By Lesroy Williams Observer Reporter
” (Frigate Bay, St. Kitts) ” The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis has one of the highest national debts in the world, the new Minister of Finance, Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris said. “Given our high level of indebtedness and given that seven countries in the Caribbean are among the ten most indebted in the world (St Kitts and Nevis leads that list), and 14 Caribbean countries are among the top 30 most indebted in the world, this may be as good a time as any for us in the Caribbean to lead a regional and international campaign for a new international order that addresses more frontally the development challenges of heavily indebted middle income countries,” the newly appointed Minister of Finance said. He spoke at the National Consultation for the 2009 Budget, held at the Marriott Resort in Frigate Bay on August 14 According to figures at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the national debt as of 2007 stood at $2,409.0m (2.4 billion E.C. dollars). “We all know enough from past consultations, Budget Reports, Audit Reports, IMF Article IV Consultations and more experientially from our living here, our interacting here that these are among our country’s most challenging financial times,” he continued. For a policy of economic stabilization to take place, there must be vigilance in expenditure management, diligence in revenue collection and enhancement and the constant pursuance of economic growth, Dr. Harris said. “We are where we are – with an extremely high public debt ” indeed, the highest in our history and an overdraft to be contained.” All these are the “large shadows in the room” and must in my view be considered among the principal budget factors, or put another way, limiting factors in the same way that our anticipated revenues are,” Dr. Harris emphasized. In order to address the high national debt, there needs to be a consultative process that calls “for truth telling and the harnessing of real solutions to real problems that our people are facing,” he said. He said that we need to “cut our cloth according to our garment” and that there is need for proper planning. With reference to planning he quoted from the Gospel of Luke 14:28 that says “For which of you intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he hath sufficient to finish it?” The budget must take into consideration the poor and look at poverty in all its perniciousness and deprivations, Dr. Harris said. On the path to sustainable development, there is a serious need to address the issue of law and order as it relates to violent crime, social deviance and the cost of living, Dr. Harris said. He said that St. Kitts and Nevis had enormous potential and opportunities and that we must explore the potentials and exploit the opportunities. “There must be the promulgation of coordinated policies and programmes that excite national entrepreneurship, agricultural diversification and spur orderly land distribution and management.” Of course the burning matter of health and sanitation and in particular garbage collection and disposal cannot wait for 2009,” Dr. Harris said. “The level of public debt has changed its trajectory and is heading downwards as a result of increased economic activity and a consequent increase in revenue collection,” Prime Minister Douglas said at the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party 76th Annual National Conference at the Marriott Resort on May 18.