BASSETERRE, St. Kitts — “Tonight, as our thoughts are focused on saluting excellence and on recognizing the contributions of Retired Comptrollers of Customs who helped to lead the way over these many decades, I think of how proud we should all be that the intellectual father of the US Customs Service was none other than Nevis’ very own Alexander Hamilton,” Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris said Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Customs & Excise Department’s Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony.
“It’s a very special honour for me to be here with you at this Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony, as the Customs & Excise Department proudly commemorates 60 Years of Dedicated Service, Innovation and Advancement,” Prime Minister Dr. Harris said during his address. “Although a select number of Customs Officers will be awarded tonight, I want to commend all Customs & Excise employees – both past and present – who have played their part in making the Department everything that it is today… a bonafide winner! Your dedicated service has helped establish the Customs & Excise Department’s reputation as an industry leader.
“This praise is not just coming from me and neither is it only coming from local customs brokers and traders or from freight forwarders. It also emanates out of reports issued by prestigious international organizations, such as the World Bank Group. The World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business Report ranked St. Kitts and Nevis, out of all the countries in the English-speaking Caribbean, as the best facilitator of processing cross border trade. This is a huge international accolade that is often overlooked in an examination of our overall ranking.
“Our processing times are way ahead of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) average. The report found, for instance, that while it takes 65 hours on average to process documents and clear goods at Latin American and Caribbean ports, it takes 37 hours on average at St. Kitts and Nevis’ ports. That’s 57 percent less time, or one and a half days here in St. Kitts and Nevis as opposed to roughly three days elsewhere.
“Time equals money, and shorter processing times enable the Department’s customers to quickly go about their business of being productive, making money and keeping their own customers happy and satisfied, and having sufficient time to attend to other activities.
“The Central Bank indicates that our economy has been growing year after year: 4 years in a row from 2015 to 2018 and that our economy will do even better in the medium term. Our Customs and Excise Department has been doing its fair share of growth. During Sunday’s church service I mentioned that the $139.2 million collected by this Department, as at Oct. 18, compares favourably with the $126 million collected for the comparative period in 2017.
“The increase of $13.2 million represents a 10.48 percent increase in comparative collections. Remarkably, all of this took place in the context of no increases in the tax rates for which the Customs and Excise Department is responsible to collect” Dr. Harris said. “This is a testament to the Department’s administrative efficiency, which was duly recognized in the World Bank Group’s report. Give yourselves a round of applause for such an excellent performance.”
Articulating revenue collecting role of government
“Tonight, as our thoughts are focused on saluting excellence and on recognizing the contributions of Retired Comptrollers of Customs who helped to lead the way over these many decades, I think of how proud we should all be that the intellectual father of the US Customs Service was none other than Nevis’ very own Alexander Hamilton,” Dr. Harris said. “Hamilton immigrated to America in October 1772 and became one of its founding fathers and its first Treasury Secretary.
“Writing in the Federalist Papers (No. 30, published December 28, 1787), Alexander Hamilton wrote, “How is it possible that a government half supplied and always necessitous, can fulfill the purposes of its institution, can provide for the security, advance the prosperity, or support the reputation of the commonwealth?”
“Then in the year 1801, Hamilton delivered a stirring address to the Electors of the State of New York, saying, “As to taxes, they are evidently inseparable from government. It is impossible without them to pay the debts of the nation, to protect it from foreign danger, or to secure individuals from lawless violence and rapine.”
“Hamilton acknowledged that both consumption and collections would be greater when taxes were “confined within proper and moderate bounds.” “This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens…,” he argued. (Federalist Papers, No. 21, December 12, 1787).
“Indeed, it was such a compassionate worldview that guided Team Unity’s decision to remove the prohibitive 17 percent VAT off of food and medicines in April 2015. Over the last four years my Government has not introduced a new tax. We have relied on administrative efficiencies, encouragement of voluntary compliance and other mechanisms to buttress tax revenues. We have granted amnesties on property taxes for example.
“Our fiscal house is in order and we have reached the benchmark 60 percent debt-to-GDP ratio 12 years ahead of the OECS target date of 2030, the first independent state in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to accomplish this commendable feat.
“Our strong and steady leadership is Working For You…our citizens and residents, indeed it is working for all of us, to build the wealth of this nation. Working together, we can achieve anything,” the Prime Minister commented.
“Sixty Years of Dedicated Service, Innovation and Advancement on the part of the St. Kitts-Nevis Customs & Excise Department have therefore helped to build the wealth of our nation in a manner akin of the prediction of Alexander Hamilton, a son of this soil, who had predicted more than 230 years ago that a US Customs Service would do the same in his adopted homeland. For this I thank you, and for this we should always remember him.”
Protect and collect
“I commend all of you who dutifully carry out the Customs & Excise Department’s mandate To Protect and Collect, for the benefit of all the citizens and residents, as well as the government of St. Kitts and Nevis,” Dr. Harris said.
“I reiterate again tonight that the Customs & Excise Department is tasked with protecting the security and integrity of the country’s borders, specifically ensuring that no goods, including weapons or drugs, enter St. Kitts and Nevis illegally. It is the primary agency in the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis responsible for suppressing smuggling activities through intelligence-based operations and close cooperation with local, regional and international law enforcement authorities.
“Indeed, the Customs & Excise Department not only protects our borders, but it also protects and bolsters our country’s financial foundation. Given that St. Kitts and Nevis is classified as a high-income country, we are not eligible for concessional funding. Therefore, most of our capital expenditures have to be funded by our revenue collections. This makes the work of Customs & Excise and other collection agencies, both at the Federal and NIA levels, so very critical.
“As an important revenue centre for the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, the Customs & Excise Department and all other revenue centres have helped the Team Unity Government put plans in place for our Poverty Alleviation Programme, our planned Universal Health Insurance Coverage, the resurfacing of the Island Main Road, the East Line Bus Terminal, the Coast Guard Headquarters at Bird Rock, a Police Training Facility at Lime Kiln, and the new Customs Enforcement Building that is being constructed. Essentially, you have helped and continue to help the Government in supporting its functions and in fulfilling its contract with our people.
“I therefore take this opportunity to thank all of our revenue collections employees, as well as our citizens and residents for the very much-improved compliance that we have been seeing in recent times.
“I encourage the public to continue working with our professional and courteous Customs officers and other collections officials, so that together we can build an even more solid financial foundation for you, your children and future generations.
“To all who are being awarded tonight for your long and meritorious service, I extend hearty congratulations on behalf of the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis. Your dedicated service is an example to each and every one of the employees in our Civil Service.
“To Keston Herbert, the winner of the 60th Anniversary Slogan Competition, we salute you for a job well done. I congratulate our other awardees.
“As we stand on the cusp of a new year,” Dr. Harris concluded, “I wish the Customs & Excise Department continued success in 2019 and beyond, and I trust that your Dedicated Service, Innovation and Advancement over these past six decades will serve as a springboard for even greater success 60 years from now and forever more.”