Grand Turk, July 15, 2019 – Turks and Caicos – His Excellency, Mr Speaker, Colleagues, Specially Invited Guests, Strangers In The Gallery.
I begin by extending a warm welcome to His Excellency Governor Dakin, Mrs Dakin, Charlie and Fraser and I do so on behalf of my Government and the people of our beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands.
You will find that we are among the friendliest people in the world and we occupy the best corner in the world. I assure you that at the end of your sojourn with us, you will find your time here to be one of the most rewarding and enriching life experiences.
Your Excellency in welcoming you to TCI, I wish to set before you my Government and people’s priorities and will do so against our present state of affairs.
An Overview Of TCI
My Government came to Office a little over 2 1/2yrs ago and is the second elected Government sworn in after the most recent suspension of the Constitution.
This country with its 40,000 residents was home to over 100 different nationalities over a 10 year period and steadily remains home to about 50 – 70 different nationalities often times with competing value systems, customs and aspirations. As any other country, and clearly as the Brexiteers have shown, we expect to be the masters of our own destiny and to enjoy the good of our land. We will implore you from the outset to be cognizant of the different voices that will seek out your attention and be mindful that we
are always engaged in ways to ensure that we are not drowned out as the dominant voice and culture.
Our country is poised for greatness and we are well on our way to positioning our people through a comprehensive Plan soon to be presented officially. Our country will for the first time have a long term plan crafted by both Government and Opposition together with public and private sector stake holders. We intend to share in various forms during September, our Vision 2040 which will secure a planned path for successive governments and one that will lead to the attainment of the vision captured in a single statement, “By 2040 a united Turks and Caicos Islands will be a global leader in levels of prosperity and human development. Our people will be positioned to be fully responsible for our collective future as a nation. We will have a more resilient country that balances economic, social and environmental development for the greater benefit of all our people and our posterity.”
Your Excellency, we are pleased to say that we are in a strong financial position. We hold an enviable debt to GDP ratio of less than 1% and are poised to borrow for major projects under our Recovery Plan and to build critical infrastructure. For the 9th consecutive year, we have enjoyed a Triple B Plus (BBB+) Credit Rating. We project a modest growth of 3%.
- A MORE PARTICIPATIVE ECONOMY
But while we enjoy a strong, well performing economy, like other small island states with a tourism based economy, we must find ways to ensure that the economy successes trickle down and my Government is committed to this. Whilst we introduce policies to achieve this, we are working together to design a model to ensure that any upturn is felt by our people and that they are larger players in our economy.
With our small population, our economy’s growth is usually outward looking; to foreign direct investment. We have however created policies that have also taken care of existing local businesses and continue to explore new initiatives. Our recent Amnesty for Tourism related businesses was a success and our Refurbishment Policy has brought committed developers to the table for concessions that saw a huge uptake and much needed improvement to our tourism product and brand.
Efficient Service through EGovernance
Your Excellency, our business climate requires our joint leadership. We owe our business community, a more efficient and effective service and my Government is committed to providing the much needed tools with an urgent heavy focus on the delivery of Egovernance and service level agreements. This is an immediate priority for my Government.
High Cost of Living
You will come to find out very quickly that TCI enjoys a high cost of living and as such we are challenged in ensuring that all people enjoy a decent standard of living. Before any major changes are made to address both, my Government has commissioned two important surveys that are currently underway: a Standard of Living Assessment and a Cost of Living Survey. The findings and recommendations from both will be sure to guide my government as to the correct policy decisions to uplift our people and achieve the desired end.
People Focused Policies
Likewise, Your Excellency, you will find that our people are aspirational and successive governments have introduced policies to encourage business ownership. My government’s recent introduction of our new Investment Policy Statement presents a new platform for our people who are business minded and we welcome you to read this document soonest and subordinate policies must be introduced to achieve the objectives.
The concluded Skills Audit and our recently concluded Youth Listening Tour has brought to the forefront of my government’s Agenda, the urgent need for the upskilling of our people in non-traditional areas and critical skills for our economy especially among our youth. A Building has been recently purchased for the first phase of this School and this is a major priority for my government.
2. HURRICANE RECOVERY AND REBUILDING
I am certain that you have been briefed concerning our country’s unfortunate experience just under 2 years ago. Two weeks apart, every Island in the chain of Islands were impacted by two major Storms during the month of September 2017, a mere 9 months after my Government was elected. Government’s infrastructure was hardest hit with 80% of Offices requiring relocation and within that 13 of 15 Schools were damaged. We have through Insurance proceeds and from our own normal budgetary allocations been able to address rebuilding thus far having to date spent and allocated over $59.47 m in rebuilding efforts with $24.5m on Schools alone. The Implementation of Recovery Plan recommended that $57.14 M be spent in the first two years and we have exceeded this target.
Despite this unfortunate situation, we were able to bounce back and are held in the region as leaders in this regard. This we attribute to government and private sector leadership and more specifically we believe that several factors saw our quick early recovery with Strong Government Leadership at the helm creating policies and systems that facilitated and supported private sector recovery efforts. Additionally, the Government secured the quick movement to commence critical services.
Preliminary data captured by the CDEMA’s Initial Damage Assessment Report, revealed that 80% of the housing stock was damaged due to the impact of Hurricane Irma. In other words, five thousand and eighty (5080) households across the islands received damages to their homes. Moreover, statistics confirmed that South Caicos and Salt Cay suffered ninety-nine to one hundred percent impact. In South Caicos, a predominantly fishing community, would have seen only 2 of its homes spared damages. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment, highlighted that approximately one thousand and five hundred persons were displaced, and seven hundred and twenty of those persons are in serious need of housing. In fact, this vulnerable population comprise the elderly, persons with income earnings of below, on average, twenty-five hundred US dollars per month, and in the most unfortunate and common case, are not Insurance Policy Holders. Our vulnerable citizens require assistance and we require your support in securing this.
Coupled with the predicament regarding rebuilding of the housing stock, the Turks and Caicos Islands Government is also faced with over $300m US dollars for rebuilding resiliently.
A Climate Change Committee led by the Office of the Premier was appointed early in my Administration and a Policy Statement and Policy on Climate Change Adaptation has been agreed at Cabinet level; training was conducted by UNDP with accounting officers in an effort to ensure that climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction is included in all national strategies, policies, programs and operations.
Impact on Economy
Hurricanes Irma and Maria crippled our source of national level income over four months, resulting in high deficits. Our fragile economy that serve as lucrative livelihoods are commonly derived from downstream activities, and was severely impacted. To further emphasize, our major hotel chain, Beaches Turks and Caicos which is responsible for 60% of our airlift, the second largest employer only to TCIG and a major contributor to our GDP, were forced to close its doors for an extended period of four resulting in a serious impact on visitor arrival numbers, airlift and employment. Instances like this re-enforced the vulnerability of our main industry and despite the high income derived from being a preferred Caribbean tourist destination, a small developing island like the TCI, is challenged by the heavy reliance on tourism.
In addition to the need for climate change adaptation solutions, the fact that Irma decapitated the electricity and telecommunication transmission and distribution networks, made it imperative that the TCI requires expert solutions and improvements in areas such as a robust early warning mechanism and emergency communication systems.
You can agree that the solutions required for the TCI’s ability to not only build back better, but to be resilient for future events lie in sustainable development actions. Building back better is expensive, and is not an easily attainable goal, especially as multi Island nations bring its own set of inherent challenges and when a high percentage of our population have been adversely impacted with no insurance benefits. Nonetheless we must remain committed to our goals of rebuilding stronger than before.
Our immediate challenges and priorities remain the rebuilding of our schools and other critical government infrastructure including the Prison, investing in critical underground infrastructure through welcomed private sector partnership, assistance for housing repairs and investment in housing construction, debris management, management of our coastlines with climate resilient sea defenses, robust early warning mechanism and emergency communication systems. In the medium term to long term, we aim to diversify our economy, reduce our reliance on imported food products and … a more enlightened people.
The Hurricanes exposed the danger of a single leg economy, the housing crisis, the need to ensure planning standards already high are followed and policed and the need to ensure a greater uptake of insurance. We are actively working on all.
SIPT Trial Costs
Amidst the challenges and costly build back better Plan constructed by CARICAID, we are still paying high costs for the ongoing Special Investigations Prosecution Team Trials. A whopping $10.3m has been budgeted this year and you and I can agree I am sure, that these sums from a Budget of approximately $306m can be better spent on infrastructure and other critical needs. I have on several occasions raised this matter and will do so again given the role that the UK would have played or not played.
National Health Insurance and Hospital Costs
You will find early that the single largest amount spent from our country’s Budget is on health care and that the rising costs of caring for our residents and the high costs of the Hospital Contract are unsustainable in its current form. We are also now engaged in high level dialogue on the Hospital contract with its lawyers in the UK and this remains a priority. We are also carrying out critical works under the National Health Insurance Program of which you will be updated shortly.
Threat To Financial Services Security
My Government has just completed an investment in a review of the Financial Services Sector in light of our plan to make this sector a stronger industry in our effort to further diversify our economy. TCI has always spared no effort to operate a clean jurisdiction. We have complied with all global standards and remain committed at great pains and resources to continue our obligation. I had the opportunity to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee in the UK during December last year and made this point clear. We also note the proposed amendments that were carried in the HOC and the possible revisiting of this by backbenchers. We maintain that whilst we do not enjoy as large a financial services sector as our sister territories of Bermuda, BVI and Cayman Islands, the impact of the proposed introduction of public registers for OTs and CDs outside of it being a global standard would adversely impact our growing financial services sector. I wish to advise that we will continue to fight this together with our colleagues on the two fronts proposed already: the negative economic impact and the constitutional overreach.
3. NATIONAL SECURITY
MOU with Bahamas; Introduction of Border Protection Unit
Your Excellency, I present to you a further priority of my government and people. Whilst we benefit economically from our enviable geographical location and our beautiful shore lines, we also pay dearly as we lay bare to those who would choose to breach our borders. My government and the Government of the Bahamas has seen an increase of illegal sloops over the past year or so from neighboring Haiti. These sloops though intercepted 90% of the time through the use of our radar and by the efforts and assistance of our US Partner in OPBAT, the cost to detain, process and repatriate those captured is unsustainable. We are grateful for the attention that Lord Ahmad has been paying to our efforts to partner with the Bahamas under an MOU now being crafted and the response last year when we experienced 5 ships in one week having accepted a call at his personal home and then responding positively to having a UK Ship come into our waters to provide assistance. We are also grateful for the Border Force Team and the Maritime Team that have conducted reviews and have made recommendations. I am pleased to advise that we are progressing most of the recommendations and are committed to introducing a Border Protection Unit that will marry our scarce resources in a more joined up effort. We will however require more of the UK in its constitutional role. We will be seeking your immediate support in progressing these plans already advancing.
While National Security remains your constitutional remit, as a government and people we have a vested and well placed interest in external as well as internal security. Policing requires your urgent attention. In a little over a week we will be welcoming a new Commissioner and soon thereafter we hope to be welcoming one of our very own qualified TC Islanders as his Deputy. I look forward to working with both you and the new Commissioner on matters that are important to us all. At Caricom level we continue to discuss the region’s challenge in relation to youth and gun violence and whilst we boast of very low crime levels, you will find as a small country, we are not a relaxed, accepting or forgiving people when there is a spree of any type offenses. We do not accept that crime increase must accompany development, and in fact on the contrary, we believe that the smallness of this country with a good policing plan, good community policing, modern crime fighting tools and well placed additional resources can see a reduction in crime and an increase in our dismal detection rates. My government stands ready to work with you in these efforts.
National Security Strategy
I am pleased to say that my government’s efforts to secure our country’s first ever National Security Strategy though long in coming is now closer to realization. The NSS, an important tool is now in draft and we are eager to move this forward to completion together with an implementation strategy.
Your Excellency, we welcome your background in national security and hope to draw on this during these times.
4. A PEOPLE’S AMBITION
Whilst devising a new economic model, introducing eGovernance, building a Trade School and establishing a Border Protection Unit and providing support of a more effective people focused policing, equally critical is my people’s ambition for the return of our 2006 Constitution and the management of Crown Land.
We acknowledge that London has been receptive and inviting on the matter of the Constitution but we have not yet received a response beyond the first response on proposed Crown Land amendments. I hasten to admit that the delay in relation to the Constitution has been due to our inability to secure the Official Opposition’s presence at the Table. I am pleased to report that a Meeting was held a few days ago with the Official Opposition and we propose to meet this month to finalise positions and the way forward. I have communicated to the Hon Leader of the Opposition that it is my government’s intention to progress these talks during October this year. We are committed to this timeline and will seek your support on behalf of the people of this country. We appreciate that Brexit has been a major issue but am also grateful that these ambitions of my country and fellow OTs have not been placed on the back burner.
The present Constitution not crafted by us has been nothing short of an affront to locally elected government and I said it from these Halls in 2011 and I say it today, it is a document that leaves governance to personalities and we can ill afford this uncertainty in governance.
We are no different from any other people; no different from the Brexiteers who want to know that the persons they elect are in control. The Constitution of 2006, the current financial systems and oversight presents a balance in this partnership with the UK as it provides safe guards for our UK partners and it gives our people its dignity. Anything less than is an insult to our people and we will together with the Opposition on behalf of our people will fight in the best interest of our people.
Your Excellency, you will be the 9th Governor that I will have had the opportunity to work with and the 4th that I will address from these Halls on Swearing In and from each of your predecessor’s Inaugural Addresses we were able to ascertain their planned focus. Regrettably the history of these Islands when written will not be kind to all and many would have witnessed their surprising and disappointing veering off course.
Governors came and spoke the right message; I sat in these Halls and witnessed our 12th Governor promise to focus on milestones that were set outside but had to be realized in our context to allow us a return to elected governance; our 13th Governor promised to work along with investors and to assist in building our economy and our 14th Governor promised to listen and work with local government and to work on improving the public service and with the business community. We still require much to be done in many areas. Your Excellency, can I tell you that we have milestones crafted by us that must be realised? We need you as a partner as Head of the Public Service to help us to provide a supportive and encouraging business climate with an efficient and effective public service. We need you to listen and be a true partner. We too are committed to good governance and what we do not want is to see good governance be used as a weapon that hinders progress by encouraging snail like approaches or stand stills in critical decision making nor the use of good governance to follow gossip and directing resources to it. Your Partnership with TCI Government must be real at the table with us and at the table with others and away from us. Your Excellency, our people’s goals must become yours and our successes will be yours. We welcome a no competition or conflict in roles approach and together, we will achieve so much more. Our roles are clear and as we are both paid by the tax payers of this country, we owe these Islands our allegiance.
We pause to say that we welcome the energy that we see in your directives to hold critical meetings over the shortest time possible. We welcome the sense of urgency as TCI has no time to waste.
We note that you are an instagramer and we are hopeful that this reveals characteristics of being transparent, forthright, open and communicative. Mutual respect in our mutual existence is key.
This is a new day and we have high hopes and expectations!
Welcome again Your Excellency to you and your family.
May God continue to bless these our beautiful by nature Turks and Caicos Islands. E