Opening Remarks by Prime Minister Dr the Hon Timothy Harris at the Press Conference at NEMA Headquarters Conference Room on Thursday, February 10, 2022
My fellow citizens and residents, representatives of the media, greetings and best wishes for 2022.
I am privileged to address you in my capacity as Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis and in the context of our commitment to the good governance agenda to inform you on several matters of state.
I shall begin with updates on the implementation of our people centered 2022 Budget commitments, particularly in relation to our unprecedented third stimulus package compromising interalia of:i) Extension of income support to disadvantaged workers and persons unemployed on account of COVID-19; andii) Extension of fuel support to passenger bus operators and the inclusion of certified taxi owners as beneficiaries under this programme.
During 2021 my government provided Income Support to 3,053 persons for a total payout of $7.9 million. In addition, 109 persons benefited from the Fuel Subsidy Program, the total payout to this program was $129,800.00. The Disability Support Program benefited 158 persons for a total payout of $486,500.00. The combined payout for these three (3)programs was $8.58 million and 3,320 persons received financial assistance from the Federal Government.
In 2022, The Income Support and Fuel Subsidy Program are being extended for a further 3 months. The fuel subsidy is being expanded to include taxi operators who have a travel approved seal. Presently there are 202 taxi and tour operators across the Federation bearing the seal. Persons who applied last year need not reapply. The applications that were previously submitted are in the process of being reviewed for continued eligibility. In fact, the first fuel subsidy payment for this year was made on February 03, 2022, to 104 bus owners who were eligible. Person wishing to apply for the Income Support or Fuel Subsidy may do so from Monday, February 14, 2022 by completing the relevant application form. It can be downloaded from the Ministry of Finance website at www.mof.gov.kn. This form can be accessed using the COVID-19 tab and will be available in both English and Spanish. Persons who applied last year need not reapply. Forms that were previously submitted are in the process of being reviewed for continued eligibility.
Safety and Security
The people of St Kitts and Nevis continue to enjoy a relatively high level of peace and security under our Team Unity Administration. We have seen a marked reduction in homicides which have fallen dramatically from a record high of 35 in 2011 to a low of 10 in 2020. In 2021, we had 3 homicides more than 2020. The Police will aim to reduce this figure to single digits in the near future through intelligence led proactive policing and improved community policing. The successful build-out of programs in support of our Alternative Lifestyle Pathway Programme, the Explorers Club and better utilization of resources such as our CCTV monitoring system and Forensic Lab will complement our efforts in sustaining reductions in major crimes.
The detection rate for the Federation as a whole stood at 43 percent in 2021 which is an improvement over the 40 percent and 39.3 percent detection rate in 2019 and 2020 respectively. The 2021 overall detection rate of 43 percent represents the highest detection rate since 2000.
Good News For Health Care
I am particularly pleased to report that in 2022 we shall commence the build-out of Phase 3 of the JNF General Hospital. This will be a significant investment of over $26 million which will result in improvement in 12 service areas at the J.N.F. General Hospital including the pathology, laboratory, a new psychiatric wing, a new central sterilization unit, central medical stores,kitchen, cafeteria, laundry, conference and lecture halls. The addition of these brand-new facilities plus the recruitment of medical specialists (cardiologist, cardiology technicians, Cath Lab nurses, Cath Lab technicians and MRI technologists to name a few) will lead to a significant enhancement in the quality of health care and improved conditions of work for all employees.
I present more good news. Consistent with our 2022 budget commitments outlined at paragraph 87, I am pleased to report that the cost of treatment of hemodialysis and oncology patients has been reduced by fifty percent effective February 01, 2022. In real terms the cost of hemodialysis treatment has been reduced from $800 to $400 per session. Those who areinsured will benefit from a 50 percent reduction on a portion of the cost of the treatment not covered by insurance. Our nationals receiving hemodialysis care have been granted a major relief as a result of this intervention to reduce the cost of this aspect of health care. I turn now to a few other health capital projects provided for in the Budget.
St. Peters Health Centre – a Cabinet Committee led by the Deputy Prime Minister Hon Shawn Richards, supported by a technical team drawn from health, finance, legal, and public works is due to present recommendations on the way forward for the resumption of work on this important facility. We anticipate that work will resume in the near future.
Basseterre Health Centre – All of the background studies have been done including the general scope of works to facilitate the design of a highly refurbished Health Centre offering improved quality care and services to the people of Basseterre and our country at large.
I could not end this positive news on our health sector without an update on our success in the battle with COVID-19. St Kitts and Nevis has one of the highestvaccination and lowest death rates among its peers in the hemisphere. As at Wednesday, February 09, 2022, 82.3 percent of adults had their first dose and 76.9percent are fully vaccinated. The high level ofvaccination coverage is allowing us to remove restrictions. We are also relying on persons to exercise good judgment in protecting themselves and their families from COVID-19.
I offer our highest commendation to our National Task Force and health team on their work so far.
We continue to urge all citizens and residents to get vaccinated because it is the best thing to do to keep you safe and get us back to some semblance of normalcy. We urge parents, guardians, and teachers to keep our schools safe and free from COVID-19 disruptions by becoming vaccinated and urging students to do so.
COVID-19 has cost us much. $25 million in additional expenditures to the health sector alone due to the prolonged period of COVID-19 and an average 14 percent loss in GDP in the ECCU.
Thanks be to God our country is getting back on track. In this regard, I now turn to the main economic growth drivers.
During the period January to December 2021, crop livestock combined recorded a 21 percent increase in production, that is, about 2.92 million pounds in 2021 compared to 2.41 million pounds in 2020. This resulted in a 22 percent increase in estimated dollar value up from $9.55 million in 2020 to almost $11.68 million in 2021. We are optimistic that this sector will continue to grow in 2022.
Our fisheries sector is back on track. Data from the Director of our Marine Resources reveal that there has been a significant increase in fisheries products in 2021 compared to 2020. Specifically overall fish landings increased from 671,000 lbs to 760,020 lbs with market value of $8.4 million in 2021 compared to $7.6 million in 2020. Major increases were realized among the following fishery types: conch (30%), lobster (148%), reef and demersal species recorded a 7% increase in 2021 compared to 2020.
Most of the workers in the manufacturing sector are back on their job. Indeed more persons were working in the sector in 2021 than in 2020. It is to the credit of the high performance of our workers in our export manufacturing enclave that inspite of great competition globally and in particular from China that we continue to lead the OECS in the export of merchandise to the USA. Factories such as API Harowe St Kitts Ltd, Kajola Kristada Ltd, JARO Electronics continue to penetrate external markets with their quality electronic products. We are expecting expansion at KajolaKristada Ltd and JARO Electronics during the course of the year. Our Carib Brewery has also successfully penetrated several markets in the region and is making progress with significant renovations and expansion of its plant. The broad manufacturing sector – (local and export manufacturing) has contributed to over 1,316jobs in the Federation. This means an increase in 2021 of 91 persons working to help their families. This is good news. We expect this year (2022) to see even higher employment in the export enclavemanufacturing sector as a result of innovation and new lines and products being added by our manufacturing plants. This is good news and is a positive sign that our manufacturing sector is surely getting back on track. As a sign of its confidence in the direction of our country, Carib Brewery continues its construction work having completed the rebuilding of its administrative offices and laboratory at a cost of $2.3 million. Production capacity has been expanded at CaribBrewery with the installation last week of another 450 hectoliter Bright Beer Vessel (BBV) tank. In 2022, the Carib Brewery intends to exceed for a third year in a row the 1 million threshold with 1.2 million cases of Brewery products.
In the second quarter of 2022 the Brewery will be installing and commissioning a new case packer. Itwill also invest a further $1.2 million in expanding its full product warehouse. In 2022 the Brewery will be introducing 4 new products. May their market reception, surpass expectations.
On Monday this week our Minister of Labour provided an update on prospects for expansion including the contribution of new products at Kajola Kristada Ltd. The company was assured of continuing government support.
The rebound of the tourism sector is quite evident. While not yet close to the buoyancy of 2018 and 2019, the 2021-2022 cruise season (October 21st to September 22nd) is off to an encouraging start with 158 cruise calls so far and 138,022 cruise passengers. This compares well to the 2020-2021 season when for 9 months (October 2020 to June 2021) there was zero cruise calls and consequently zero passengers. Giventhe COVID-19 situation, the cruise ships are not sailing with their usual maximum capacity as a health precautionary measure.
Turning to air passenger arrivals – For January 2022, 6,683 passengers arrived in the Federation up 5,324 over the 1,350 passengers recorded in 2021. This is a very good start compared to 2021.
Government capital projects including infrastructural and housing projects should lead to more jobs for our people, resulting in higher incomes and overall improvement in the quality of life. The private sector investments including the Dewars Housing Development and Public Private Sector Partnership projects such as the Liamuiga Housing Project, the New Correctional Facility and other ongoing CBI projects will all assist in stimulating economic growth during 2022. We expect NHC to recommence housing construction by the second quarter of 2022 and we are optimistic that the Credit Union project launched last year will yield good deliverables in 2022.
I urge citizens at home and in the diaspora to follow closely advertisements to fill several vacancies which have arisen in the public sector and private sector.
As I speak, there are several vacancies in various line ministries that have all been advertised. It is my wish for a good cadre of persons to come forward and be a part of National Development.
I remind all employers that no work permits will be issued unless the requirements of the law are met. Our nationals should be given a fair opportunity to find work in the land of their birth before nationals of other countries are considered. I also commend our LabourDepartment for consistently posting vacancies on its job wall. I encourage those who are searching for jobs to check with our Labour Department or its facebookpage – St Kitts and Nevis Department of Labour. Between January and February 2022, the wall has displayed some 38 vacancies in 9 businesses. Those who are looking for work must not shy away from a fresh start in the job market.
Let me pause here to field any questions from the media.