Mr. Speaker and Honourable Members!
Lamentations 3:22–23 reminds us that:
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Mr Speaker! I am delighted to deliver this condensed version of the achievements and immediate plans of my government at the beginning of the First (1st) Sitting of the First (1st) Meeting of the Third (3rd) Session of the Twelfth (12th) Legislature of the House of Assembly of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Mr Speaker! The 2022/23 Financial Year was challenging for my government and the people of these islands, but through the mercies of God, we finished the year with much to celebrate and much to be thankful for.
Mr. Speaker! While the TCI’s economic prospects are tied to the rest of the world, this little country is doing far better than many larger economies.
The economy has recovered fully from the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and over the last two and a half years has seen consistent growth;
The unemployment rate is trending down
· We have nearly wiped the slate clean of debts, with unsecured debts of $861 thousand dollars in the last quarter.
The National Wealth Fund stands at $50.8 million. This is a testament to our journey toward posterity. It is a testament to an economy built to withstand external shocks and has the ability to bounce back quickly after a catastrophic event or natural disaster. The fund is valued at about 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is distributed in four specific ways:
The Stabilisation Fund has the lion’s share with $30.7million
The Infrastructure and Competitiveness Fund has $8.8 million
The Heritage Fund has $4.3 million and
Citizen's Empowerment Fund $7 million. The first project of the Citizen’s Empowerment Fund is the creation of the National Credit Union to benefit all status holders and British Overseas Territories Citizens (BOTCs) who live in the TCI. I am happy to report that this is well underway.
Our people have a free community college education
A (6%) Pension and Gratuity Programme for persons employed after 1992 is now a reality and we have reinstated the 25% gratuity for persons employed before 1992
In June the pension account had just over $16 million
· The National Forfeiture Fund had a balance of $7.2 million as of 30th June 2023.
· My government gave a 4% across-the-board salary increase to public servants and the police received an additional 10% increase.
My government has introduced a new crown land policy to make it easier for new applicants to acquire residential crown land and housing.
Grand Turk has better water supplies with a new 1-million-gallon reverse osmosis plant, a 1- million-gallon storage tank, and a water dispensary for more efficient water distribution.
Mr. Speaker! The past year with its many challenges has shown the commitment of my government to deliver for the people.
My government has steadfastly pursued sound economic management, focused on improving the lives of the people by preserving livelihoods and creating new opportunities.
The policies and programmes of my government have helped the TCI rebound from the pandemic and the supply chain problems caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.
My government is thankful for the understanding and support of the public as we continue to build a strong social environment and economic resilience.
NEW PARLIAMENTARY YEAR
Mr Speaker! A new parliamentary year is always a time of renewal and of hope.
As we enter this legislative year, we must be mindful that as a tourist-dependent economy, we will remain vulnerable to global economic conditions.
That is why my government is striving to build an economy that has a strong foundation, is sustainable, diversified and above all gives every islander and resident an equal opportunity to create the best life for their families.
My government is delivering for you!
THE YEAR AHEAD
Mr. Speaker! My government has a sacred contract with the people.
This is not about quick fixes and short-term gains.
We have a long-term vision to develop the Turks and Caicos Islands with first-class facilities and the standard of living of developed countries. Our people deserve no less.
My government will push the implementation of VISION 2040, the TCI’s master plan to guide our development over the next fifteen to twenty years.
COMPREHENSIVE SALARY REVIEW
Mr. Speaker, my government believes that our public servants must be properly compensated. A comprehensive review of all salaries and allowances across government is underway, led by Ernst and Young (Caribbean-Jamaica). Implementation is scheduled for December 2023.
The last pay/grading review was done 2012, and implemented in 2014, almost 10 years ago.
PENSION FUND MANAGEMENT
Mr. Speaker! In August 2023, a new online pension registration portal was launched for public servants to update their information including beneficiaries. Very soon, staff will be able to track their benefit calculations online.
With over $16 million, the Pension Fund requires specialist managers. A second tender call was issued this month for the administration of the fund. The pension administrator will not only manage the fund but will be tasked with growing the fund through safe investments.
The intention is to also open the programme in 2024 to interested private sector participants.
To improve public service delivery and ensure that staff have the necessary skills, the training unit is being upscaled into a full-fledged Training Department. A new Training Director has been hired.
My government will launch a comprehensive skills and training needs assessment to better understand the gaps and develop training objectives and plans.
BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS
My government believes that public servants must be provided with a comfortable working environment. The Deputy Governor has been asked to work with ministries to identify gaps and make resource planning more efficient.
Some important departments will be relocated to more suitable accommodations. They include:
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
Estates Management Department
The Informal Settlement Unit
The Culture Department, and
The Planning Department
EXPANDING OUR ECONOMIC BASE
The Russia-Ukraine war continues to have a negative impact on us.
Over the last year, we have seen the cost of fuel and food increase significantly.
My government is mindful of the hardships that many families are facing. As we have done over the last two and a half years, we will continue to find ways to ease the burdens.
My government will continue to watch the world economy and adjust as we see fit to ensure that our people are protected and have a chance for the best outcomes.
The global economic contraction is cause for concern. For the first quarter, the TCI revenues were $109.8 million. That is $3.7 million or 3% below estimates.
Total Expenditure was $20.9 million below estimates. These results are for the 1st quarter only and could change.
My government is committed to the vision that by 2040, these “Beautiful by Nature” Turks and Caicos Islands will be ever closer to developed country status.
We will have a robust and sustainable economy and every citizen will be empowered to create the best lives for their families.
We will achieve this through a high level of human capital development, equal access and more opportunities for our people, increased security, a cleaner environment, and a more efficient government.
Vision 2040 is the TCI’s master plan to guide our development over the next fifteen to twenty years and it is dynamic and flexible.
This plan is crafted in a way that facilitates consistent monitoring and evaluation.
It will be supported by successive Medium Term Development Strategies (MTDS) which will be updated as warranted based on prevailing conditions locally and globally.
Mr. Speaker! Importantly, the goals and broad strategies of Vision 2040 have been agreed on by stakeholders, including the two major political parties and the private sector.
Achieving the goals articulated in Vision 2040 requires strong leadership, belief in ourselves, partnership among all stakeholders and an ironclad commitment to stay the course.
Proverbs tells us that without a vision the people perish.
Those who came before us had very little, but they had big dreams.
They endured hardships. Their work in the fields, in the ocean and in the salt ponds was backbreaking and brutal. But they sacrificed and persevered because they wanted a better life for their children and their children’s children.
We have a sacred duty to build on the foundations they laid and pay forward on the hopes and dreams of the generations to come.
The decisions we make today will determine the outcome for these islands and her people.
Mr. Speaker! An important plank of Vision 2040 is to create infrastructure that will support the long-term development of the country, expand our economic base, and make the lives of all our people better.
Our airports, seaports, telecommunications, roads, water, housing and power supplies are critical elements of our national development plan.
We must create secure and safe ports, which can satisfy the needs of our people, support our economy, and comply with international conventions and codes.
Modern and world-class port facilities will enhance our reputation, as a country capable of facilitating trade and commerce with other nations.
Mr. Speaker! Efficient ports reduce the cost of shipping and imported goods.
For an import-dependent country, these efficiencies will help lower the cost of living and doing business in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Bellefield Landing Welcome Centre was opened in October last year and we have more investments in the pipeline for the
‘gateway’ to North and Middle Caicos.
Ninety percent of imports in the Turks and Caicos Islands are received at South Dock, in Providenciales.
To take our country to the next level of development, we are constructing a new port at South Dock. The project will cost $53 million and $43.7 million has already been allocated.
The South Dock project is a priority for the medium term. On completion, South Dock will have:
A new port office complex
Two piers capable of handling three vessels at the same time, and two modern container yards
A container scanner
Fully digitised systems, and
A modern fuel discharge system which will improve environmental conditions
My government is delivering on every promise!
We are developing modern airports to facilitate seamless travel into and throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Mr. Speaker! Several orders have been signed to legalise the official renaming of our airports.
The new names honour giants who have helped to build these Turks and Caicos Islands:
Providenciales International is now the Howard Hamilton International Airport.
North Caicos International is now Clifford Gardiner International Airport.
Middle Caicos Airport is now Eric Arthur Domestic Airport.
South Caicos International Airport is now the Norman B. Saunders Sr. International Airport and;
Salt Cay Airport is the Henry Leon Wilson Airport
Mr. Speaker! My government is making steady progress on the redevelopment of the Howard Hamilton International Airport.
We have hired contractors to assist with technical, legal, environmental, and financial assessments.
An Invitation for Pre-qualifications (IFP) was launched in August 2023 and extended to the second week of October due to a significant interest in the project. This very important stage of the process has set out the minimum criteria which potential bidders must satisfy.
The Invitation to Tender (ITT) is scheduled for release on 24th October 2023.
Mr. Speaker! My government fully supports the TCI Airports Authority’s (TCIAA’s) intention to offer an alternative funding scheme to include Turks and Caicos Islanders in the ownership of the concession arrangement for the airport.
The redevelopment will include:
A new turn pad (airside)
A bigger apron
Nearly doubling the accommodation for passengers and
Adding parking capacity for vehicles
Mr. Speaker! We will have good news on the reopening of the Norman B. Saunders Sr. International Airport in South Caicos soon.
My government spent $1.5 million to restore the roof and building of the JAGs McCartney International Airport, damaged by last year’s hurricane. $4.2 million is being spent to restore the perimeter fence.
My government is delivering for you!
Mr Speaker, a modern Turks and Caicos requires reliable and fast communication systems.
Over seven million dollars has been allocated to build a modern fibre cable to connect all the main inhabited islands from Providenciales to Grand Turk.
This will link to international fibre cables giving us high-quality connectivity to the rest of the world. It will make telecommunications services more reliable and affordable.
My government is delivering for you!
Mr Speaker! Adequate housing is critical to my government’s commitment to build safe communities across the TCI.
My government’s promise to fix the housing problem is being addressed through an ambitious and comprehensive policy. The first stage of the policy is now being implemented.
Further work is being done to develop a framework that will provide affordable housing for all TC Islanders. Progress on this will be announced in the coming months.
My government will not rest until quality housing solutions at affordable prices are the standard in this country.
My government is delivering for you!
Mr Speaker, a new transportation masterplan is far advanced, and the necessary steps are being taken to implement key aspects. In the meantime, highway and road improvements, remediation works to ponds and bridges and drainage improvements across the islands are underway.
$14.1 million has been budgeted for the improvement works. Of this amount, more than $3.5 million is being spent in the nation’s capital – Grand Turk to redevelop roads and bridges.
My government is delivering on its promises!
NATIONAL DELIVERY UNIT
My government has established a National Delivery Unit to lead the planning, monitoring, and control of high-priority projects. The aim is to deliver quality projects, on time and on budget and give our people good value for money.
A five-member external team will provide oversight for twelve (12) priority projects for another year while transferring knowledge to a core internal team and other civil servants who will implement and carry out strategic projects.
My government is delivering for you!
Mr. Speaker! The UK has recognised the growing complexity of the TCI society and the increased workload of my government. It has agreed to a change in the constitution allowing an 8th portfolio ministry. Additionally, representative responsibility at Caricom and other regional bodies has been entrusted to an elected member of Cabinet.
However, the desire and goal of the people are to attain changes that will take the constitution closer to self-determination at the earliest time. That work is at a very advanced stage.
Mr Speaker! A new cross-party proposal was submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) for consideration. I am pleased to say that the next round of talks is scheduled to take place in the TCI in October 2023.
It is my government’s hope that changes should be brought in, on or before the end of the calendar year.
Mr Speaker! Last May, my government announced a policy to make crown lands more easily accessible to the people, the rightful owners, on discounted terms for those who qualify.
Since then, my government has passed legislation to facilitate the policy and is recruiting eleven employees and consultants to implement these transformational reforms. They include:
The ability to convert residential Conditional Purchase Leases (CPLs) to freeholds at a 50% discount, up from 25%.
A two-year amnesty programme for residential CPLs – to forgive outstanding rent and claims and allow lessees to acquire a freehold title.
A period of up to 6 months to accept an offer to purchase a residential freehold or leasehold.
Surrendering a CPL without payment of arrears.
Allowing the executor or administrator of an estate with an expired residential CPL to purchase the property if the deceased used it as a primary residence.
Many options to assist persons acquire titles include - convert a residential CPL to freehold title, purchase freehold titles in installments, convert CPL to long lease, surrender CPL or allowing holders to shrink, reconfigure and in exceptional cases to exchange the plot.
Mr. Speaker! My government is delivering for our people!
DMO (Experience Turk and Caicos)/Tourism Regulation Department
Mr. Speaker! Tourism is our bread and butter. The TCI has become one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. We cater to the higher end of the market so much more is expected. Visitors want different experiences and higher service standards.
Mr Speaker in the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1 "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens..."
The Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board has served us well. My government is grateful for the many achievements of the Board and to all who contributed to the success of tourism in these islands.
But Mr. Speaker, the time has come to future-proof the destination for sustainability, competitiveness stakeholder synergy and inclusive growth. To better serve the needs of our visitors and destination partners, my government is transitioning to a Destination Management Organisation (DMO).
The DMO is designed to integrate the marketing and management of the entire TCI to maximise participation and returns for all stakeholders.
To ensure the highest quality assurance standard, safety and compliance, my government has put in place an arm’s length but supporting institution - the Tourism Regulation Department. It will operate as a department within the Ministry of Tourism. It will:
Formulate guidelines and prescribe measures for sustainable tourism.
Regulate all tourism activities and services.
Register, license and grade all sustainable tourism and tourist-related properties, activities, and services; and
Develop and implement, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, criteria for standardisation and classification of tourism facilities and services.
My government is determined to keep the TCI ahead of the competition by developing attractions, showcasing our culture, and promoting the best of our islands and our people.
My government is delivering for the people!
Mr. Speaker! Over the years, successive governments have spent millions on healthcare. This year is no different.
$84.6M or 20% of the budget is allocated to health. Despite the huge sums, our people have not always received value for money. That must change.
My government has engaged the services of experts to examine how the agreement with Inter Health Canada is being executed. This contract is both very complicated and long-term in nature. However, I have been advised that there are many positive actions that we can take to ensure that our people get the best value. I will update the House once the report on the way forward is received.
As my government seeks to improve how InterHealth Canada serves our people, we are improving facilities and services such as:
Investing in state-of-the-art equipment such as MRI machines and CT Scanners to improve diagnostic services.
Upgrading Dental Clinics.
Adding new ambulances - two in Providenciales and one in North Caicos.
Mr. Speaker! At last, the TCI has its first mental health facility - the Centre of Hope.
My government is delivering for our people!
Education is the vehicle to take our people to prosperity. My government is developing an environment that will encourage and facilitate lifelong learning.
$48.9 million or 12% of the budget has been allocated to primary, secondary, tertiary, and special needs education.
My government is putting its money where its mouth is.
Proposed amendments to the universities, colleges, training institutes ordinance to improve oversight and accountability of institutes of higher learning in the TCI will be tabled in the House of Assembly shortly.
Our special needs school community will see major improvements.
My government is hiring experts who will advise on the systems and procedures for the new Special Needs school being constructed to ensure best practices. The building is being retrofitted into a modern and well-equipped facility and qualified persons who will deliver the best instruction to students are being hired.
My government is delivering for our people!
Mr Speaker! My government is improving youth engagement through innovative and engaging youth programmes that will assist in the mental and emotional development of the youth of the Turks and Caicos Islands'. Some of these programmes are TCI National Cadets and mentorship programmes.
Mr Speaker! Sports have the potential to transform communities and society, improve the health and wellbeing of young people and create economic opportunities.
My government is:
Investing in sports development programmes, youth leagues such as the Police Action League and Inter School sports seasons which will start and the end of this month.
Refurbishing and improving community parks across the TCI.
Expanding community access to modern sports facilities with repair works to South Caicos Parade Grounds and the completion of the Grand Turk Sports Complex and Shelter.
Opening the Felix Morley Community Centre to host a series of activities (boxing, dance, martial arts, basketball, football, rugby, computer and classes).
Providing training for all coaches, PE teachers and National Federation personnel.
Encouraging the health and wellness of the nation through the Let’s Move TCI Campaign.
My government is delivering for young people!
Mr Speaker, subscribing to Mahatma Gandhi’s statement: “The measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members.” My government is ensuring that the basic needs of all our people are adequately met. That is why my government has:
Increased Social Assistance to $500 monthly per child for up to three children per household. Adults now get $1,000 monthly per household, up from $120.
More than doubled Foster Care Assistance to $300 weekly per child for up to three children per household.
The programmes will be tested to ensure that the neediest persons benefit. In the future, adjustments many be necessary including to the qualifying criteria.
My government is delivering for the vulnerable!
HUMAN CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT
My government believes that for a country to be successful, wide-scale human capital development and proper compensation are important. We are starting with the public service and expect that the private sector, particularly those who have not fully subscribed to the principles of corporate citizenship, will follow suit.
As the government continues to make significant investments in their remuneration, benefits, tools and training, public servants must be accountable to the people. Staff will be assessed to ensure that they are carrying out the roles for which they are contracted. A new staff appraisal system heavily focused on performance and delivery will be rolled out in the 4th quarter.
A new Director of Business Transformation will lead the effort to improve delivery across the public service and drive innovation.
e-Government is a major focus of my government. Police records can now be delivered within a week, and work is being undertaken to reduce that to hours.
This year my government will introduce:
A digital Human Resources system
Road safety system
e-Cabinet using digital solutions to facilitate cabinet meetings, improve information sharing and ease of communicating cabinet decisions to citizens.
Digital Border Management system and numerous other system improvements across government.
e-Procurement will allow greater access and innovation in bidding and other tendering procedures.
My government is delivering on its e-Government mandate!
IMPROVING THE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT
As we move to diversify the economy, we have to improve the ease of doing business and recalibrate the incentive scheme.
For Foreign/Domestic Investments, we are examining the thresholds at which incentives may be considered; including whether they ought to be given only to projects that fall within the national priority sector(s).
A national linkages programme to strengthen the local private sector and maximise the benefits from foreign direct investment will be established. By creating strong connections, we will optimise the spill over to the local economy.
Create enhanced incentives and special investment regimes (up to 100% relief) for specific projects in the family islands; businesses solely owned by Belongers; projects in economic zones; and development priority areas.
Incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a focus on sustained, inclusive economic growth and the empowerment of women.
Foster collaboration and promote public-private dialogue to improve the business environment, encourage investment and facilitate growth.
CRIME AND SECURITY Mr Speaker! Over the last year and a half, we have seen spikes and dips in criminal activities particularly in some parts of Providenciales. My government will not allow criminals to destroy the society we are creating. Everyone should feel safe, secure and have full access to justice.
Mr. Speaker! Irregular migration and easy access to powerful firearms are major contributor to crime and violence.
My government has spent millions on border, internal security, and on the modernisation of our justice system.
My government has enacted historic and new legislation, is building new national security structures, hardening and expanding our local security forces.
Millions are being spent to upgrade the human, physical, technical, and investigative capacity of the Royal TCI Police Force.
More personnel including members of the TCI Regiment are on frontline duties, especially in communities challenged by drugs and gang violence.
Additional CCTV camera systems are being installed.
A new Drugs, Firearms and Anti-Gang Unit has been established with specialist detectives from the UK. They will work with our local Force and build our local capability to dismantle violent gangs.
Significant investment in technology, the investigative capacity and operations of the police, communication and cyber forensic systems.
The new anti-gang and gun laws
give our police the legal authority to investigate, stop and search, detain and break up gang activities.
Persons convicted of gang, drugs or gun crimes will spend a longer time in jail.
My government continues to work with our international partners to increase aerial and sea surveillance.
The UK has committed to fund additional air surveillance assets to support our efforts to enable full marine domain awareness across all of our islands.
My government is deepening alliances with our neighbours and sharing intelligence that will help to protect the TCI.
Mr. Speaker! Violence has shaken too many communities and destroyed too many families.
Too many decent law-abiding citizens are living in fear.
My government is working to defeat those who continue to disrupt the peace and safety of our communities.
As the government seeks to communicate effectively and with transparency both internally and to the public, we have developed a communications strategy and policy that will be submitted to Cabinet for ratification in the coming weeks.
Mr. Speaker! Last year, we had a robust legislative agenda to support the policies and programmes my government is implementing. As the Throne Speech communicates the government’s legislative plan for the year, I would like to provide an in-exhaustive list of new laws and amendments, that are on the legislative agenda for consideration by Cabinet and will require full public and parliamentary engagement as we seek to make the lives of every TC Islander better.
These include among others:
Constitution (Amendment) Order;
Contractor’s Licensing Bill
Retiring Allowance (Amendment) Bill;
National Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill;
National Insurance (Amendment) Bill;
Education (Amendment) Bill;
Community College (Amendment) Bill;
Gaming Control (Amendment) Bill;
Gaming Machines (Amendment) Bill;
Business Licensing (Amendment) Bill;
Real Estate Licensing Bill
Border Force Bill
Airports Authority (Amendment) Bill
Renewable Energy Bill
Road Safety (Amendment) Bill
Dogs Control (Amendment) Bill;
Maritime Liabilities Bill
Wrecks and Salvage Bill
Health Regulation (Amendment) Bill
Health Professions (Amendment) Bill
National Security, Legal and Law Enforcement
Police Force Bill
Witness Protection Bill
Attorney General’s Chambers
Crown Land (Amendment) Bill
Mr. Speaker! My government has a solid record of achievements.
One by one, my government is delivering on the commitments we made in the People’s Contract. Vision 2040 and the People’s Contract are the blueprints we will follow in our quest to give every islander and resident a chance for a better life.
My government is laying the foundations for prosperity. We want our people to imagine a future that is safe, progressive, and prosperous.
My government wants the hope of our people to be fired up by the progress they see every day.
Together let us use our strength, our creativity, and innovation to build a diversified and prosperous economy that benefits all.
Together we can build stronger families, stronger communities and a stronger and more prosperous Turks and Caicos Islands.
Together we can make our dream a reality and together we can fuel that beacon called hope that will lead us to prosperity and plenty.
May God bless each of you and bless our beautiful by nature Turks and Caicos Islands.