Basseterre, St. Kitts, October 16, 2015 (SKNIS)–Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris has disclosed that the former administration squandered $EC11 million in the SEAF Project. The SEAF Project (Small Enterprise Assistance Fund) was funded by the Citizenship by Investment programme where funding was purportedly made available to small business investors. It was managed by Roselyn Hazelle of the St. Kitts Investment Promotion Agency (SKIPA). But Prime Minister Harris said at his weekly press conference on October 13 that the program was not properly managed and persons who received money were not held accountable. He also suggested nepotism among the beneficiaries of funding.
“It was a pre-election gimmick to win votes. No serious effort was made to hold beneficiaries accountable for repayment. There were cases where candidates, their families, friends were preferred to get funds purported to open businesses, and for other purposes,” Dr. Harris disclosed. “A candidate, his sister, his aunt, his nephew and niece were all offered large sums. No viable business is there to show for their largesse to any of these beneficiaries. Collections have been horrible. We intend to recover the people’s money. We are not opposed to publishing the names of those owing and are yet to make proper repayment arrangements,” he added.
Dr. Harris also questioned the logic of paying persons who presided over SEAF hefty payments, considering some were already employed in public service.
“While SEAF collections were disastrously non-existent, we are hard pressed to rationalize the need to pay persons already in the public sector hefty sums while they presided over our SEAF that was neither meeting the test of accountability nor transparency. We have difficulty with the payments to such public officials as Ambassador Steve Wrensford of $50,000 and Rosalyn Hazelle of $76, 000,” the prime minister said.
Dr. Harris suggested that some who received funding have already begun repaying and urged those who have not done so yet to begin repaying or face “strong arm of the law.” He said: “We thank those who since the new day dawned on February 16, 2015, have begun repayments, and we invite those who are delinquent to urgently take steps to repay before the strong arm of the law takes hold.”
As of Tuesday, October 06, 2015, the prime minister said only 75 out of 300 persons had repaid any of their indebtedness. These repayments are a mere $171,130 from $11m disbursements, Dr. Harris noted.
In light of these revelations, the prime minister turned his attention to foreign investments coming to St. Kitts and Nevis suggesting that some “investments” under the previous administration were not real investments. He said foreign investments must benefit the country and should not be a case where investors come with “ideas” that are funded by the government.
“We are concerned that the former government was too occupied with foreign entities and preferred them for soft financing through SIDF at the expense of ordinary people of St Kitts and Nevis and SMEs,” Dr. Harris said. “Foreign Investors ought to bring more than an idea to St Kitts and Nevis. They ought to bring good money with them, have a real stake in the entities which they set up. Under the bygone administration “deals” were the order of the day. As those from abroad were better at poker, they often won while the country lost.”
Dr. Harris said that his Team Unity administration, while fully supportive of foreign entities investing in the economy, would place nationals of St. Kitts and Nevis first.
“We will provide them a conducive environment in which to do business, including strong banks in which to deposit their legitimate funds. But always our country and our people must have pride of place. None can blame us for putting our nationals first,” Prime Minister Harris said.