By Lesroy W. Williams Observer Reporter
(Basseterre, St. Kitts)”The 2009 Budget for the government of St. Kitts and Nevis allocates more money to law enforcement and national security, but critics think it is not enough. The budget was presented by Minister of Finance, Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, on December 16. The allocation for the Ministry of National Security and Immigration for 2009 is $48,728,525, an increase of $9,371,520 or 23.8% over the 2008 allocation of $39,357,005. “It is noteworthy that this Ministry has been allocated one of the largest dollar increases given to any Ministry. This is in full recognition of the critical role it has to play in arresting the rise in criminal activity that is currently plaguing our Federation and many of our Caribbean neighbours,” Dr. Harris said. The Finance Minister said that law and order was a priority for the government and has always been since 1995. “In response to the challenges before us, we endeavour to implement a comprehensive set of policies to address the situation from both a human resource and an infrastructural development perspective. We recognize that a society based on the adherence to laws is necessary to maintain a good quality of life for all residents and citizens,” he said. The Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs has been allocated $8,076,394 for 2009. This represents a 23.1% increase over the $6,560,557 allocated for 2008. “The magnitude of this increase in the context of a scarcity of financial resources indicates that the upholding of justice and the maintenance of Law and Order remain at the top of Government’s agenda,” Dr. Harris said. However, leader of the opposition party, the Concerned Citizens” Movement (CCM), Hon. Mark Brantley, said that all is meaningless if we cannot guarantee that the criminal wave sweeping the country abates, and that more monies should have been allocated to the Ministry of National Security. “To me all the high-sounding words in the world, all the big foreign investment in the world, all the major projects in the world, geothermal energy, water sufficiency, Christophe Harbour, Kittitian Heights” all of Martin Luther’s speeches from the shores of Frigate Bay to the mountain top of Nevis Peak are ultimately meaningless unless we can guarantee the safety and security of our people and the visitors to our shores,” Mr. Brantley said. “As I stand here today before you Mr. Speaker, before this Parliament and before this nation, a nation which waits with baited breath for some semblance of hope, some vestige of inspiration, some light at the end of the dark tunnel in which we find ourselves, I find myself transported back in time to the budget debate of last year”and it feels like d”j” vu. Mr. Speaker, I asked myself was anyone listening then, indeed I ask myself is anyone listening now,” he said. “I had hoped yesterday that this budget would have been dubbed a crime budget, I would have hoped so, and I would have hoped yesterday to see a massive mobilization of resources in that direction, alas Mr. Speaker, I once again have been disappointed. “While we see some nine million dollars [more] allocated to the Ministry of National Security for the next fiscal year, I make bold to say that it is not enough. “This concerns me, Mr. Speaker. It concerns me for it suggest that the government still does not see crime and violence as the greatest threat to our national security and to our way of life. For me, there is no other issue as pressing at this time facing the nation. “Our families and our social fabric have been torn asunder to the point where our young people, the foundation upon which our country’s future is built, seeks solace and comfort in gang life, anti-social behavior and violence,” Mr. Brantley said.”” The dark and ominous cloud of the global financial crisis hung heavily over the 2009 Budget as the Finance Minister tried to paint an optimistic outlook for a small developing nation like St. Kitts and Nevis. “Moreover, financial markets around the world are in a state of turmoil and the global economy seems perched on a precipice notwithstanding the considerable resources that governments across the globe have been committing to fiscal and monetary expansion,” Dr. Harris said. However, rising crime in the Federation threatens to derail the train of economic and developmental progress that the country has embarked on since doing away with a sugar agricultural economy and the embracing of a service-based industry. The country’s national debt of 2.43 billion dollars also remains a cause of concern in terms of fiscal growth. “This level of indebtedness does not provide us with the fiscal policy space that we would like or the agility to manoeuvre in times of turmoil. The magnitude of the National Debt remains a serious constraining factor on our fiscal response,” Dr. Harris said. Debt reduction has to be given the highest of priority in the ensuing years, Dr. Harris said. It was the first time that a minister of government who is not the Prime Minister presented the Budget. All other Ministers of Finance since 1983 have been Heads of State.