annually at a higher rate than that of several advanced countries, including members of the G20. This is a great feat.
Our fiscal house is in good standing with three consecutive years of surplus on the recurrent account, overall account and primary balance. Our reserves are adequate to satisfy our external trade needs for seven months of the year. The international standard is three months reserve. We are doing twice as good as the international best practice. Our debt-to-GDP is among the best in all of the independent countries in the OECS and CARICOM. We reduced it from a high of 78 percent in 2014 to a more manageable 65 percent in 2016. Our per capita income is one of the highest, not just in the OECS, CARICOM, Latin America, but the entire world. Thanks be to God.
We paid off a whopping $117 million of the $225 million contracted by the former regime with the IMF, signalling that never again will our finances be recklessly managed to cause an 85 percent increase in electricity, a 600 percent hike in water rates, a three-year wage freeze, default on our sovereign debt, and hair-cuts imposed even on churches. Our tomorrow of fiscal management will be better than the inheritance of February 2015.
Sticking to the facts, the Social Security records show that the largest number of employees on record occurred under Team Unity. The highest number of jobs was generated under Team Unity. The highest wages earned took place under Team Unity. The largest number of contributors occurred under Team Unity. In sum, our policies are benefitting more persons than ever before in history.
Our Government is performing very well, but the government cannot do everything without the partnership and the input of its people. We need the private sector to tap into opportunities, to bring its business acumen, ingenuity and creativity to pioneer new areas for growth and development.
We will modernise our quarry and are open to proposals from the private sector to invest in our quarry so that it can offer more and better products and services without charge to the public purse. We are open to greater involvement of the private sector in making Basseterre the cleanest and most beautiful city. Basseterre must always be a capital city of which we can all be proud so that we can showcase our historic capital to the world, particularly when we host the increasing number of visitors who come to our shores. Let us show the world what we are made of and do this together.
In 2018, we will invest a record $75 million, the highest budgetary allocation to national safety and security. We expect that we will achieve a greater peace dividend. I commend the security services for their successes in 2017, to wit a significant reduction in homicides and several other major crimes. My advice to the High Command is that 2018 must witness a further significant reduction in violent crimes and in all crimes in St. Kitts and Nevis.
In 2018, we will deliver a state-of-the-art forensics lab, new coastguard facilities, upgraded facilities for our police and fire officers, phase 2 of the CCTV programme and enhanced social interventions. It has been a distinct honour for me to participate in the inauguration of two Police Youth Clubs – MOLPHIL and Shadwell Explorers. I am looking to the build-out of similar groups in St. Pauls, Cayon, Sandy Point and in Cotton Ground in 2018. We will protect our children, our future, from the scourge of violent crimes in particular. We are nurturing a better relationship with our Police and the Communities. Our people yearned for pervasive peace. We are consecrating our Country’s future.
In 2018, we will deliver on our good governance agenda – Integrity in Public Life will be buttressed with Freedom of Information and Data Protection Legislation along with constitutional amendments for the restriction on the tenure of Prime Ministers. We will bring closure to a number of matters which were part of the troubled legacy of the past, including Electoral Reform. Our mandate was not for one day, it was for 5 years plus. We know what we are doing. We are working on the people’s behalf. That is why so many of our citizens encourage my Cabinet to stay focused and to continue to do our good work on behalf of the people.
Poverty is a perennial challenge for Caribbean societies. My Government intends to confront this challenge head on. In this regard, a survey will be conducted this year to determine the nature and extent of poverty in our Federation. My Government intends to implement a major manifesto initiative in 2018, following preliminary household surveys. This initiative will provide a supplemental income of $500 per month to households earning less than $3000 per month. A promise made is a promise being kept by my Government because we know our people put great store on our commitments. When it comes to people – Our word is our bond. We want to improve the livelihoods of citizens and residents and to instil a sense of pride in our communities and nation at all levels, by all ages, at all times.
A visionary government must encourage its citizens to be leaders of today and tomorrow. As our young people contemplate their career goals, a broad array of choices, traditional, new and emerging await them. Given the dearth of technical and vocational skills and the need to put our people at the cutting edge of science and technology, my Government will implement a TVET Programme with the support of the CDB. Our aim is to give advantage and a head start to our citizens. A well-constructed economy needs quality persons – highly educated and highly skilled.
As we contemplate the alternatives of clean power such as solar, wind and geothermal, our people must equip themselves for service and for work in the new emerging areas so that the manifold job opportunities to be crystallized in these fields can be seized by our well-trained young people. We are looking ahead because our destiny is in our future, not in our past. We are investing now for our people to obtain dividends in the future.
My beloved citizens and residents, your Government has made considerable progress over the last 35 months. Our passion, energy and dedication to our people will not abate. We will continue to move forward with a vibrant democracy, strong economy and fiscal prudence so that you, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis, can benefit.
In Putting our People First across all agendas that are integral to our success, there is an opportunity for you, our people, to work in partnership with us to achieve our common goals for an improved and sustainable high standard of living for all. Whether it be housing, tourism, agriculture, fisheries, security, health, our roads, education, young people, women and family life, I invite you to play an active role in doing what you can at an individual, community and Country level to help shape a better future for everyone.
Fellow citizens and residents, 2018 requires our citizens of virtue to come forward, to do their due, to constructively engage, advise, guide and lead our families, communities, institutions and Country to a better place. Accordingly, I invite our citizens and residents to come forward. Let us again rekindle the full purpose of this beautiful land. Let us make St. Kitts and Nevis the epitome of a well-managed and well-organised state.
Let us create a new history of a people engaged in nation building, creating a beautiful legacy at home and in families, building safe and secure communities and a Country of which we are the proud achievers. We should be confident, knowing that not only is our nation of St. Kitts and Nevis serving its citizens, by putting them first, but also recognising that we carry the unique distinction of its citizenship. We therefore have a collective duty to build St. Kitts and Nevis, defend St. Kitts and Nevis and contribute to its stellar success.
My fellow citizens and residents, my Cabinet and family join me in wishing you all the very best for 2018. In the realization that God has been good to us and our bright future is in his hands, let us proclaim, “To God be the Glory” and may God bless St. Kitts and Nevis.
I Thank You.