Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 25th 2015 Contents Never say Caribbean governments
can t move fast. When vital
national issues are at stake, they
can jump with lightning speed. Let s take
a busy Friday afternoon in bustling Bas-
seterre, the tiny capital of St Kitts-Nevis.
The date: January 16, just over a week
First, some background. The Prime
Minister, Dr Denzil Douglas, has ruled
the country since 1995. He is the
longest-serving head of government in
the Americas. In 2012, he lost control of
Parliament. Two members of his Labour
Party crossed the floor. A new opposi-
tion coalition, Team Unity, now holds six
of the 11 parliamentary seats. Dr Douglas
clings to power. For more than two
years, the Speaker has blocked attempts
to debate a no-confidence motion. But
the last election was on January 25,
2010---five years ago today; a new poll
can no longer be postponed.
This will be a nasty, bitter fight. With
fewer than 50,000 people, St Kitts-Nevis
is the smallest country in the western
hemisphere. In small families, feuds run
deep and personal. So that s the context.
Now back to that busy Friday afternoon.
1.50: The Boundaries Commission
meets. On the agenda, new parliamen-
tary boundaries. The two Team Unity
members vote against the proposals; the
two Labour supporters vote in favour. So
does the chairman. Proposals passed.
3.45: The meeting ends.
4.10: Now the big surprise. One of the
opposition MPs is suddenly served notice
of an emergency meeting of the National
Assembly. Normally, there s a week s
warning. Today, it s just a few minutes.
Indeed, one MP does not get notice until
half an hour after the debate has started.
The Opposition Leader, Mark Brantley,
is out of the country. The big emer-
gency? It s the Boundaries Commission
proposals from a few minutes earlier.
There is no written report, and no maps.
But there s a high-speed debate, and a
vote. The Labour members are in favour;
Team Unity against. Proposals passed.
6.10: The attorney general takes the
boundary changes to the Governor Gen-
eral, Sir Edmund Lawrence.
6.20: The governor general signs the
proclamation. Then he dissolves Parlia-
ment. An official gazette apparently
materialises out of thin air. All seems to
be in place. Parliamentary boundaries
matter. In 2010, Labour won six of the
eight seats on St Kitts. With the pro-
posed new boundaries, the Opposition
believes that would have bee a clean
sweep. To block the changes, the Oppo-
sition also moved fast. Their lawyer--
Trinidadian Chris Hamel-Smith--rushed
an out-of-hours call to the court reg-
istry, who contacted the only High Court
judge in St Kitts.
She is Justice Marlene Carter, by
chance also a Trini. He argued that the
high-speed debate was a complete farce;
there was no real emergency.
At 7.38, the judge signed an injunction
placing the new parliamentary bound-
aries on hold, until the legal issues sur-
rounding the boundaries process could
be heard in court. Civil society also
Last Sunday, there came a joint state-
ment from the St Kitts-Nevis Chamber
of Industry and Commerce, the Christian
Council, the Evangelical Forum and the
Small Business Association. They wrote
of their "utter disgust" at the "abuse of
the National Assembly." There was "an
orchestrated plan to frustrate the rights
of the Opposition." The "elections should
not be treated like a game to be won in
any way and at all costs."
Dr Douglas said he would "choose to
ignore" the civil society statement
because it did not come on paper with a
nice little letterhead and handwritten
signatures. No, I m not making that bit
up.So what s next? More work for the
lawyers. Last Monday, a former British
attorney general, Peter Goldsmith
appeared in court for the government.
He argued that the injunction could not
hold. By the time it was issued on the
Friday, the new boundaries were already
proclaimed, gazetted, and in effect.
Another Trini lawyer, Douglas Mendes,
argued for the Opposition that they were
not; he said the official gazette was not
available, even after the weekend.
On Thursday, Justice Carter said she
would rule on that point tomorrow or on
Tuesday, and then go on to the Opposi-
tion s main points about the parliamen-
tary process--or the lack of process.
And the election? From this distance,
it s hard to call. Issues pull both ways.
Last year, St Kitts-Nevis had a higher
murder rate than Jamaica. The economy
is fairly prosperous, based in part on the
sale of passports to foreigners---an activi-
ty which prompted a stiff US warning
last May over Iranian money launderers,
and imposition of a visa requirement by
Canada in November.
St Kitts-Nevis has seen trouble before.
There were mini-riots with 18 injured in
1993, when the People s Action Move-
ment (now part of Team Unity) refused
to step down after an indecisive election.
The Government declared a state of
emergency and imposed a curfew. Troops
from the Regional Security System were
flown in; and fresh elections two years
later ushered in the Douglas era.
General elections are scheduled for
seven Caricom countries this year, with
local elections in two more. A year to
hear the peoples voice?
Maybe not. We re off to an atrocious
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt January 25, 2015
What would happen if the
Prime Minister came on
national television and
announced the following?
"Citizens of our beloved
islands, it is with a heavy heart
that I announce that this year,
Carnival is cancelled. Now, my
countrymen, before you leap up
in rage and anarchy, burning
tyres, attacking institutions,
knocking down government min-
isters---before you turn us into
the most murderous country in
the world instead of number ten,
hear me out.
"I have had enough of partisan
sycophants and Machiavellian
power-hungry men advising me
what to do. I decided to take
charge. I began looking towards
the finest minds, the Nobel Lau-
reates of our islands for inspira-
"Sir Vidia Naipaul was harsh.
He said I can t see a Monkey---
you can use a capital M, that s
an affectionate word for the gen-
erality---reading my work...These
people live purely physical lives,
which I find contemptible...It
makes them only interesting to
chaps in universities who want to
do compassionate studies about
"He dismissed us, was nasty
about our ignorance, lack of
curiosity, lack of reading. So I
went to Walcott, whose Omeros
is a paean to our islands. He
loves us, but once asked God to
save him from a society whose
centre begins from the waist
"I looked to the intrepid, patri-
otic journalist Raoul Pantin, who
died this month ruined by the
brutality of the attempted coup.
He described our green islands as
an intellectual desert.
"He said the majority of us,
like sheep, gravitate to the dross;
we cater to the lowest common
denominator. He said the the
vast majority of the laid-back,
fun-loving, party-going, creative,
people of T&T have little or no
idea what 1990 did. It unleashed
lawlessness like licks, like fire.
"Why, you might ask, am I
denying you this right? I am
aware that for many of you Car-
nival is not just a party but also
a psychological release to the
everyday horror of our lives. We
are a society grieving for the
dead and brutalised. Last year,
403 people were murdered.
Another 140 road deaths. Dozens
of women were raped.
"Many of you were robbed of
cars, phones, homes, had guns
held to your heads, were
chopped. Thousands grieve, suf-
fer from post traumatic stress
disorder. I know many wake up
at 4 am, cook, make lunch for
your children, and try to beat the
"I know life is frustrating.
Some work hard to do as little as
possible. Others lording it over
juniors. We bring down people
who show us up. I know many
of you are waiting for court cases
to be called. Many of you are
ill---we are among the most obese
in the world, beset with hyper-
tension, heart disease, diabetes
and cancer. We have overcrowded
hospitals and unreported cases of
malpractice. I want this dealt
"I will deal with the environ-
ment. Our dumps are toxic. The
bottle bill hasn t been passed. It s
a health hazard to our citizens.
The Central Statistical Office
needs work. We can t target risk
areas if we don t know what they
are. I know we slipped in the
transparency index. I will redou-
ble our efforts to tackle corrup-
"I know our police force needs
cleaning up. Maybe now that
Jack Warner has left, I will bring
Gibbs back. He was an efficient
man who needed support.
"I know many of you walk
around unable to read, write, or
express yourselves. I don t like
the numbers I get from Alta
(Adult Literacy Tutors Associa-
tion) which says that over
400,000 of us are functionally
illiterate but it s a problem at
every level: service, crime, pro-
ductivity, health. I reassured you
recently about the falling oil price
but I want us all to be equipped
to deal with it.
"As a result, I have decided to
do the following:
• Start a school for adult and
• Give Walcott back the old
fire station as a theatre so we
deepen our identity through
• I will start an advanced
teachers training college and pay
teachers the same as doctors. We
need teachers and social workers
to ensure each child goes to
school and not more guns to
• I will slash make-work pro-
grammes, another underworld
• I will support families whose
children do well in school, where
parents are productive and
responsible. I will work towards
an industrious society
• I will start a massive public
awareness programme that cre-
ates pride in a fantastic work
• I will create a massive cadre
of social workers to ensure that
every one of our children is taken
off the street and sent to school
or to train for a skill. I will sys-
tematically work with experts to
clean up our institutions
• I m not denying you your
democratic right to party, but
you need to work on Carnival
Monday and Tuesday as usual
• I will enforce the law on
speeding, and with breathalysers
• The State will not fund fetes,
costumes or chutney or soca
competitions. I will open a
school to teach music literacy
alongside functional literacy. This
will promote excellence. Our
panmen will compose music that
equals the excellence of all classi-
cal music worldwide. The pan
will be integrated into orchestras
in the Royal Albert Hall, in Vien-
na, in St Lucia, in New York.
That comes with study, not rote
• We will open a school and
museum of the mass led by our
visionary masman, Peter Minshall
• We will tackle every issue
"I ask you to join me to sacri-
fice now to be part of a brave,
safe, civilised new world in the
future. Will you?"
ST KITTS-NEVIS: BEYOND A BOUNDARY
WORKING TOWARDS A BRAVE, SAFE, CIVILISED SOCIETY
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