By Caribbean News Now contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts – Under the new Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP), St Kitts and Nevis is reportedly providing seven percent of its population with a monthly stipend using funds from its successful Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme, and according to prime minister Dr Timothy Harris the programme had already distributed EC$13.6 million (US$5 million) to nearly 4,000 qualifying households since its introduction in December last year; hitherto, former government minister and a co-founder of the Team Unity government, Dwyer Astaphan analysis of the programme says this “is being used as a pork-barrel programme that has been corrupted and contaminated to satisfy peoples’ political needs.”
The initiative aims to support families earning less than EC$3,000 (US$1,110) per month. This was possible because, “St Kitts and Nevis have been registering a fiscal surplus lately”, Harris said.
Last year, the dual-island nation became the first independent state in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio to the required 60 percent target, twelve years ahead of the deadline. And as previously stated, “Put another way, we were not only surpassing our budget for 2019 but when we compare our actual receipts in 2019 to date compared to 2018, we were outshining and outdoing ourselves.”
This assertion is challenged by the cover of Article IV Consultation Report completed by a visiting IMF Mission headed by Dr Arnold Mc Intyre.
“The CBI programme is estimated to make up for one-fifth of St Kitts and Nevis’ economy,” according to Nevis Premier Mark Brantley. However, Dr Harris credits CBI for socio-economic development in St Kitts and Nevis says, “Across our region, we see the positive impact our Citizenship by Investment programmes make on construction, job creation, hotel stock, housing stock, social safety nets, etc. The country’s landscape has been transformed.”
In the light of this, Astaphan has advised Dr Harris that if 4,000 households are on the PAP “then you are admitting that you have failed to develop the country as you promised.” [ Area:261 km and 54, 961 population, 2015 est]
Additional, if “proper leadership and development are taking place. That would not be a figure to boast about,” he said.
Base on Dr Harris disclosure and other determining factors, Astaphan proffered that that poverty rate/household poverty in St Kitts and Nevis could have risen as high as 20 percent since the Team Unity government took office in February 2015, noting that, the Poverty Assessment Survey in 2008 indicated a poverty rate of 13.5 percent.
“If by the end of June, EC$13.6 million has been given out, it means that at EC$500 per head of household, they had actually budgeted for between 2,500 and 2,600 heads of household and not 3,900, but with nearly half the year gone, nearly all of that money has been spent, nearly all of the EC$15.5 million.
A lot more money will be needed for the 4,000 heads of household, an additional EC$10 million to EC$12 million will be needed.”
“In 2011, there were about 17,200 households in St Kitts and Nevis and presuming that there are now 20,000 households, it means that 1 in every 5 households is getting the EC$500 monthly and that is for people below the poverty line and earning less than EC$3,000 per month,” Astaphan continued. In 2010, there were 2322 households in the nation and [in] 2019, 4,000 households are getting money to bring them up to the poverty line.
“The EC$15.5 million budgeted reflected a target population of 2,500 to 2,600 which is 1500 households over the target which means that the budget will have to be double to approximately EC$25 million.
Astaphan said deserving people need to be helped but expressed the strong view that the PAP “is being used as a pork-barrel programme that has been corrupted and contaminated to satisfy peoples’ political needs.”
“This is an abuse of power. This is an abuse of the public treasury, [the public purse] to achieve narrow political gain by people who we put in office,” Astaphan said.
With widespread allegations of corruption in St Kitts and Nevis, Astaphan earlier this month reiterated his call for anti-corruption measures be put in place, combined with greater emphasis on a good governance agenda.
At the same time, adding to these challenges, since 1984, St Kitts and Nevis has been offering foreign investors and their families a means of acquiring second citizenship through an investment into its economy, effectively pioneering the CBI industry.
In exchange for a contribution to the Sustainable Growth Fund – thought to be the most direct CBI route – successful applicants are granted economic citizenship. They gain visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to nearly 160 destinations, enhanced business and entrepreneurial prospects, the ability to pass their citizenship down, and more.
Recently, the permanent representative of St Kitts and Nevis to the United Nations, His Excellency Sam Condor, signed a visa waiver agreement with His Excellency Kaha Imnadze permanent representative of Georgia to grant visa-free access between the two countries.
The chances of St Kitts and Nevis actions to tackle troubling trends of poverty, anti-corruption measures, a good governance agenda, and inclusive structural transformation focusing on people and placing communities at the centre to reduce economic vulnerabilities, will have to be bold in terms of multilateral collaboration.