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My Fellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts and Nevis,
Congratulations are in order on our 37th Anniversary of Independence.
Three decades and seven years ago, on a warm and almost cloudless Sunday night, the Union Jack (representing the power and authority of the United Kingdom) was lowered for the last time over our beautiful twin islands and the National Flag of St. Kitts and Nevis was unveiled majestically. The sun had set forever on colonialism in our land and the sovereign Nation of St. Kitts and Nevis was born on the 19th September 1983.
Though our new flag rose just some 30 feet into the air, it symbolized the limitless rise in our patriotism, optimism, confidence and hope for our individual and collective futures, as citizens of an independent St. Kitts and Nevis. No doubt there were some lingering concerns among the then leadership who was now charged with charting a course for this new Nation as well as anxiety and excitement among the ordinary men and women but as a strong and resilient people, we embraced independence, knowing that from then onward, our destiny will not be determined for us, but by us.
We bade a nostalgic goodbye to Mother England and embraced the challenges and opportunities to fend for ourselves as a sovereign Nation. We were confident that we could make a better life for ourselves relying on our industry, ingenuity, resilience, innovativeness and the favour of God.
Over the last thirty-seven years our Nation has had remarkable growth and success, and some tremendous national achievements. For those under forty years of age who would have grown with those successes, it would be easy to see them, but maybe not as easy to truly appreciate the tremendous strides that we have made in a relatively short period of time. Our rate and level of development have caught and surpassed many other Nations that would have embarked on their journeys decades before us. Today St. Kitts and Nevis is among the best places to live, and proudly stands as the best run, best managed small island state anywhere in the world.
Our Country Stands Tall Above Its Peers
As a Nation we have the lowest Debt-to-GDP ratio in the OECS. We were the first to outdo the Debt-to-GDP target of 60 percent by 2030 set by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB). We have the highest reserves and the best fiscal outcome in the region. Our per capita income remains the highest in the OECS and the highest among our peers in the Hemisphere (excluding the USA, Canada and Mexico). We rank high on the United Nations Quality of Life Index. Indeed, we are among the top performers in the sub-region and tower above many larger and older independent states in the wider Hemisphere.
On the World Justice Rule of Law Index we are consistently among the top performers, ranking top of the class at least twice in a row. Our spectacular build-out of ICT saw us receiving the award for major improvement in the Information Communications Technology Sector during the 14th World Telecommunications Conference in Botswana on December 12th, 2016. We were the only Country to receive two awards.
There is further proof of our leadership in the world with the continuing fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic.
When the threat of COVID-19 was at its height there was no playbook. Every Country around the world was literally making it up as it went. As such, we, the Government of the People, endeavored to be diligent in all our decisions. It was that thoughtful and diligent deliberation that has brought us our successes thus far.
Let it not be lost on us that:
- Though we are the smallest sovereign Nation in the Western Hemisphere, we were the last to have a confirmed case of COVID-19,
- We have the lowest number of cases of any sovereign state and to God we give the Glory as we have no deaths so far,
- Our fiscal and economic response to the pandemic has been the largest per dollar in the region and the largest per capita in the world. It is the most comprehensive stimulus package. We offered the highest level of support to the most vulnerable directly affected by COVID-19.
Our Nation is grateful for the internal expert advice provided to us in making those decisions such as closing our borders and imposing lockdowns. We commend the work of the Chief Medical Officer, the Medical Chief of Staff, the National COVID-19 Task Force, the Health Emergency Operations Centre on St. Kitts and on Nevis, our Police, other Armed and Security Forces, our Emergency workers. Know always that your dedication and sacrifices resonate with a grateful Nation.
As we prepare for the reopening of our borders, we call every citizen and resident to National Service in the fight against the Coronavirus Pandemic and the renewed threats we are likely to face once we open our shores to visitors and returning nationals.
Your Government will continue to revise and implement the best policies and protocols and to deploy maximum resources where needed and where considered most effective. It is ultimately our individual actions that have and will have the greatest effect on curbing and containing any future cases of COVID-19.
Though for the most part the restrictions have been eased, many have questioned the need for any at all. We are mindful that we prepare not for the present, but for the future. The wearing of masks and washing of hands, sanitization and the physical distancing must become second nature to all our people. In so doing, we must prepare and protect ourselves; and contain the eventuality of cases when our borders reopen.
ALL OF SOCIETY GLOBAL APPROACH
We are in this together. Indeed, none of us can exit this fight to defeat COVID-19 before any other. It is the clearest manifestation of collective responsibility, for indeed if there is one person at risk all of us remain at risk. So long as one Country remains with COVID-19, all of us remain exposed and threatened. We are in it together. We must therefore see wisdom in working together.
Trying times are not new to us. We have endured tests before: some of Mother Nature and some of Human Nature, some of world politics and economics such as the dictates of some international organizations that can undermine our fiscal health, and some are of our own making. From starting out and having to build one Nation with essentially two governments, to watching the continual decline of sugar prices on the world market in the 1980s and 1990s when sugar then was the mainstay of our economy, to Category 5 hurricanes, to FINCEN, other advisories and black listings, we have had much thrown at us, but the determination, strength, resilience and innovation of our people have always shone through, and with those qualities, coupled with industry, ingenuity and resourcefulness, we have always overcome. And we have always emerged a stronger and more prosperous Nation.
Who would have imagined us going from the former administration receiving an extraordinary bailout from the IMF in 2010, to our payoff of that IMF debt in 2 years under the enlightened leadership of my Government?
We have become a beacon to many, a shining example of democracy, peace and stability, opportunity and tolerance. Though we are the smallest independent Country in the Western Hemisphere, thousands have flocked to our shores from larger countries seeking a better quality of life for themselves and their families. To our credit, they have found it. Some worked, earned, saved and returned home. Others stayed, adding to the diversity and vibrancy of our increasingly successful twin Island Nation. This is a testament to the truth that opportunities abound here for all who call St. Kitts and Nevis home. I must implore us all never to take what we have for granted, and continue to build St. Kitts and Nevis as a true Garden of Eden, a prosperous, successful Country exceeding the expectations of its citizens and residents.
STRONGER AND SAFER FUTURE
Over the last five years, we have continued to make great strides towards a stronger and safer future. We restored the fiscal health of our Country and in each year of my Administration we experienced economic growth. So good has the progress been, that we were able in our last dispensation to finance the second cruise pier, an engine of future development, entirely from domestic resources. This is significant because it not only gives us the resource, but ownership of the resource, and thus the profits stay within the borders of our Country, creating wealth. This is a much-needed departure from the old way of waiting for foreign investment, which may create some jobs, but does not create wealth for our people at the level and rate we expect. It is exactly this kind of innovation and self-reliance that must become the hallmark of our people and leadership. A new entrepreneurial spirit has awakened and every year over 600 new business licenses are being approved.
Our strong economy has allowed us to better assist and equip those at the lower end of the economic spectrum. The Poverty Alleviation Programme, unprecedented anywhere in the region, continues to assist households with incomes of less than $3,000.00 monthly, even as we look towards the regularization of the over 4,000 non-established and STEP workers. It is a further demonstration of our continued tradition of shared responsibility.
We have seen an initiative geared towards the safety and security of our Nation take root, resulting in a drastic reduction in homicides and violent crimes across the Nation. The weeping and wailing of mothers and children whose sons and fathers were lost to gun violence have subsided thanks to our Peace Initiative and its Alternative Lifestyle Pathway. We will continue to reform it to consolidate the gains in law and order, peace, public safety and security.
RELATIONS BETWEEN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND NIA
Not only inside the islands does peace now abound, but between them. In all of our 37 years of independence, the relationship between the island of St. Kitts and the island of Nevis has never been better. With the advent of this Team Unity Administration under my leadership, unprecedented levels of cooperation have been attained. From revenue sharing and project funding on the Island of Nevis, to coordination on issues of National Security and the response to COVID-19. Even the ordinary citizens now interact more, as it is now routine to see on any given Sunday scores of Kittitians on their way for a Killer Bee at Sunshine’s on Pinney’s Beach, passing Nevisians midstream, headed for a lime at Reggae Beach or Frigate Bay. Equally our Nevisian families come regularly to St. Kitts to work, shop, attend the movies, find a getaway from their routines and participate in all aspects of socio-economic life.
It would seem that we are now seeing the true embodiment of “Two Islands, One Federation.”
These successes cannot be taken for granted. Our societal leaders must do all we can to consolidate our gains. As we celebrate our 37th Anniversary of Independence, let us recommit “to achieve the national objectives with a unity of purpose”.
We have much to be proud of from where we have come: our heritage, our struggles, our shared sacrifices and our successes, but we have much yet to accomplish. As we look toward the next thirty-seven years, we have much work to do if we are to increase the inheritance for the generation coming after us. The reality of the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic gives us new cause to revive energies towards agriculture and food security, not just for our survival, but for opportunities for further economic expansion and diversification. We must ensure that in the near term, our independence is defined by positive transformations.
We must work hard to consecrate the future and to ensure that the generation after us will surpass us in every material particular. Our work must ensure the realization of a post-modern St. Kitts and Nevis surpassing our peers on every indicator of a well-managed state. Accordingly, we should aim to rank:
- Number 1 in our Hemisphere on the United Nations' Quality of Life Index
- Number 1 in our Hemisphere on the World Justice Report's Rule of Law Index
- Number 1 in the Hemisphere on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index
- Number 1 on the World Happiness Index
- Number 1 on the Productivity Index
- Number 1 in economic growth and fiscal balances
- We will aim also to have at least 20 percent of the age cohort of 18 to 24 years old enrolled in tertiary-level training, specifically in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Entertainment including film and cinematography.
We are living in changing times, and there are things that we cannot control. There is the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and this “new normal” in which we must now live. What we can, and must resolve to always control, is our prudent response to whatever may come. We must meet every challenge in unity with the strength and resilience of our forebears, married with our resourcefulness and the ingenuity of our youth. We will face whatever comes with that shared responsibility which has always seen us through. Be assured that no sword, no spear, nor virus can conquer, for our God will sure defend us. May his Blessings, and our collective efforts, indeed to posterity extend, as we win through to absolute victory and continued prosperity.
My Fellow Citizens and Residents, I wish you all a Happy Independence. May God Bless each of us and may God continue to bless our Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis and preserve us from all harm and danger.
I thank you.
View below Independence Address by Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris.