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(CMC) – The St. Kitts-Nevis government says the twin island Federation has become the first country within the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) to bring its debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio in line with the international benchmark of 60 per cent.
The other members of the ECCU are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.
Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris told a news conference that the country achieved the feat 12 years ahead of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) target date of 2030.
He told reporters that at the end of 2014, the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 78 per cent.
“Here in St. Kitts and Nevis, we are performing in superlative terms relative to the rest of our peers in the OECS, CARICOM and indeed the rest of the world,” Harris said.
He said the achievement is remarkable given the fact that the St. Kitts-Nevis total public debt rose to an estimated US$1.05 billion, approximately 200 per cent of GDP under the previous government.
“In practical terms, we paid off the inherited outstanding debt to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) of $117 million and today we are still in surplus. In practical terms too, we got to this milestone by making a substantial payment of EC$36.2 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) on the land for debt swap arrangement with National Bank.
“We achieved this milestone by paying down a total of EC$25.1 million on the amount owed to the government of Venezuela and of course clearing other substantial debts of the former irresponsible regime,” Harris told reporters.
He said that his coalition administration was able to bring the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio in line with the international benchmark of 60 per cent in spite of its comprehensive response in the aftermath of two Category 5 hurricanes that necessitated unbudgeted expenditure by various ministries.
“This Team Unity Administration paid double salaries back to back in 2016, 2017 and we honoured salary increases in 2016 and yet we are in surplus,” Harris said, adding that the double salary was paid a total of six times between 1995 and 2014 under the former administration and twice in less than four years under his administration.
Meanwhile, the government says it is assisting an estimated 1, 432 households under the Hurricane Rehabilitation Programme with Prime Minister Harris indicating that his administration had put in place effective controls to prevent mismanagement within the programme.
“Whatever mode an applicant comes to the system, that application is subject to screening and independent verification to determine its bona fides,” Prime Minister Harris said.
“Independent and knowledgeable persons attached to the Public Works Department and the Sustainable Development Ministry review each application and determine the genuineness and the reasonableness of any estimates of damage,” he said.
He said the suppliers involved in the Hurricane Rehabilitation Programme are well acquainted with the government’s ordering system.
“They know how an order is authenticated and therefore validly represents a transaction from the government and we expect that they would comply with the established protocols and of course, if they are found to have breached any, the consequences would be most serious.”