National Press Club

Caribbean leader touts nation’s growth, region’s future

May 28, 2019 | By Louise D. Walsh | ldwalsh@earthlink.net

Prime Minister Timothy Harris of St. Kitts and Nevis cited his small island-nation’s solid economic growth while noting the reality of climate change: “A single action of a vicious storm can wipe out every human endeavor.”

Harris told a National Press Club audience at a Friday news conference that his nation is shifting “from fossil fuels to geothermal, solar and green energy, and the commercialization of these clean energy forms.”

With tourism, especially cruise tourism, as its main industry, his country draws more than 1 million people annually. As the smallest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, it is “an attractive destination for business,” where “the rule of law is real and working.”

Harris touted St. Kitts and Nevis's 2017 annual GDP at USD $17,924, high literacy rate, highest rule-of-law performance in his subregion, citizenship-by-investment program, high ICT (information and communications technology) score, and rate of public debt.

The “brain drain” to the United States and Canada is one challenge that has prompted engaging more 18 to 24-year-olds in tertiary education (advanced degrees) especially in medicine. Harris also heads CARICOM (the Caribbean Community and Common Market) whose 15 member nations cooperate on economic issues and foreign policy.

Like other leaders of small nations, Harris bristles at being excluded from a rule-making process that he said allows larger, more powerful countries, or organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Union, to make the rules for nations like his own. For example, in international finance, he said that global commercial banks either disallow or heavily tax deposits or payments between banks (e.g. wire transfers). Closing off what’s called “correspondent banking” or making transactions unaffordable is “a new form of financial blockading” that hurts his region’s residents who rely on finances from relatives working abroad.

On Venezuela: “We want our region to be a zone of peace,” Harris said. “Our position is one of principle.” Respect for the rule-of-law and the fundamentals of democracy have kept the world safe after World War II, he noted. “Once we get the principles right,” he replied to media questions, the rest will follow. “We need to get them (Venezuelan leaders) to the table.” CARICOM opposes military intervention in Venezuela favoring resolution by Venezuelans themselves. Calls for President Maduro’s resignation from the outside have failed to date, he added.

Club President Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak, who earlier introduced the prime minister, asked him about The Guardian article last July describing Nevis as the most secretive place for hiding financial transactions. Harris called it “fake news” and railed against “a powerful money-controlled press” that he said tells reporters what to write. Kodjak quickly assured him that no one at NPR was telling her what to write. He suggested looking in London, New York and Delaware for secret transactions like money laundering instead of in his subregion where only “a small, minute portion” of such activities occurs.

For the past two days, Harris participated in a World Bank-Eastern Caribbean Central Bank forum on ways to support the Caribbean community and especially how to build up the digital infrastructure and digital skills. He attended as prime minister and minister of finance, and as a member of the Monetary Council of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.

Repeating his invitation to the press to visit “paradise,” Harris noted plans to bring greater global attention to Nevis as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.