State of the State Address
as delivered by Hon. Charles Washington Misick, Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands
Members of the Cabinet, my fellow Turks and Caicos Islanders and residents, good evening.
‘Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.’
- 1 Chronicles 16:34
Wherever you are, let us take a moment to give God thanks for His mercy and grace which have sustained us through some very difficult times.
When we started this journey, I promised you transparency and accountability. We have not been perfect, but we have kept our promise to inform you, as we work to improve your lives and advance the growth and development of these Turks and Caicos Islands. We have acknowledged mistakes and have apologized when we needed to.
Saturday, February 19 marks one year since the PNP was swept into office in a historic landslide. We are ever conscious of the enormous trust and confidence you placed in us. We will never take that trust for granted. We never forget that we work for you. Things are not yet where we want them, but we are making progress.
THE CITIZEN’S CONTRACT
As we prepared for the election last year, we outlined our plans and programmes in the People’s Contract - we want you to hold us accountable.
We told you, that we would change the practice of the last 50 years, where the cultural and social development of our people took a back seat to economic development.
We promised to deal with COVID -19, turbo-charge the economy, create jobs, cut the cost of living, provide quality healthcare, improve the quality and access to education and create a more secure TCI.
To ensure long term economic security and prosperity, we will invest in food production, environmental protection and infrastructural development.
We came to Office during a very difficult time. The economy was floundering. Tourist arrivals were the lowest in recent years. Cruise ships were not calling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, cruise lines did not return to Grand Turk for 21 months, in December and many of you lost jobs or had to close your businesses.
The promised stimulus did not reach some of you, as the requirements were prohibitive and covered only some sectors.
The Cabinet took a few weeks to assess the state of the economy and find ways to immediately ease your burden.
We added a new Ministry and restructured others to make them more effective and service-oriented.
We developed policies and programmes that would give us the quickest path out of the economic and health crises.
In this our first year, while we have had some setbacks, we have made significant strides.
COVID- 19 brought challenges and tragedies. Many of you still bear the scars of illness and death.
To those who lost loved ones, on behalf of the Government, I extend my deepest sympathies.
We continue to pray for you and for the souls of those departed. May they rest in peace
Over 80 per cent of our people have received two doses of vaccine. However, the uptake for booster shots has been very sluggish at just 14 percent.
We encourage those who have not yet done so to get vaccinated and continue protocols such as hand washing and responsible social interactions to reduce infections.
Those whose lives and livelihoods were disrupted by COVID-19; we are finding ways to help you turn the corner.
$15 million was provided for stimulus grants, and we made the requirements simple, so more of you could benefit.
Nearly 14,000 qualified recipients received $1,000 USD each.
Small business owners were not left out. The Turks and Caicos Islands Government (TCIG) forgave and cleared the books of over $15 million of legacy debt and penalties – we gave them a fresh start.
Cruise sub-sector operators received ongoing stimulus and grants to get them ready for the return of cruise ships.
TURBO-CHARGING THE ECONOMY
We took bold actions to fire up the economy.
While many countries around us remained locked, we fully reopened with safety protocols – that decision paid off. Since then, we have seen historic tourist arrivals and our stop-over arrivals are even better than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
For the third quarter in 2021, there were 117, 236 stop-over visitors compared to 96,777 in 2019. In the fourth quarter, there were 122, 289 visitors compared to 116, 338 in 2019. That is more than five times the number of visitors during the third and fourth quarters in 2020.
Cruise tourism has returned to Grand Turk.
The construction and real estate industries are booming. In our first year alone, we saw over 300 new construction planning applications, for homes, apartments, high-end villas, resort/hotel style condos and villa developments like the Strand, Beach Enclave Long Bay Hotel, and an extension to Beaches Resort & Spa.
For the month of January alone, 44 projects were submitted to the Planning Department – valued at over $70 million.
Invest TCI is reporting that over $1.4 billion in projects are at various stages of development.
Up to December, we collected $65 million for stamp duty on land transactions. That is more than two times the earnings for years 2019 and 2020.
Taxes from the real estate sector is forecasted at $80 million by the end of this financial year.
To give you some perspective, never in the last five years, have we collected as much as $30 million. Accommodation, import duty and custom processing fees at $56 million, $58 million and $27 million respectively, will exceed what was collected in 2019 and 2020.
The economy has performed better than expected in so many ways. This has resulted in the robust V-shaped recovery we predicted.
Revenue up to December 31, 2021, was $282.1 million compared to $131.4 million for the same period in 2020.
Revenues are forecasted to exceed a whopping $360 million this financial year. This unprecedented financial performance has resulted in positive cash flows of $188.4 million up to December.
As a result, we have retired the $80 million undrawn credit facility that was in place to support the recurrent expenditure. There is a cost to having this facility even if we don’t use it. It is in our economic interest to retire it.
Public debt remains at less than $1 million.
As the economy does better, we are passing benefits to our people.
To encourage homeownership for TC Islanders and British Overseas Territory Citizens (BOTC), we are waiving import duties up to $50,000 on materials for new construction and home improvement. Applicants who were approved during the pandemic or had a portion of the exemption expire in 2020/21 will be allowed a further six months to utilize the facility.
We are reducing the stamp duty on property purchased by TCI status holders and BOTCs by 40 – 50%.
For TCI status holders, the reduction is applicable to the purchase of multiple properties and for BOTCs on a one-time purchase of a residential property.
In the case of Providenciales, the stamp duty moves from 10% to 6% and in the other Islands from 6% to 3%. The value of these zero-rated transactions will move from $25,000 to $100,000.
We will also retain the concession package offered through TC Invest for the development and refurbishment of vacation rental properties owned by TCI status holders. The concession is up $30,000.
I am proud of the work of my team. We are creating jobs and putting in place policies to ensure that TC Islanders will have the first pick of jobs. Our TC Islanders must have the capacity to reap the benefits of the economic boom.
In Grand Turk, we purchased the vending village for $1.7 million and will spend $1.5 million to upgrade the facility and we are negotiating the purchase of the White Sands property adjacent to the Cruise Port.
The two properties will be transformed into a business park for vending and other small and medium enterprises to serve the cruise tourism sector.
We are delivering on our promise to create employment through the COVID Works Programme.
By the end of this financial year, we will spend $5.3 million across all islands to support the unemployed or underemployed.
$1.2 million has already been spent in phases one and two, on community cleaning and beautification projects.
In the coming weeks, more projects will be rolled out:
· Derelict vehicles will be removed from Provo, South Caicos and Grand Turk.
· In Providenciales and Grand Turk, roadside kerbs and sidewalks are being constructed.
· Five Cays now has a dedicated beautification team assembled under the Workers Employment Programme.
· In Salt Cay, the marina and bridge projects are underway.
· In North Caicos, roads are being cleaned and beautification efforts started.
· In South Caicos, we are constructing a gazebo at Christmas Park; and
· In Middle Caicos, the Bambara Beach project is progressing well.
As a tourism-dependent chain, the islands need to connect seamlessly and with the global marketplace.
While we have many beautiful as well as state of the art tourist facilities, the development of our public infrastructure is lagging due to the long planning and implementation cycle.
We are improving the approvals and tender processes to get projects to contractors more quickly.
We encourage local medium and large contractors to register and bid on these critical large-scale works.
Most capital projects span several years and run from one administration to another.
This administration has completed several projects, some of which started in the last PNP administration. They include:
• The Crown Lands building is fully refurbished and upgraded.
• The new two-storey classroom block at HJ Robinson High School has two visual arts classrooms, including a dark room for printing and classrooms on the ground floor which can be converted to multipurpose rooms. A kitchen and bathrooms with showers have been included in the redevelopment to ensure the building is suitable for use as a shelter.
• We extended the resurfacing of the road, construction of new drainage systems with pumps, and new concrete sidewalks with solar lights at Front Street.
• Government Office Complex which houses offices for the Ministry of Finance staff including the Treasury, Post Office, Road Safety Department, Public Works Department and Customs is completed.
• The public water tank and catchment have been repaired and upgraded. Works include new pipes to distribute water from the reverse osmosis plant to the water tanks.
• In Provo, what was the Carlos Simons building at Lot 3 has been refurbished and retrofitted and is the new Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force (RTCIPF) Headquarters and 911 Call Centre.
• The former Sammy Been building at Lot 4 is fully renovated. It will accommodate the Government Business Complex which houses the Immigration, Road Safety and Customs Departments.
• Phase five of the road development project for Blue Hills and Five Cays which includes paving, construction of new drainage systems and sidewalks, is completed.
• New concrete boat ramps were constructed in Five Cays and Wheeland.
• Refurbishing work continues on the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) office building in Providenciales.
• Several concrete community signs have been erected in different settlements throughout Providenciales.
• In North Caicos, a new museum, craft market huts, bar and kitchen have been constructed at the Promenade and Craft Market.
Across the length and breadth of these islands, projects are underway.
• The NJS Francis building is being refurbished and upgraded.
• We are rebuilding the burnt-out Yellow Wing block at the Department of Correction. This new block will have improved facilities and security measures.
• To improve water supply, we are building a million-gallon, glass-fused to steel water storage tank.
• We are renovating and upgrading the Grand Turk Cruise Vendors Market.
• The Grand Turk Youth & Sport Community Centre and the Grand Turk watersports boat ramp are under construction.
• Consultancy works for the design and provisional estimate for a state-of-the-art government complex is underway.
• Construction is nearing completion on the new two-storey classroom block for the Enid Capron Primary School.
• Work is underway on the technical block at Raymond Gardiner High School.
• Phase two of Thelma Lightbourne Primary School has commenced.
• The complete resurfacing of the National Stadium with new synthetic rubber track and new natural grass infield has started.
• The much-needed renovation and upgrades to the Leeward Palms Green Fitness Park have started.
• In North Caicos, over $2 million is being spent to upgrade and resurface roads.
On all islands, we are constructing generator houses for facilities that already have generators. We are building houses and procuring generators to ensure that all essential facilities have backup generators.
We are determined to have a system of roads that are well maintained and able to support the economic, social and security needs of our country.
We have commenced the Transportation Masterplan, to develop for the first time, a comprehensive plan for the upgrading and development of our transportation network across all islands.
We have big plans for the Providenciales International Airport which I will outline further in the budget. In the meantime, $12 million is being spent to repair and retrofit critical components of the existing terminal building. This includes a canopy for the protection of disembarking passengers, improvement of the traffic flow and a better user experience.
My administration supports the development of port infrastructure on all islands.
Over $65 million is earmarked for the development of ports over the next few years, including ongoing projects and ones under appraisal.
• Tenders for the redevelopment of South Dock Provo – phases one and two closed on February 9.
• Construction of the Bellefield Landing Welcome Centre remains within budget and on schedule for completion in July.
• Tendering for boat slips at Bellefield Landing has been extended to February 23, 2022, to give participants more time.
• The contract for the dredging of the Bellefield Landing Port in North Caicos was signed on January 27. dredging will begin in March.
• Bellefield Landing has the potential to become a major port. A masterplan for its development with inputs from the community and stakeholders has been finalized. Phase two which includes a craft and agricultural market, boat ramp, viewing gazebo, central canopy/entertainment areas and a car park will begin shortly.
• Construction of the South Caicos Port rehabilitation project is on schedule for completion in July.
• The South Caicos Port pavement project will be contracted next month and completed in July.
• Funds will be allocated to refurbish the Grand Turk Port office building project in the upcoming budget.
The Government has commenced the National Housing Needs Survey. The data collected will guide the development of the National Housing Policy. The Housing Policy will have a clear framework for the equitable distribution of housing solutions in the islands.
We will no longer provide just a piece of dirt but will offer developed lots.
The remaining crown land earmarked for housing solutions will have sustainable mixed-use developments. Our people must have shelter that is purpose-built and sustainable. Recipients will include the elderly, young professionals starting out, single mothers and multi-generational families.
We are working on important infrastructure to support our islands during a disaster. We have some areas to finalize, and I will update you during the budget presentation.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Successive PNP administrations have developed and increased the education capacity of the TCI.
This administration is focused on creating modern schools equipped with the latest technical tools, the right student/ teacher ratio and improving accessibility.
While we position our students to thrive in the rapidly changing and technology-driven careers, literacy and numeracy will remain the foundations of learning.
• Our students received over 5,500 Tablets/Laptops/iPads and MIFI devices to support online learning.
• We increased the allocations to assist out of school children by $212,000 and for out of school students with specials needs by $150,000.
• We are developing a Special Needs Centre to deliver targeted instructions and programmes.
• We are also increasing scholarships, education grants and professional development training for the public service.
TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS COMMUNITY COLLEGE
We are expanding the Turks and Caicos Islands Community College (TCICC) to include a Hospitality Institute and other Technical and Vocational Training, TVET and certification.
We introduced a four-year bachelor’s degree programme in Early Childhood and Primary Education at TCICC last September.
You may recall that the 10 nurses who received associates degrees remained in limbo because there was no provision for nursing practice.
The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has given us permission to begin nursing practice by June. The curriculum has been approved and consultants will do a facility audit of the TCICC Nursing Lab in March.
Internships with the Interhealth Canada Hospitals will begin in April.
NATIONAL INSURANCE BOARD
$3.9 million was paid to 2,600 persons by the National Insurance Board (NIB) from the $4 million Temporary Unemployment Fund. Adjustments were made to include the under-employed.
We changed the rules so that persons who are still receiving a salary can access their retirement pensions at age 60.
A MORE SECURE TCI
Crime threatens the security and safety of our people including our children.
The Government will continue to provide resources to all agencies, including the courts to deal with crime and rehabilitation.
Up to 12 % of the national budget is allocated to beef-up border safety and enhance citizen security.
Land to house the TCI Regiment, TCI Law Enforcement Training Academy as well as a Remand Centre has been purchased at a cost of $1.8 million. A further $2 million will be spent to build the facility.
We are investing over $15 million for system and equipment upgrades for the TCI Regiment, Police, and Border Control.
Forty new recruits have been trained for the TCI Regiment and we are actively recruiting up to 60 new police officers.
Along with the United States Coast Guard and the Bahamas, we continue to support Operation Bahamas (OPBAT), which patrols our waters to combat drug and human smuggling as well as other criminal activities.
Two new remote radar sites that will help improve the communication and surveillance ability of law enforcement have been installed. Six radar operators were hired and trained to maintain equipment being installed at Northwest Point and Long Bay in Providenciales.
There is evidence that underserved and depressed communities create an environment that encourages crime. We believe the solution begins in our homes, with parents talking to their children and keeping them out of harm’s way. These solutions also embrace our churches, youth groups, and schools.
We must keep more of our young people out of trouble, with prevention strategies developed in conjunction with communities.
We are committed to the development of safe communities and will provide funding for road improvements and electrification in all communities to improve lives, facilitate better policing and increase safety.
The environment as nature’s capital belongs to all of us and we have a duty to protect it for the generations after us.
We are implementing the long-awaited 10-year National Physical Development Plan. This plan supports effective and efficient development, responsible construction practices and sustainable land use.
We are applying strict protocols for large-scale projects and ensuring that planning laws designed to protect our environment, are enforced.
Settlements that ignore planning laws and litter the landscape with dwellings that are unsafe, unsanitary, and damaging to the environment will be stopped.
As our population and the tourism industry grow, the solid waste solutions on the various islands will not meet our needs.
Significant improvements have been made to the major landfill site in Providenciales, but more needs to be done. A consultancy has been approved to find proper solutions for modern waste management facilities in Providenciales, North, Middle and South Caicos, Grand Turk and Salt Cay.
For too long, our beautiful Providenciales has been littered with old vehicles like a big scrap yard.
Our new motor vehicle import policy prohibits the importation of vehicles 10 years and older and used and retreaded motor vehicle tires. We also have stricter rules for the disposal of vehicles and old tires.
The Beach and Coastal Vending Policy and Ordinance are designed to foster the enjoyment of our beaches and coastal areas as well as support vendors.
Beach patrols will ensure the safety of people as well as the orderly operation of vending in designated areas.
We are determined to develop a comprehensive National Agricultural Development Plan to achieve food security and cut the import bill.
A new director of agriculture was hired recently, and we expect a plan for a comprehensive food production programme in short order.
In the meantime, we have distributed hundreds of plants, seed packages and facilitated radio programs on gardening. Agricultural grants have been provided to established and aspiring farmers.
COST OF LIVING
We know the gains from our economic success are not trickling down to all our people.
The supply chain crisis facing the world has pushed up the price of commodities. Oil at nearly $100 a barrel is making a bad situation worse.
It pains me to see how the cost of living is increasing and affecting the quality of life of many TC Islanders. We are determined to find ways to cushion the shocks.
That is why we introduced a mini-stimulus of $500. Over 13,000 applications have been received and the payments will begin on February 25.
We are also looking at the overall impact of inflation and will make policy adjustments to secure your standard of living.
The Consumer Protection and Fair Competition Department is building out infrastructure to begin monitoring business and trade practices for unfair behaviour.
We are in the process of setting up a Consumer Protection Tribunal where persons can report unfair practices and get redress.
We have carried out a series of public education programmes titled “The Consumer is King” to make you aware of your rights and protections under the Consumer Protection Ordinance.
No sector has been more challenged than health over the last year.
We faced head-on, and effectively managed three COVID-19 surges; including the Delta and Omicron variants with a fully open economy and unprecedented visitor arrivals.
We achieved this success thanks to cooperation from our people. You answered the call, adjusted to a more restrictive lifestyle when it was necessary, observed the protocols and got vaccinated.
Our over 80% fully vaccinated population, puts the TCI among countries with the best vaccination rates. We thank the people including our private sector and public sector partners who ensured safe school and work environments for our people.
The fight is not over!
We continue to offer duty-free concessions on cleaning, hygiene, and sanitation items.
For the first time, the TCI is making its own medical oxygen with the newly installed oxygen generators at Cheshire Hall Medical Centre in Providenciales and Cockburn Town Medical Centre in Grand Turk.
We are weeks away from the completion of upgrades to the National Public Health Laboratory.
We have installed new Dental Equipment on the family islands, including new delivery systems and furniture to ensure that all Turks and Caicos TC Islanders have access to dental care.
We have made significant strides in strengthening the national information systems for health and are in the final stages of updating the four-year National Strategic Health Sector Plan.
$6 million has been allocated over the medium term for the digitalisation of Government.
We are making some progress.
• Business license applications and searches can be done online. Applicants can now get their business license within 48-72 hours.
• 80% of services offered by the Immigration Department can be applied for online.
• All staff in the Registrar Generals’ office and citizenship and naturalization services on the islands of Grand Turk and Providenciales can electronically access and scan manual applications with the digitisation of the system.
• All dental records have been digitalised and dental clinics connected. One database for all islands will facilitate better management of patient care.
TCI PENSION /SALARY INCREASES
No government can function effectively without qualified and loyal workers.
This PNP government is committed to improving the pay and working conditions of our public servants.
On 1 April 2022, we will increase salary and benefits for the public service by 10%. This includes a new Pension and Gratuity Programme (6%) and an across-the-board salary increase (4%).
The last salary increase took place seven years ago in 2015, when I was Minister of Finance.
$2 million has been allocated to partially fund a retirement pension plan for public servants and more will be provided in the new budget.
This investment of $9 million demonstrates our commitment to the public service and our intention to transform lives.
Finally, we are setting up a committee to review the minimum wage. The committee which includes public and private sector members will consider the economic climate and other conditions and advise the Government on a fair and appropriate minimum wage scale.
My fellow TC Islanders and residents, despite the challenges, this has been a successful year for my administration.
Confidence has returned to the economy and the future is looking bright.
We are focused on a development agenda that is shaped by our people and is beneficial and sustainable.
As that famous song reminds us!
‘No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own,
We need one another,
So, I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.’
None of us can achieve our destiny alone, we need each other. Let us hold out our hand to a neighbour, to a child or an elderly person in need.
Let us come together, forged strong by our belief in progress, our love of country and our commitment to each other.
These Turks and Caicos Islands have come a long way because we have always risen to every challenge, relied on our belief in self and our faith in God.
I believe the best is yet to come if each of us does our part to build these beautiful by nature Turks and Caicos Islands.
Turks and Caicos Islands, destiny beckons.
God bless you and may God bless our land.