By John Denny Observer Reporter
(Charlestown, Nevis) ” In a three-day session, the Nevis Island Assembly approved a budget that is designed to curtail spending growth while continuing infrastructure development that leaders say is needed to spur long-term economic expansion. Opposition leaders said the budget fails to give the public hope it the face of hard economic times and lacks any initiative to deal with the issue of crime. The budget session started on Tuesday, Dec. 9, with an overview from Premier Hon. Joseph Parry of the Nevis Reform Party. In his address at the Hamilton House before a standing-room-only crowd, the island’s leader outlined the proposed budget that will top EC$153 million. The Premier opened his address by listing some of the accomplishments the Nevis Island Administration had made since they took office in 2006. Some of these included increasing the water supply, building and improving roads, encouraging geothermal development, more job training and constructing the drag strip. The address acknowledged the grim outlook of the world financial situation, but said the NIA was planning to tighten its belt. “The greatest threat to our economic prospect is the state of the world’s economy and the grim outlook for 2009. We will therefore have to exercise restraint in expenditure, work hard, and be persistent and determined in our efforts to achieve success,” said Parry. “With this attitude, I am confident that the prospects for the future are bright.” In his address, the Premier said the Administration expects an increase in revenue from the three main arms of collection: the Ministry of Finance, the Inland Revenue Department and the Financial Services Department. Some of these gains will be offset by the decrease of tourism and the corresponding diminished hotel and restaurant tax. Worldwide, financial growth is expected to slow and that will affect Nevis, he said. “The rapid rate of contagion in the global financial system demonstrates the interconnection of the world capital markets. In the small island states we are particularly vulnerable and will feel the impact on our balance of payments from a fall off in tourism receipts, remittances from abroad, and foreign direct investments,” he said. “In Nevis, the crisis has been compounded by the closure of the Four Seasons Resort which sustained serious damage as a result of the passage of Hurricane Omar. This is in fact a double whammy to the economy of Nevis which will not be solved easily. It will require the creativity, imagination and determination of our people and our leaders to chart a successful course forward knowing that it is through the darkness that we are able to see the stars.” The budget reflects an increase in debt of the NIA. The Premier said this was needed. “Madam President, we have had to increase the debt of the Nevis Island Administration but we have been operating on the premise that the debt is necessary to enhance the infrastructure and the enabling environment to facilitate and nurture private sector growth and development,” he said. “I believe that we are now poised to begin this thrust and already we have been able to generate significant interest by both foreign and local investors. The duty concessions that we have granted have also invigorated and energized the small business sector and as a result more Nevisians are seizing the opportunity to start businesses of their own.” To manage this debt the NIA plans to implement projects and programs such as implementing a risk management framework, maintain a prudent debt structure, improving transparency and implementing a proper legal framework to assist in efficient management of the government’s debt, said Parry. Fiscal projections for the coming year show the NIA operating at a deficit. The projected current revenue for the year is $121,756,500 whereas current expenditure is $117,687,000 resulting in a projected current account surplus of $4,069,500. Capital expenditure is set at $35,696,059. Subsequently, the total expenditure is $153,383,059 and the overall deficit is $11,180,500, said Parry. One of the biggest increases in the coming budget will be in salaries. Salaries and wages, totaled $53,546,812.00, an increase of 21.50 percent over the previous period budget. This encompasses the 12.50 percent increase in salaries and wages enjoyed by public sector workers for the 2007 and 2008 periods, said the Premier. The NIA plans to take advantage of the increased prices in agricultural products through an increase of expenditure in the industry. “The increase of agricultural commodity prices on the world market has been unprecedented. Such phenomenon underscores the critical role the Ministry of Agriculture plays in ensuring that imports are kept at its minimal by increasing the supply of high quality local produce. In 2009, the ministry is allocated $5,072,000 in current expenditure, an expansion of $1,212,000 when compared to 2008. The additional outlay of funds is expected to aid in the revitalization of the production of cotton, enhanced production of quality meat products and the continued training of staff,” he said On the second day of the budget session, opposition leader Vance Amory responded to the Premier’s address, saying it lacked encouragement to the people of the island facing a grim financial situation. “We are facing hard economic times and the people of Nevis were expecting something more uplifting,” said the former Premier. “Creativity is absent, imagination is absent”” The leader of the Concerned Citizens Movement questioned the Premier’s projected increase of revenue and said the math would not work out. He also raised a point of Housing and Land Management charging too much for government housing and this so called low income housing was placing a mortgage burden of $1,500 or more per month on the people that could least afford it. “The government should have brought some relief to the people,” said Amory. “This budget has no significantly new information from last year.” Day two of the budget session also heard for the record addresses from the Junior Minister Dwight Cozier, opposition member Jean Harris and Junior Minister Carlisle Powell. On the third and final day of the session, opposition member Mark Brantley delivered the CCM’s final protest to the budget. As he began to speak, he held up a copy of the Premier’s address. “I am disappointed,” said Brantley. “There is nothing in this 31 page document that does anything to help the people. It is the worst budget I have ever seen. It is nothing but 31 pages of fluff.” Brantley called the present administration a “kleptocracy” of rampant greed and corruption” and that the Premier had failed to properly address the number one issue of the island: crime. “The most beautiful budget in the world is meaningless if it doesn’t address the safety of the people,” said Brantley. “Only seven lines in the address is about what should be the most pressing issue”Madam President, is five murders enough? When are they going to wake up? Our people feel like prisoners and (the NIA) sits there and laughs.” While speaking on the issue of crime, Brantley said a Ministry of Health truck is in police impound because it was found with 40 pounds of marijuana in it. He challenged the Minister of Health, Hensley Daniel, asking how he could ever tell young people to not do drugs when so much was found in one of his own vehicles. Next he went after the Administration’s geothermal project saying the Ministers need to ‘talk less, promise less and deliver more,” because the proposed date of completion has been moved back a number of times. He also questioned whether or not all the steam escaping from the well at Hamilton was harmful. Giving an example of asbestos, that was thought to be safe for many years, but was later found to be carcinogenic. Some people in the Hamilton area had brought to his attention that while the well was erupting, crystals were forming on the windows of their cars causing them concern. “I am not saying these things because I am against geothermal,” said Brantley. “I am saying these things
because we want geothermal done right.” Other points raised by Mr. Brantley were: *The NIA wasting the taxpayers money contracting for water exploration that was not needed and that the bid submitted by the present contractor was so low as to be suspicious. *Cost of living rising and the NIA increasing the prices at the government-owned supply store. Mr. Brantley said flour increased by 30 percent, sugar increased by 50 percent and a bag of rice rising from $66.25 to $101.25.
By John Denny Observer Reporter