Remarks by Dr the Hon Timothy Harris, Prime Minister, at the sitting of National Assembly on Thursday, February 16, 2017
Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure for me as Prime Minister to rise on this occasion of the second sitting of the Parliament for the second month of the New Year and to make a statement. It is the second Anniversary of Team Unity’s contract with the people of St Kitts and Nevis. Today is a historic day. It was on February 16, 2015 that our people went to the polls to choose a government after a nigh crisis in democracy over a 26 month period that began with the filing of the Motion of No Confidence in December of 2012.
God guided our people and a majority of persons in the 11 Constituencies around St Kitts and Nevis voted for change. They voted for Team Unity. They gave us 5 out of 8 seats on St Kitts and 2 out of 3 seats on Nevis for a convincing 7 seats out of 11 elected seats in Parliament in favour of Team Unity.
As a consequence of our victory, I was sworn in on February 18, 2017, as the third Prime Minister of this our beloved Country and I proposed a Cabinet to the people on February 22, 2015.
I am happy to report that the Cabinet, comprising of 7 elected members and 2 Senators, has been busy at work for the people.
This government, elected on a prosperity and good governance agenda, has made remarkable progress in a short period of time and in those fundamental areas that make a significant difference to the quality of life of its people. I want to take this opportunity to give a few examples that demonstrate the positive impact our initiatives have had both at home and abroad.
We have acted on over 50 plus promises or commitments to the people. Some like the removal of VAT on food; medicine and educational supplies; the payment of gratuities to date to 2003 former sugar workers; the transformation of health care delivery; including the facilitation of provision of MRI services right here in St Kitts and Nevis, our herculean efforts at restoration of decorum in Parliament; the appointment of a Deputy Speaker, and the laying of audited reports for statutory corporations are among 50 plus achievements of my government.
May I refer in more detail to some of these accomplishments.
Quality of Life
We recognised that not everyone in our society was thriving, so we removed VAT from food, medicines and funeral expenses and in so doing we put more disposable income in people’s pockets and we make life more manageable for our people.
We made sure that thousands of sugar workers received payment they rightly deserved, thereby removing their long standing anxiety about how they were going to manage.
And we put the STEP into PEP, making job opportunities and skills development real for our young people. We know that when we invest in them, we invest in a better future for us all.
The health of the people determines the health of the nation and for the first time ever, the Federation has a Mental Health Day Facility providing the vital support to help people lead fulfilling lives as integrated members of society. In addition we have upgraded the Mary Charles Hospital, as well as established an oncology unit in St Kitts for cancer care.
Everyone needs a roof over his head and as a result of our financial support, dozens of families are now settled into new homes after the Team Unity government completed a number of housing units around St. Kitts and Nevis successfully sourced additional funding for a new housing programme.
A special assistance programme for homeowners means that over 30 individuals are now able to improve their living conditions after accessing grant funding.
Tomorrow, we break ground on another affordable housing scheme, and we will continue to create more affordable housing for our people.
As a country we were afflicted with some of the worst violent crimes rates and we have ensured that our security services have the investment, skills and crime fighting assets at their disposal to address this. For the first time, our police have the fundamental framework, strategies and appraisal processes in place to guide its practice. It is a work in progress but it is moving in the right direction.
St. Kitts and Nevis made history when it became the first country in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States [OECS] to launch the Criminal Justice Strategic Board that will address issues relating to safety and security. In addition our justice system has been strengthened through the appointment of an additional prosecutor and judge.
The state of our nation plays into our international reputation, which in turn has a direct impact on the level of investment which we can attract. I am pleased to report that following a complete overhaul and restructuring of the Citizenship by Investment Programme and the Unit that runs it, we have reinvigorated confidence internationally, defining us as a world leader once again.
We have consequently improved relations with Canada and the USA. The confidence and trust that had been lost are now being regained under our administration.
Similarly this government is expanding its diplomatic relations to take in other nations such as Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Rwanda.
I am pleased to advise that we have delivered so well because we genuinely care about our people. We care about the young, the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable and, as a result, we have brought relief to them – first and foremost.
That is why we ended the disruptive shift system at the Basseterre High School. That is why we constructed new and improved facilities for staff and students alike at the Basseterre High School. That is why we offered HELP housing assistance to nearly 200 families to renovate and repair their homes.
That’s why we reduced the costs of farming inputs.
That’s why we amended the Administration of Small Estate Act, 2015 to increase the ceiling of property value considered to be small estates.
That is why we brought the BAICO (Plan of Arrangement) Act of 2016, to provide the legal frame to ensure relief to those who suffered from the insolvency of BAICO.
On the good Governance agenda much more has been accomplished than we have been given credit for. A new openness and freedom pervades the land and people are free to speak within the context of the law. In order to enhance accountability we have:
Introduced the ‘Working For You’ Programme. Every week public officials from Prime Minister to Heads of Department are made to account for their stewardship. It is no longer an “Ask One Man Show” but ask anyone in authority to account.
Our Press Conferences have been regular and informative. We gave more time to Press Conferences than has been the norm in other countries, including the USA and the UK.
Our Cabinet meets regularly and often twice weekly, and in special sessions to advance the work of the Country.
We have a functioning Parliament with a Deputy Speaker nominated in compliance with the Constitution. Our Parliament meets regularly. In 2013 the Parliament met 6 times under the former regime. In 2014 it met 4 times. In 2015 we met 7 times, starting from May 2015. In 2016 we met 9 times. As such under our Team Unity Administration Parliament has met a total of 16 times in the past two years, as opposed to the 10 times in which the House met during the last 2 years of the rejected Administration. This represents a 60 percent improvement in the number of meetings of the Parliament. We promised better and we are delivering.
We are making a conscious effort to improve decorum in-house and we ask the Opposition to cooperate.
We are moving to separate functionaries of Judiciary from Parliament thereby maintaining the independence of the 3 main arms of Government: the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary. Our efforts at strengthening the arms of government, is a powerful testament to our commitment and good governance as each arm presents a check on the other.
We have strengthened the Judiciary. We have improved on disposal of cases during Assizes. We are in the process of adding another Magistrates Court and a second High Court.
All of these things fall under the rubric of good governance. Good Governance is not the mere passage of legislation. It is about building a culture of accountability and transparency. It is always keeping faith with the electorate. It is always a work in progress. It is more a journey than a destination. That is why my government will launch a programme of public education on legislation to come before the Parliament on some elements of the Good Governance Agenda. This is to ensure public buy-in to the good governance agenda.
In our Manifesto, that road map and blue print of the government, we noted where we were on Good Governance and what must be done. We have been delivering on electoral reform, the laying of accounts of statutory corporations, etc.
We will during the course of our tenure deliver legislation backed by the support systems, including budgetary resources.
In closing, I am proud of our achievements to date. I verily believe that the time is ripe, and our people will return us to Government with an overwhelming endorsement.
In the interim I pledge we shall “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God as per Micah 6 verse 8.
Mr Speaker, I have outlined several examples of promises made and promises delivered. There are over 50 plus pledges to the people of St Kitts and Nevis that we have fulfilled but the work is not yet done.
Our theme for this year’s Anniversary Celebrations is “Good Governance and Accountability for Prosperity”. This is our mandate and this is what we have been delivering.
Our good governance agenda will spare St. Kitts and Nevis a repeat of the events that led to the unacceptable delays in debating the motion of no confidence, political opportunism relating to electoral boundaries and the ensuing court battles.
We want our people to take pride in their Country, in the confidence that it has good governance, has a fair and just criminal system, is transparent in its operations and takes care of its people where it matters to them – health, education, housing, security and so on. Having achieved so much in all of these areas so far, we will not rest on our laurels but will continue to work for our people with as much enthusiasm and passion as when we first started.
Happy 2nd Anniversary to all the people of St Kitts and Nevis. I Love you more than words can say!
Mr. Speaker I thank you.