Prime Minister Douglas On Lower Land Prices
Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
May 05, 2009 (CUOPM)
St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas announced initiatives on Monday that will drastically reduce the cost of land for minimum wage earners, introduce a short-term unemployment benefit scheme to bring relief to workers during temporary periods of unemployment and ensure workers in the private sector employed for over 10 years receive a gratuity.
Addressing thousands at a rally to mark the traditional Labour Day, Prime Minister Douglas noted that land ownership is a critical and serious objective of his Labour Party Administration and its history is one of empowerment of all of the people.
The plan he said will remove the label of landlessness for minimum wage earners, thus ensuring that almost immediately the percentage of the population owning land would be as high as or higher than anywhere else in the world.
“For our people that are being paid at the minimum wage of $320 per week, the price of land will be established at $2.95 per square foot. This cost per square foot is not even enough to fund the road, water electricity and other infrastructure required for the convenience of homeowners. Hence, in essence the infrastructure is being subsidized and the land itself is being provided free of cost to workers receiving minimum wage,” said Prime Minister Douglas, who is also Minister of Sustainable Development. The minimum wage in St. Kitts and Nevis is the highest in the OECS.
Dr. Douglas pointed out that those who fall in this category and have already being given land at any higher price, the price will automatically be reduced to $2.95 cents a square foot and the appropriate adjustment will be made.
He said persons earning more than the minimum wage, the price of land has been set already at $4.95 per square foot. These prices are in respect of the standard land lots of 4,000 square feet. However, persons require land in excess of the size of the standard lots would be required to pay $6.95 per square foot in respect of the additional land.
DR. Douglas said notwithstanding consultations with the Commercial Banks and the subsidised prices that have been established for the land, there will be some people who would still not be able to raise the financing required to purchase the land.
“Those those persons who cannot afford the mortgage payments based on the terms established by Commercial Banks, my Government will arrange for a line of credit of $10 million in the first instance, to be provided to the Development Bank for lending on soft terms for the purpose of acquiring land under our enhanced Special Land Initiative,” said the Prime Minister and Minister of Sustainable Development.
Dr. Douglas noted that an earlier Special Land Initiative has progressed at a painfully slow pace and will be corrected with the establishment of a Special Administrative Unit to deal specifically and exclusively with land distribution and to accelerate the rate at which land is provided.
He said the clear mandate of this Unit will be to ensure that within sixty days every citizen applying for land under this initiative that meets the criteria is issued with a letter offering them land.
“I know that some persons are having difficulty raising the funds for the purchase of the land and I will therefore arrange a meeting with the Banks with a view to considering any incentives that can be provided to the Banks to encourage them to provide the necessary funding to our people,” said the Prime Minister.
He said his Government was willing to offer tax exemptions on the interest levied by the Banks in respect of loans to borrowers purchasing land under this Special Land Initiative, if the Banks are prepared to offer these borrowers lower interest rates, reduced bank charges and easier terms on their loans.
Dr. Douglas said Government continues to be very concerned about the plight of the low-income workers, especially hotel workers and workers on the industrial site.
He said Social Security and their Actuaries have been requested to proceed very carefully but expeditiously with the design of a short-term unemployment benefit scheme to bring relief to workers during temporary periods of unemployment.
“It means that we will introduce through Social Security, a new unemployment benefit for those who have been unemployed for a short term temporary basis. This is a fundamental change that we are bringing into this country for the first time,” said Prime Minister Douglas.
His St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Government is also of the view that it is not fair and just that workers should give years of service to an entity and then walk away after 20 years of service empty handed.
“We promised you that we will correct it and we have therefore put the appropriate legislation before the National Assembly for first reading. This legislation will ensure that workers are entitled upon retirement to a gratuity after serving a minimum of 10 years of service,” said Dr. Douglas.
“We have done it for workers on the Government payroll and we are determined that all employees in our Federation should enjoy similar benefits. We do not intend to this alone, we shall consult and continue to collaborate with our employers who are our partners in the development process,” said the Prime Minister.