Good day, citizens and residents. This week, Cabinet meeting was held on Monday March 26 and continued on Wednesday March 28. This briefing is in respect of both days.
NATIONAL SOCIAL PROTECTION STRATEGY APPROVED
Over the last year, Minister responsible for Social Development, the Hon. Marcella Liburd, has been highlighting the need for a comprehensive social protection strategy to assist her ministry, and the government by extension, in better responding to the needs of the citizens of our country. On Monday, Minister Liburd tabled before Cabinet a National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) which she advised was the culmination of significant multistakerholder effort and involvement. The Hon. Minister assured the Cabinet of Ministers that the National Social Protection Strategy would lead to better coordination of all of government’s social safety-net programmes and would lead to enhanced servicing of the needs of those who depend on government's social programmes. She further advised that some salient gaps in our social protection system had been identified by a social safety-net assessment report of 2009 financed by UNICEF, UN Women and the World Bank ,and that the NSPS directly addresses the identified short-comings.
Present at Cabinet to assist in the presentation was a team from the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs led by Acting Permanent Secretary, Ms Sharon Rattan, and further consisting of Ms. Azilla Clarke, Director of Social and Community Development, and Mrs Denise Byron-Morris, Coordinator of Community Social Services. The presentation discussed that over the years, the 21 social safety-net programmes of the government have been executed by mainly 3 different departments and ranged from food vouchers, compassionate grants and medical assistance, to school text books and home care for seniors, among other programmes.
Minister Marcella Liburd highlighted a number of trends in the access of the government's social safety-net programmes as follows:
single female-headed households are most prevalent in requesting and obtaining the social safety-net programmes targeting families
more men than women are accessing assistance through the Cardin Home, the Saddlers Elderly Home and the home care programme. The Minister was of the view that the failure of men to take care of their families can and does lead to a greater reluctance of the family to take care of men when they become advanced in age.
According to the Minister, the NSPS, in addition to the many social safety-net programmes, of necessity includes a social insurance strengthening component which addresses such matters as maternity, employment injury, unemployment, invalidity benefit and pensions. These mechanisms, the Minister highlighted, must be supported by interventions to secure employment generation through skills development, employment benefits, and employment protection, as means of securing a higher standard of living for our citizens.
The Minister responsible for Social Development concluded her presentation by identifying some of the immediate considerations in the implementation of the new NSPS. She pointed to the need to reduce risk and vulnerability, and to avoid the cycle of poverty. This requires that beneficiaries of the government's social safety-net programmes be held responsible for meeting specific self-improvement targets. Going forward, the government's social assistance programmes should be better targeted, more results-based, more accountable, more transparent and better informed through the maintenance of a social intervention Management Information System.
A Social Assistance Board is to be activated to oversee the implementation and monitoring of the new National Social Protection Strategy.
A TVET STRATEGY UNVEILED
St. Kitts and Nevis has made significant strides over the last 40 years in general education. Hwever, one of the components of our education system which in recent times have been identified for immediate improvement and overhaul is our Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme. In fact, it is well agreed that skills training of necessity has to be at the forefront of all our national efforts as we pursue the development of the Tourism, Agricultural, Construction and the Technology sectors. It was for this reason that the TVET Council was installed in December 2010 and that the TVET Road Map was presented to and endorsed by the Cabinet of Ministers in January of 2011.
At Monday's Cabinet meeting, the Ministry of Education presented a comprehensive National TVET Implementation Plan that seeks to secure significant improvements over the short to medium term in the delivery of technical and vocational education and training in the Federation. Senior Officials from the Ministry of Education, namely the Acting Permanent Secretary Ionie Liburd-Willett, Chief Education Officer Dr. Patrick Welcome, Education Planner Mr. Quinton Morton, Education Officer for TVET Mr. Glen Edwards, TVET Council Chairman Mr. Clyde Christopher, and Director of TVET Development Mr. Fritzroy Wilkin, were on-hand to assist in the presentation.
In addressing the short-comings of our TVET programme and in helping to chart the way forward for sustainable development, the National TVET Plan identifies the following goals, among others:
the development of a competent workforce through improving relevance and quality in our TVET programme
the improved alignment of fragmented programmes and award schemes (or certification schemes)
changing the low image status and stigmatization of technical programmes
promoting TVET as a gender-neutral programme and placing TVET in the gender mainstream
establishing appropriate facilities and infrastructure for training
effective teacher training and human resource development in our technical programmes
strengthening the oversight mechanisms for TVET in the Federation, among other significant goals.
All secondary schools, AVEC (Advanced Vocational Education Centre), Project Strong, the National Skills Training Programme (NSTP) and the CFBC (Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College) will see significant improvement in their technical programmes, all geared towards the fulfillment of the outlined goals and objectives of the TVET Plan.
At the CFBC in particular, there are short to medium term plans to overhaul and improve or introduce the delivery of the following specific courses: Agricultural Studies; Air conditioning and Repair; Architectural Design Technology, Electrical and Electronic Engineering; Hospitality Studies and Culinary Arts; Information and Communication Technology, Motor Vehicle Engineering; Office Administration and Management Studies; and Construction, Carpentry and Joinery. These programmes have been identified based on the needs of the labour market and the new direction of our local economy. New programme spaces will be created. Modern tools and equipment will be acquired. Training and recruiting of staff to deliver modern and industry-relevant courses will be undertaken. There will be a mainstreaming of TVET training so that both males and females can find a place in any of our technical and vocational programmes.
Cabinet approved the National TVET Implementation Plan and assigned a very high level of priority to the TVET agenda which is to attract support from various government sectors and our development partners.
SUBSIDY ON LIQUEFIED PETROLEUM GAS (LPG or Cooking Gas) EXAMINED
The importation, distribution and pricing of LPG or cooking gas in St. Kitts and Nevis is governed by the Price of Goods Act, Cap. 18.09 of the laws of the Federation. The Price of Goods Act is intended to give government reasonable control over the pricing and the supply of certain basic and important commodities to protect consumers from the arbitrary and market-driven pricing schemes regulated by the economic principles of supply and demand. In fact, despite the rapid increases in the costs associated with the importation of cooking gas over the last 7 years, the price of cooking gas has remained stable since 2005 as a result of the application of the Price of Goods Act.
In a report brought before the Cabinet by the Hon. Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, it was observed that the mechanism for the pricing of cooking gas, namely the Mean Caribbean Posting (MCP) index, was too arbitrary, leading to an artificially higher price than necessary for the commodity. It was further reported that between the two major suppliers of cooking gas, Delta and Sol, the price of the commodity varied significantly with poor justification. Worthy of note, the prices identified by the two companies varied by as much 32% in May of last year, 2011. Prices for the 20lb cylinder were calculated at $48.00 for one company and at $63.58 for the other. The prices established for the 100lb cylinder of cooking gas were $230.00 and $276.26 respectively for the two companies.
Since government has fixed the price of cooking gas at $30 for the 20ld tank and at $140 for the 100lb tank, government's subsidy has been calculated to be as much as $33.58 on each 20lb tank of gas and $136.00 on each 100lb tank of gas, sold to consumers. This subsidy is quite significant and totaled around $5 million for the year 2011.
Cabinet resolved to engage suppliers of cooking gas to investigate whether a fairer pricing system, namely the Mont Belvieu System instead of the Mean Caribbean Posting, should be used as a benchmark for the standardisation of the pricing of cooking gas imported into St. Kitts and Nevis. Cabinet also agreed that the practice of offsetting taxes due by the suppliers against government transfers to the suppliers will be discontinued in order to improve transparency and accountability in government's tax collection policy.
This has been the post-cabinet briefing for Monday March 26 and Wednesday March 28, 2012. Thank you.