National Consultation highlights education, security, economic issues

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Prime Minister The Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris (L) with Mr Calvin Edwards, Deputy Financial Secretary and Mrs Hilary Hazel, Financial Secretary

By Dave Kaiser

Education, security and the economy were main issues discussed by Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and Premier of Nevis the Hon. Vance Amory during the Sept. 28 Annual National Consultation on the Economy in St. Kitts.

According to Prime Minister Dr. Harris, the prosperity of the Federation is dependent on the citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis and both the public and private sectors working together to advance the pace of growth and a resilient economy. Premier Amory, agreed with the Prime Minister and urged that a collaborative effort between the Federal government and Nevis must include the human element.

“The key to all that we are doing, working together, accelerating growth and building resilience must not forget the human element,” Premier Amory said. “Often we speak about technology and talk about how to create development, but our people must realize they are part of the human element and have a responsibility to reach those goals.”

Premier Amory emphasized training, retraining and education. “The Federation has made significant strides in economic growth, but the International Monetary Fund and other agencies rate us low on the totem pole due to attitudinal problems within our institutions and among our people. We have to re-focus to train and educate our people.”

The Prime Minister indicated, “Nevis is a leader in providing good quality comprehensive education for all, ranging from preschool to primary and secondary schooling. Even with such an acknowledgement, we are certain that there are gaps which must be addressed in order for the education system to prepare our people for the world of work and take their place in building a better St. Kitts and Nevis.”

The main challenge over the next few months, Dr. Harris said, will be to develop appropriate policies and a strategy to identify the actions required by key stakeholders and channel limited resources in a much more targeted manner.

He pointed out that US $8.5m has been secured from the Caribbean Development Bank to assist in the development of Technical Vocational Education and Training.

“There is no doubt that St Kitts and Nevis comparatively and absolutely is moving in the right direction,” the Prime Minister said. “Yet there is so much more which we must do to bring a better quality of life, higher paying jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for the young men and women of Charlestown, Brown Hill, Cotton Ground, McKnight, George Street, Tabernacle and Lodge, and indeed for the young people all over St. Kitts and Nevis who want to see progress in their lives.”

“We know there are many young people who want to make it on the straight and narrow way, and who want to make it by fair and honest means,” he said. “That is why we introduced the FRESH Start loan programme to provide affordable financing to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Work ethic challenged

Amory acknowledged recent education program changes to review and restructure training in St. Kitts and Nevis. He stressed, “Because it is the age of robotics and high-end technology, which has been with us for years, we lag behind due to our people’s work ethic. Our people feel they can come to work late and leave early.”

The Premier criticized employees who use work computers during the day for games instead of work.

“This has to stop,” the Premier said, “they have access to the highest level of technology and their work ethic has to change. We have to insist that our people come to work early, and somehow teach our children that same ethic.”

Prime Minister Harris concluded that market driven training will supply the skills that the economy requires. As examples he cited: hospitality; culinary arts; and other technical skills such as air-conditioning, steel bending, joinery and craft making.

Security issues

“The prosperity which my Administration is committed to deliver to our people over the next 10 years must never be frustrated by the wild, crazy, rhetoric of those misguided elements who want to turn Basseterre upside down,” Dr. Harris explained. “Equally, my Government will do all that we can to ensure that St Kitts and Nevis becomes the safest and most secure country on earth.”

Dr. Harris explained, “The seriousness of our commitment to stamping out antisocial activities and enhancing public safety is being demonstrated by our commitment to implementing our plan of action which was shared publicly in the early months of my Administration. Our recent decision to complement our local security personnel with personnel from the Regional Security System (RSS) is also demonstrating the seriousness with which we are treating the safety and security issue here in the Federation.  We thank civil society for supporting the advent of the RSS.  Since 2011 the CIC, and other elements of Civil Society have been calling for strong action to restore law and order in our Country.  Those calls were not heeded.  The politics took on paramountcy.  My Government in contrast will always put law and order above political expediency.”

“We must also strengthen the manner in which we deal with security, law and order, peace and harmony within our country,” he said. “While we speak of other conditions that may impede growth and development, perhaps one of the most debilitating factors that might impede foreign and domestic investment would be the threat of instability.”

The Prime Minister said the government is working with the police to develop a 10-point plan, working in concert with the private sector to ensure that security becomes a priority in St. Kitts and Nevis so that those who want to invest can feel that the environment is one that is conducive to investment.

“As we continue to implement our crime reduction strategy, I use this opportunity to call on all citizens and residents to give their fullest cooperation in helping us to jointly rid the Federation of the scourge of violent crime,” Dr. Harris said.

Dr. Harris said improving safety and security will not only save lives, as well as families from grief, but doing so will also enhance investment and send a clear message to the private sector and investors that the Government is working in partnership with them to protect their interests and those of the society.  A more favourable investment climate would redound to the benefit of the people, by further increasing economic growth, job opportunities and the standard of living in the country.

“Ensuring the safety and security of our country is the most important job,” Prime Minister Harris said. “The most important job for any government is to keep its citizens and residents safe.” Dr. Harris added. “If you can’t do that then you become a failed state, and so we will do all that is necessary…to incentivize investment, not just local, but importantly the foreign investment, which we require.”

“The people who are investing millions of dollars in the Four Seasons Hotel and at the Park Hyatt, for instance, don’t want to hear, time after time, that crime is out of control in St. Kitts and Nevis,” Dr. Harris said. “So we have to do all in our power to maintain a constructive environment in which people are willing to come and invest their money, knowing that it will be safe and secure.  So when we hear people become so excited, attempting to stir up frenzy within the country, we have to be careful not to join them.  When we hear people say they want to turn Basseterre upside down, …we have to shun that kind of conduct and indiscipline that they incite because we have a country to preserve.  We have a Prosperity Agenda, which is beckoning us and it is within our grasp. In that regard, I want to commend the RSS for the support it is providing to our local security forces at this time, to ensure that we take another bold and courageous step to stamp out anti-social behaviour and violent crime, in particular, in our country.”

Dr. Harris added: If it is for one day that their [the RSS] presence stops one life from being lost, it is a day that is worth it because we cannot put a price on people’s lives.  We cannot put a price on the cumulative effect of the homicide rate that reached crisis proportions way back in 2011 [in 2011, there were a record 35 homicides in St. Kitts and Nevis] when the country became the murder capital, top of the world.  We have to ensure that those bad times are gone, never to be returned.”

Economic concerns

The Prime Minister pointed out, “We recognize that in this ever-changing world, global warming has caused weather patterns to change, the impact of which has been quite severe on our Federation in the past and more recently on our neighbouring islands. We therefore need to learn from our experience and the experiences of our neighbours.”

Dr. Harris acknowledged it is necessary to position St. Kitts and Nevis to be in a state of readiness and resilient to not only these types of disasters but to the many threats that come with the intensification of the varied effects of climate change and to external shocks in general.

“We need resilience to overcome the challenges that come at times without warning and undermine our finances and productivity,” Dr. Harris said. “Two examples would be the chikungunya, and the Zika virus.”

“For this reason, we must build resilience now to protect the fiscal, economic and social gains that we have achieved as a country,” he said. “The Government, however, cannot do it alone and should not be expected to undertake such a great and important task on its own. The Public and Private Sectors and Civil Society in this, our Land of Beauty, must work together if we are going to advance the pace of growth and have a resilient economy; a resilient country. We are a resilient people.”