This is an excerpt from a news story released by the office of the Prime Minister the Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas:

“Deputy Managing Director at the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF), Murilo Portugal says macroeconomic outcomes in St. Kitts and Nevis have strengthened markedly in recent years.

”The IMF official, who was in St. Kitts to attend last week’s meeting of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Monetary Council held talks with St. Kitts and Nevis Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Sam Condor and Premier of Nevis, Hon. Joseph Parry.

”In a statement on his discussions with the local authorities, the IMF official noted that ‘growth has rebounded, foreign direct investment accelerated, and fiscal balances improved’ in St. Kitts and Nevis.

”He noted however that while these developments have helped contain indebtedness, public debt remains high at about 180 percent of GDP at end of 2007.

“‘There is a consensus that a small island economy, such as that of St. Kitts and Nevis, is vulnerable to risks and that the high debt level constrains the room for maneuver in the event of an adverse shock,’ said Portugal, adding that the authorities in the twin-island Federation have stressed their commitment to mitigating these risks, by placing public debt on a solid downward path, while maintaining macroeconomic stability and strengthening growth.”

This is good news. A nation without a solid economy with a course toward growth has no real future. This news stands in stark contrast to an article printed in the Jan. 31 issue of The Economist:

“Jamaica is the world’s most murderous country, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela. But some smaller Caribbean islands are catching up fast, irrespective of size or wealth. Pretty little St Kitts-Nevis, with just 50,000 inhabitants, suffered three murders in four days last November and has one of the highest per capita murder rates not only in the Caribbean but the world.

”The common factor behind this violence is the illegal drugs trade, which provides gangs with cash and weapons. But the link with narcotics is not simple. Since the 1990s, cocaine shipments in the Caribbean have stabilised while murder rates have soared. Suriname, no slouch in the drugs business, has the region’s safest streets. Violence surges when gang politics are unsettled. Fights break out over turf, bad debts or deals gone sour. Rivalries peak when supplies run dry, and when arrests or deaths create a leadership vacuum.

“More than 6m tourists visited the English-speaking Caribbean last year. Few ran into serious trouble. Most of the bullets hit young working-class men with the wrong networking skills, or their families and neighbours. But armed robbery, ending sometimes in murder, has a wider social reach. In some islands, a climate of fear curtails everyday routines. Many Jamaicans no longer risk a night-time drive to Kingston’s airport. Catholic churches in Trinidad have moved their Christmas midnight mass to an earlier hour.”

The simple truth is that it is both ways in the Federation: real progress in overall economic growth and unfortunate but noticeable growth in crime.

There are visible stirrings in the Federation in the fight against crime, notably in the emergence of private sector groups and programs aimed at aiding police, increasing community awareness and giving young people positive outlets for their energy.

Political leaders are also stressing their commitment to stand up to criminal elements. What we’ve seen so far is good. We want to see a lot more.

The Federation may very well be at a crossroads in its development when it requires a tremendous push by all sectors to insure that economic growth translates into real economic prosperity for all those who wish to work, while those who instead opt to pursue criminal opportunities will be met with stern resistance from the community – plus vigorous action by law enforcement agencies and the judiciary.

Are the leaders on St. Kitts and Nevis, both in and out of government, up to guiding this country at this crossroads? That is a question every person should ask as we go forward because the answer will determine the quality of life in the country for many years to come.