Published 26 October 2020
Buckie Got It,
Basseterre St. Kitts and Nevis News Source
Opening Remarks by Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris,
Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis
On Leadership Matters – October 20th, 2020
As Prepared for Delivery
First, I want to thank all public officials for your work to date. I especially thank those of you who went beyond the call of duty to ensure continuity of government at the onslaught of and during this difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I recall the “stay at home” regulation that was a principal element of COVID-19 Emergency Powers Regulations that operated to keep non-essential workers at home. During the difficult few months of April to June 2020, the outstanding work of several Departments represented the high quality of response and behaviour that we should get as a matter of routine from all Departments.
Allow me to recognize:
- The Ministry of Finance for its lead role in putting together a $120 million plan for keeping government functioning and for its outreach to various economic actors at a time of high uncertainty and fear. The unveiling of the stimulus plan led to a calming of the waters. Our COVID-19 stimulus package is the largest and the best.
- I must also commend the Accountant General and his Department for ensuring that, despite lockdowns and curfew, every week over 4,000 weekly paid public sector workers were paid – 1,207 Government Auxiliary Employees (GAEs) and 3,000 persons on our Skills Training Empowerment Programme (STEP). Additionally, every month 5,109 employees and pensioners were paid.
- The work of processing personnel emoluments could not occur without the outstanding support of the Payroll Unit under the office of the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO). I commend the CPO and the Head of the Payroll Unit along with her staff for an excellent job. Equally, I must commend Mr. Emile Greene, Chief Executive Officer of STEP and his staff for excellent work.
- Health Care Sector: Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Delores Stapleton-Harris and the Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC) worked to ensure the readiness of the health sector by organizing the procurement of essential personal protective equipment, vehicles, the Cuban medical brigade, etc., as well as the implementation and execution of an effective public education and outreach programme to inform and educate the public about the dangers of COVID-19.
- The Ministry of Sustainable Development for ensuring the continuity of the Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP). We have paid out $23 million over the period January to September 2020. By year’s end, this amount could reach $31.1 million.
- The Social Security Board and staff for their work and the implementation of the $1,000 per month stimulus programme. Some $23 million has been paid to citizens and residents. At its peak, just over 8,000 persons were recipients of this $1,000 stimulus payout per month. Several persons have reached out to me and have expressed tremendous gratitude for this stimulus payout from the Social Security Board. It has been most helpful in a time of their greatest need and financial challenge. It has helped many keep their heads above the water, put food on their table, pay rent, etc.
- The Labour Department has been critical to the processing of severance claims. It has so far processed over 701 claims.
- The Office of the Attorney General for its work with the Emergency Powers COVID-19 Regulations, which kept us safe and secure over the last 7 months (approximately) of COVID-19.
- The Government Printery went beyond the call of duty to get Statutory Rules and Orders (SROs) gazetted and so too did our Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC) and National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC).
- ZIZ was superb in its delivery of real-time updates on COVID-19.
Personnel Emoluments are a significant cost to government, and we have to contain these while we achieve greater value for money. So far, total payout disbursement from January to September 2020 totalled $218 million. By year’s end, the Government would have spent just about $300 million. We have not laid off one person to date in spite of the dramatic reduction in our tax collections.
For our 2021 Budget, we have already significantly increased expenditure on personnel and employment costs by our policy decision to (1) regularize the GAE workers of government and (2) bring eligible STEP workers (nigh 3,000) as part of our GAE pool in a phased way, starting with STEP workers in the central government. The cost attached is not only wages and salaries, but also includes Social Security costs, 1 percent severance levy, 3 percent social services levy, etc. This will be one of the most significant additions to Recurrent Revenue. All of us must work to make this bold and new initiative a success. I thank the Special Committee that is working to bring this initiative smoothly in place.
As we build out our Estimates, we are focused on cost containment, efficiency and efficacy in the delivery of services.
Performance Matters! We must not accept mediocrity, and we must reward performance. I have charged, inter alia, His Excellency Vance Amory to lead the programme of Public Sector Reform, under which performance measures are to be developed and implemented. Ambassador Extraordinary Plenipotentiary His Excellency Vance Amory will be assisted in this regard by the former CPO Torfrida Rochester, Ambassador Everson Hull and a small support staff. The Cabinet encourages the full support of all for this reform effort that is critical to the delivery of a stronger and safer future.
COVID-19 requires us to be the best that we can be as citizens and residents, as communities, as government, as a people and Country. We must rise to the occasion. I know we can.
COVID-19 – with its brutal attack on our health, on our customary practices, approaches to work and to life and living in general – causes us to reflect, revisit and re-examine the role of the Executive, the role of government employees, the role of the private sector and the non-governmental organization (NGO) community. It has caused us to determine what are the critical matters that we must address to secure a stronger and safer future.
Our Priorities for 2021
Our strategic priorities in our 2021 Budget will embody:
- Protection of the poor by ensuring the continuity of our large array of social safety nets. We shall preserve our PAP with strict compliance to the household criteria. We shall preserve our support to parents through the stipend to each child in Early Childhood. We will continue our Social Services support with the voucher and other programmes. We will protect our women and girls from abuses of all types. Our school children will receive support from the SELF Programme, free dental care, waiver of examination fees, etc. We will provide through our Fresh Start Programme support to Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). We have the most comprehensive social safety net programmes in the Caribbean – the most and the best. We can add the vital contribution of Social Security in supporting about 800 persons with non-contributory benefits – invalidity, non-contributory old age pension, disablement benefit. For the last 2 years, 2018 and 2019, about $6 million was paid each year to qualified persons.
- Support for our health system in our efforts to defeat COVID-19, contain and reduce Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and the provision of enhanced care for those with underlying health conditions and heart issues. Our 2021 Budget will address these serious issues.
- Education: We will step up the build-out of our Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Programme and infuse Information and Communications Technology (ICT) into our schools and the wider society.
- We shall never shirk from our responsibilities to keep our people safe, protect our borders and harden our resilience to disasters. We have done very well in reducing homicides to record lows – from a record high of 36 homicides in 2011. We are now at 7 for the year 2020. We have trained the largest number of Police Officers, including recruits, and provided advanced training at home and abroad. We shall continue to support law and order and citizen safety and security in our land. We will strengthen our programmes of rehabilitation for prisoners and prison reform. Our Peace Programme will showcase real results from the real work, and those who are in the programme will be evaluated for compliance with high standards of behaviour and their contribution to the advancement of our Country.
- We will restore the economy to full health over the next 3 years by:
- Opening the economy in a safe way.
- Taking a very targeted approach to marketing St. Kitts and Nevis in traditional tourism source markets and in new markets.
- Reprioritizing the build-out of capital projects.
- Innovations in the transformation of our CBI programme.
- Building out alternative energy.
- Expanding the build-out of agriculture and fishery programmes.
- Increasing opportunities for our young people.
- Expanding our ICT programme.
We are a Government for and by the people. We welcome the input of our listeners. We solicit ideas on how we can bring more revenue into the Treasury and save the cost of unnecessary expenditure. You can send your suggestions by WhatsApp to the Press Secretary, Valencia Grant at (869) 762-1558. You can also contact my office at (869) 661-1136.
Let me in closing extend sincerest well wishes to our new Centenarian, Mrs. Ruby Thomas of Pitcain Street, Newtown. She has joined the exclusive club of those of our citizens to reach their century i.e. she is now 100 years old. I wish her good health and God’s grace. I thank all those who have been showing her love and kindness.
On a sad note, let me extend condolences to the family of Albert and Emile Elmes on their passing and record my Government’s appreciation for their outstanding work both as professionals and as citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis.
My special thank you to the thousands at home and abroad for listening to Leadership Matters every Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. on ZIZ Radio and TV and a number of social media platforms – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your interest and feedback are well appreciated by me.
I am here to serve you to the best of my abilities in humility and love.