A political row has broken out in St. Kitts and Nevis after the establishment of a Hurricane Relief Fund was announced.
Prime Minister Timothy Harris said the news will have “a direct impact on the quality of life” of those in the federation, but opposition has accused him of attempting to “undermine the desperate recovery efforts that are underway” elsewhere.
St. Kitts and Nevis suffered damage to property, especially in coastal areas. Electricity and water services were disrupted, the road network fractured and several schools had to close for repairs.
But it was spared the worst of Hurricane Irma and Maria.
Caribbean neighbours Barbuda and Dominica were both left devastated by the respective hurricanes, with deaths and billions of dollars of destruction.
The new facility, which is being organised by the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU), was approved during a cabinet meeting on Friday.
The fund is open until the end of March 2018 for families of up to four people.
According to a government statement, CIU head Les Khan wanted to “do something that was going to make a significant difference to alleviate the suffering of those affected.”
Applicants for citizenship will have to make a non-refundable contribution of US$150,000 to go into the Hurricane Relief Fund.
The fees for agents and services providers remain the same.
The prime minister said: “Although Hurricane Irma did not make a direct hit on the federation, it caused danger to the public sector and private property, with damages of substantial amounts to the order of $150 million and the hurricane season is not over yet.
“The government of St. Kitts and Nevis would like to be in a position to provide assistance to its citizens and to make funds available for a speedy recovery to the economy. It is therefore being recommended that a new fund, the Hurricane Relief Fund, be established under the Citizenship by Investment Programme to provide such relief.”
WIC News understands that if the fund grows it could be used to help other countries in the Caribbean that are affected by hurricanes, although no details have been given on this aspect.
Once the announcement was made, the opposition St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party expressed unhappiness with news that applicants to the CIU would contribute US$150,000 – down from the current US$300,000.
This is the same level of contribution that applicants have to make in Dominica and Barbuda’s programmes.
The Sugar Industry Diversification Fund has also been suspended.
“In making the case for this, the prime minister has reported that two category five hurricanes have made landfall in St. Kitts and Nevis causing phenomenal devastation to homes, businesses and key infrastructure in the country,” said Dr. Denzil Douglas, leader of the SKNLP.
“While it must be said with certainty that our country has in fact experienced two hurricanes recently, why our prime minister would want to mislead the entire world as to the directness of the impact of these hurricanes and the extent of the damage caused is truly beyond me.”
Dr. Douglas added that Mr. Harris is attempting to “raise money on fake news” instead of painting “an honest picture of the state of affairs” in the federation.
“This dishonest and extremely selfish conduct on the part the prime minister can do nothing but serve to woefully undermine confidence of the international community in any information coming from official sources in our country,” he said.
A source at the Citizenship by Investment Unit confirmed to WIC News that this was a temporary measure, and that the reduced fee was to help the fund to build up quickly.
After Hurricane Irma passed the federation, Dominica pledged EC$500,000 to aid recovery.
But since then the Nature Island has been pummelled by a direct hit from category five Maria.
Due to this the government has declined the offer from Dominica – thanking Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit for his “kind consideration” – and instead put up EC$1 million to help their rebuilding efforts.