Opening Remarks by Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Leadership Matters – October 13th, 2020

Opening Remarks by Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Leadership Matters – October 13th, 2020
As Prepared for Delivery
 
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused dramatic decline in the economic growth around the world.  All countries – small, medium, and big – were and still are negatively affected by the pandemic.
 
Here in St. Kitts and Nevis, the second quarter of 2020 witnessed the closure of our manufacturing plant and tourism industry.  Luckily, our manufacturing plant is now back to about 90 percent of its employment level and our tourism industry will reopen on October 31st, 2020, with our hotels and guest houses recalling some of their workers to work.
 
To help our employees keep their heads above water, my Government formed several relief and support measures, including the waiver of water payments for 6 months (April to September) for those who suffered as a result of COVID-19, a moratorium on electricity payments, and a moratorium to those with mortgages to commercial banks. To date, over 2,000 holders of mortgages valued at over $400 million have benefitted.  We facilitated an additional 940 persons who lost incomes due to COVID-19.  The Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) beneficiaries count peaked at about 5,800 as more households lost their breadwinners. 
 
Up to September 2020, my Government has paid out $23 million in Poverty Alleviation stipends to assist the poor and vulnerable in our midst.  In addition, with the $1,000 per month stimulus package, a further $20.6 million was paid by the Social Security Board over a 3-month period (April to June).  I record my appreciation to the employees of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, the Treasury Department, Social Security Board and the Labour Department for their fine work, which led to over $45 million of direct income support to persons in St. Kitts and Nevis, the majority of whom are in the lower-income brackets.
 
Further support has come to our people from the Severance Fund. Although this was left in the red by the negligent former regime, my Government took the decision to put in $11.1 million to assist those who were eligible for severance payments. So far, 1,855 claims for severance payment have been received by the Labour Department and 620 have completed the necessary processing and are approved for payment. 
 
Significant claims have been processed from the Marriott Hotel, OTI, Park Hyatt, Four Seasons Resort, Nisbet Plantation, TDC Airlines, Caribelle Batik and Delisle Walwyn, (Kantours, Vacation Tours, Sky Safari), to name some entities in the tourism, manufacturing and construction industries.  In sum, progress is being made.  A caring Government is helping our people during this difficult time.  We could have said that there was no money in the Severance Fund.  Instead, we invested $11.1 million to help our people. Someone from Nevis WhatsApped to ask how much the NIA had put back into the Fund.  The simple answer is that whether the workers are from Nevis or St. Kitts it is the Federal Government that is carrying the financial burden of the Fund.
 
The Way Forward for the Severance Fund
 
We have sought the professional advice of an actuary on how we can make the Fund more sustainable.  We await the report.  It will be discussed with the Tripartite Committee and the public before action is taken. 
 
Regularization of STEP & GAE Workers In Process
 
Against this background of the impact of COVID-19 on employment in St. Kitts and Nevis, we look in greater detail to the plans of the Government to institute reforms to enhance the productivity of our Skills Training Empowerment Programme (STEP). We consider too the Government Auxiliary Employees (GAEs) and the role of the Labour Department in assisting and stabilizing the labour market in St. Kitts and Nevis.
 
I am very pleased to be joined by Mr. Antonio Maynard, Director of Social Security; Mr. Levi Bradshaw, Accountant General, and Ms. Shernel James, our Labour Commissioner.    
 

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