POVERTY: THE UGLY FACE OF DISPAIR IN ST. KITTS By VERNON HARRIS The existence of poverty in any society is not an issue for political posturing. Any Caribbean country in which this state of affairs exist should be using all within its powers to eradicate this disease. Poverty is defined by the World Bank as ‘the inability to maintain a MINIMAL standard of living”. The minimum FOOD requirement necessary for physical existence or survival has been accepted by Caribbean Governments as 2400 calories per day for an adult. This is ONE plate of food. There are other basic factors which contribute to the quality of life. These are a lack of clothing, shelter, social activities and access to information. The Poverty Assessment Report 2000 on St. Kitts and Nevis by the KAIRI Consulting firm which was contracted by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), established a monetary value of poverty as EC$280.05 per month. The report concluded that 30.5% or one-third of the population of St. Kitts were poor or did not have enough money to meet the cost of minimal food and other basic requirements. Poor households comprised 16% of the total households in this country. Eleven (11%) percent or 1 in 10 persons were found to be extremely poor or indigent. This means that their monthly income was less than the cost of satisfying their minimal requirements for food. This was stated as EC$177.93 per month ($44.50 per week). The report concluded that the main contributors to poverty in St. Kitts were unemployment, because of the lack of job opportunities, unavailability of regular work and high levels of unemployment amongst the youths. Other factors include low self esteem, lack of self-confidence and motivation, and high levels of dependency. The Government issued a press release on a draft report which was submitted by the CDB on poverty in St. Kitts and Nevis for the period ended 2007. The release proclaimed triumphantly that “poverty has been REDUCED in St. Kitts by 7% since the last report in 2000″. As someone who experienced the destructive effects of poverty at first hand and as an economist it is of great concern that the government finds it acceptable that one quarter (1/4 or 23.4%) of the population cannot afford a plate of food daily. This is after a caring socialist people’s government has been in power for the past 14 years. As an economist it saddens me to read that the government is not committed to ERADICATE poverty but will attempt to reduce it to 10% over the next five years. Poor households have fallen by one percent to 14.8%. The press release ties this to the implementation of a minimum wage and a reduction in fuel charges. The fact that poor people do not have any work or the minimum qualifications to find work and that these relate to the latter half of 2008 seem to have escaped the government. The press release made other claims which require closer examination. Until the report is available for economic analysis, the unemployment rate of 6.5% attributed to KAIRI is questionable, given the closure of the sugar industry, the reduction in business activity in the past two years, the absence of new employers in the Federation in recent times and the absence of fiscal and other policies aimed at creating a local business sector in the Federation. The present turbulent upsurge in violent crimes is contrary to a stable economic environment. It is symptomatic of prolonged periods of depravation, unemployment, lack of self esteem and a sense of hopelessness amongst the poor and the youths. In dollar terms the report measures the level of poverty in the country at EC$563.70 per month or EC$140.00 per week. This is double the dollar value in 2000. It can be concluded that the cost of living has doubled under this administration in the past 8 years. At the same time wages and salaries have not kept pace with this increase. The ECCB states that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP, the total value of goods and services produced in the Federation) in 2008 was EC$690.50 million or EC$1,307.84 per capita per month. Comparison of these data is cause for concern. The 2000 report on housing is included in section 3.1.14. The report is silent on ‘the proportion of persons living in poor quality housing”. The government states that this was 30.5% in 2000″. The press release claims it now stands at 8.6 %. It seems that making claims that are not quite correct is a fact of political life in St. Kitts. Nationals could recall Minister Harris claiming in the 2009 budget address (page 42) that “an overall budget deficit of EC$1.3 million was realized in 2007”. The Director of Audit in his report however indicated that the budget deficit for 2007 was EC$54,072,980.00. A significant difference. The director also drew attention to the cumulative budget deficit as being EC$651,972,977.00. The Minister subsequently sought approval from the House to borrow EC$565 million, which he claims will not increase the national debt. The national debt will now be approximately three (3,000 million) billion dollars. This according to the World Bank is unsustainable.
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