By RON FANFAIR
Canada is a major development partner in the Caribbean and, in particular, St. Kitts & Nevis, which has gained in a number of ways from this country’s generosity over the years, the islands’ Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas, said during a short visit to Toronto recently.
The federation has benefited from the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) Eastern Caribbean Economic Management Program which is designed to strengthen the capacities of local governments and regional institutions to implement various structural adjustment programs. It included the reform of taxation management and public expenditure.
The beneficiary of a CIDA scholarship in 1973, Douglas said Canada is engaged in a debt study that is providing an appropriate management approach to the islands’ financial crisis.
“The contract for the Canadian firm ended before the study (was) concluded and I approached your Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) at the just concluded summit in Trinidad, requesting Canada to continue to provide additional financial support so the entire project could be finished,” he said.
Douglas said that Canada is one of the countries his government has identified to enter into negotiations for a tax information exchange agreement as St. Kitts & Nevis seeks to ensure that the financial services jurisdiction is regulated and not used for money laundering.
“It’s our hope that agreement will root our new financial services sector, not within the realm of a tax haven, but one that is willing to exchange information with the Canadian government so that Canadian investors who wish to become part of the service sector will in fact pay the appropriate taxes according to the information that would have been exchanged,” he said.
St. Kitts & Nevis recently drafted legislation to provide for the mutual exchange of information on taxation matters with other jurisdictions. The bill marks a significant step following the islands’ pledge in 2005 to adhere to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) principles of transparency and tax information exchange.
The PM also added that two retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers are currently in St. Kitts conducting training for the police force’s middle management and looking over the training academy curriculum. He, however, made it clear that St. Kitts & Nevis does not intend to follow other Caribbean countries such as Jamaica and St. Lucia, which hired senior British officers.
“We do not plan to hire Canadian police officers because we are aware of the confused cultural impact that we have seen in some CARICOM countries,” he said. “We will use them to provide forensic training and develop a proper approach to succession planning. We are, however, hesitant to insert them in management ranks of our police force as law enforcement officers.”
Douglas said CARICOM is looking forward to the start of the CARICOM/Canada free trade negotiations.
Harper announced the launch of free trade negotiations between Canada and CARICOM while on a visit to Barbados in July 2007. He said the new economic partnership will be centred on a trade agreement that will take into account the particular circumstances of the region’s small islands.
“We are emphasizing that what we want more than ever before is a concentration on the development aspect of that agreement because there is very little that we have to trade with Canada today except services,” Douglas said.