“The Harris administration has demonstrated to us that it lacks completely any real vision or plans for how to take this country forward. Daily, more people are expressing their disappointment and disillusionment with Dr. Harris’ leadership and his authoritarian style of governance. Harris is failing on every indicator that matters most to the people; On health he is failing, on crime fighting he is failing, on good governance he is failing and on the economy is failing and failing badly.” This was the opening salvo that was launched by the Honourable Konris Maynard, MP, during the monthly press conference of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party held yesterday, October 31, 2018. What followed was a systematic cascade of facts about several of the issues that have been developing in the Federation that have been cause for much consternation and alarm among the general public.
The panel, dressed in pink in solidarity with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, touched on various subjects that have been prominent in the news and public commentary which included: the concealing of the IMF Article IV Consultation Report by the Ministry of Finance; the ongoing stagnancy in the economy, the open corruption taking place in the administration of the Roof Repair disaster recovery initiative and the blacklisting of the Citizenship by Investment Programme of St. Kitts and Nevis by the international community.
Beginning with the presentation by the Hon. Konris Maynard, the Opposition decried the ongoing decline on key metrics in relation to the economy as reported by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund for 2017. Citing statistics related to GDP growth, overall government surplus, government cash savings in commercial banks and SIDF revenues, Mr. Maynard drew contrast between the economic performance of the Harris administration and the record of the Labour Administration.
“In 2016 the growth rate was at 2.21% and in 2017, as I have stated, the growth rate was 1.7%. During the Labour Party’s four terms in office, the economy was achieving growth rate highs upwards of 10, 8, 6 and 5% growth with the only decline occurring during the three years immediately following the global economic crisis in 2009-2010 and 2012,” exclaimed Mr. Maynard. “Dr Harris’ high is Labour’s low.”
Mr. Maynard extrapolated further that this poor economic performance by the Harris administration is possibly the reason for the government refusing to consent to the release of the IMF economic surveillance report for 2018, which was completed, according to the IMF website, on September 14, 20i8.
“So why would Dr. Harris try to hold back the IMF report? Is it because it contradicts his story that “the economic outlook of St. Kitts and Nevis is a positive one?” asked the exasperated parliamentary representative for St. Christopher 3. “Holding back the report flies in the face of all the democratic tenets of transparency and accountability that this country stands for and the people demand to know what the IMF has reported.”
The party leaders went on to expose the direct political interference and open corruption displayed by the Harris administration in its delivery of the roof repair programme that has been belatedly implemented in response to the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, that passed by the islands in September 2017. “There is open corruption that is taking place in this programme and the media should investigate for themselves,” declared Dr. Terrance Drew, the Chairman of the SKNLP. “St. Kitts and Nevis is the only country, where the Office of the Prime Minister is unilaterally issuing contracts without going through the appropriate bidding process.” Citing anecdotal reports from his constituents, Dr. Drew spoke of the practices of selectivity in the approval of applications and quality of roof repair based on the presumed political affiliation of beneficiaries. He also cited allegations of corruption that government officials responsible for administering the programme are demanding “kick-backs” for the awarding of contracts to service providers.
Dr. Geoffrey Hanley, the SKNLP caretaker candidate for Constituency #1, reminded the public of the facts related to the former Labour administration’s record as relates to disaster response and recovery. “Not only did Labour design housing projects to be constructed for the people, we redesigned the houses themselves to make them stronger and more resilient to future hurricanes and natural disasters,” said Dr. Hanley. “The Labour Party administration was able to not only rebuild the Federation after it suffered these devastating blows; it was also able to improve the country’s infrastructure, empower the people in numerous ways, and strengthen and grow the economy.”
The press conference culminated with an impassioned presentation by the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Denzil Douglas. “The Labour Party is very concerned that the CBI programme has been blacklisted by Transparency International and the OECD. Over the last three years, Dr. Harris has completely eviscerated the CBI programme and has made it less transparent and less accountable than it has ever been.”
According to the veteran parliamentarian, the Harris administration has cheapened the Citizenship by Investment programme; has made its operations and management less transparent and accountable to the public and has exposed it to greater risk of attracting criminal elements. The Opposition Leader called in question the legitimacy of the Sustainable Growth Fund which has now replaced the Hurricane Relief Fund as a funding instrument of the Citizenship by Investment Programme.
“Previously under the Labour administration the SIDF [Board of Councilors] managed the fund and there was an accounting firm that was responsible for auditing the fund and presenting financial reports. The SIDF fund was governed by the Foundations Act with its legal responsibilities and parameters governed by law. The new SGF has no basis whatsoever in law. The SIDF Board is now defunct and abandoned,” lamented the concerned leader.
In response to public outrage that there is now no way of knowing how much money has been placed in the Hurricane Relief Fund by international partners and investors, Dr. Douglas called on the government to establish the independent CBI Commission which was one of the key recommendations put forward by the consultancy to review the CBI programme that had been completed by the former administration in December of 2014.
“Today we want to ask Dr. Harris, where is the Citizenship by Investment Commission? When they were running for office they had the most to say about transparency and accountability in the CBI programme. They promised that when they got to office that they would grant Parliament the authority to approve or reject applications. They made a huge song and dance about the SIDF funds being placed in the consolidated fund. But has Dr. Harris implemented any of these things?” inquired the Leader of Opposition.
Each presentation was punctuated by the assurance that a new Labour administration would provide capable and competent leadership that would put the people at the center of governance. The press conference ended successfully with rigorous engagement by the media houses present as the Opposition enlisted their partnership with investigating these very serious matters.