National Address By PM Douglas On Dissolving The National Assembly

PM Douglas - St. Kitts - Nevis

PM Douglas – St. Kitts – Nevis
Photo By Erasmus Williams

The Honorable Dr. Denzil l. Douglas

Prime Minister, St. Kitts & Nevis

National Address

upon The Dissolution of Parliament

December 15, 2009

Fellow citizens:

In preparation for national elections in 2004, and in keeping with the highest standards of openness and transparency, my Government invited the Organization of American States, the Commonwealth, and Caricom to send elections observers to witness, to monitor, and to assess the circumstances under which our elections were being held, and the processes via which the people of St. Kitts & Nevis were selecting those they wished to govern our Federation for the then-upcoming term.

Caricom, the Commonwealth, and the Organization of American states all concluded that our 2004 elections had been free and fair, and free from fear. Nonetheless, perhaps in an attempt to introduce an air of tumult and mayhem, before the new Labour Government could even get the chance to focus on the national programs and priorities that we had identified as key to moving the country forward, we were taken to Court by the People’s Action Movement – PAM. The PAM claimed that there had been wrongdoing in the conduct of the 2004 elections ““ despite the findings of three independent and credible election observer missions’ to the contrary. It is, of course, the right of any organization or any individual to take any other person or organization to court. However, these charges of wrong-doing, delivered with such bravado by the PAM, turned out to be utterly baseless. As a result, every single one of the PAM’s charges against the Labour Party and the Labour candidates elected by the people of this country was struck down by the Court. As a result, the Members of Parliament whom PAM failed to defeat at the ballot box, and whom they therefore attempted to defeat via the Courts, were able to continue, uninterrupted, with the work that their respective constituencies had elected them to do.

At the beginning of my Government’s current term in office, based on our own observations, based on the recommendations of the Commonwealth Observer Mission, and based on the findings of the Commonwealth Assessment Team, it became clear that a major priority of our then-new administration, would have to be electoral reform. We deemed it both responsible and wise, therefore, to solicit the views of nationals both at home and abroad regarding the way forward on this important issue. Indeed, in the spirit of inclusion and openness, we invited the PAM to be part of this important exercise. From day one, for reasons that have baffled many, the PAM refused.

Based on the recommendations of the Commonwealth Assessment Team, based on consultations with nationals at home and abroad, and based on our understanding of the essentials of democracy, we deemed it essential that we do everything in our power to put policies and procedures in place that would (i) block any future attempts at electoral fraud, and (ii) inject a greater element of justice and equity into the system, as far as the size of our respective electoral constituencies are concerned. Our specific mission, in pursuit of this objective, then was to: [i] create a clean voters’ register, [ii] provide a national ID that will also be used to identify voters on election day, and [iii] change constituency boundaries, based on the recommendations of the Constitutionally-appointed Constituency Boundaries Commission, in order to bring about greater equity in the size of the Federation’s constituencies.

I am pleased to report that my Government was successful in achieving the first two of these three important objectives. You are aware, however, of the obstacles that the PAM has been attempting to place in our path in this regard, in order to create a general air of tumult and mayhem, and in order to once again use maneuvers in the courts, to distract from their failures at the ballot box.

There is no denying the injustice inherent in one electoral constituency in our Federation having over 6,000 inhabitants while another has some 2500. What this means is that all inhabitants in the less populous constituency have far greater power in the National Assembly, as represented by their Representative, than do the inhabitants of the larger constituency, as represented by theirs. Also, it is patently unjust to have one representative carry the myriad responsibilities associated with a constituency of 6,000 inhabitants while another representative is required to address the needs and aspirations of a populace half that size. These are the inequities that my Government felt honor-bound to address, and these are the inequities that we had committed to the nation and to the International Community to correct.

Fellow Citizens ““ my Government’s efforts in this process of reform are well documented. Page 20 of the Throne Speech delivered by The Governor General, His Excellency, Dr. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian on December 16, 2004 makes clear the importance of “boundaries revision” to our Federation; The 2005 Report of the Commonwealth Assessment Team corroborates the necessity of boundary changes; and The St. Kitts-Nevis Electoral Reform White Paper outlines the Government’s intention and vision to “review the electoral boundaries to reflect as near as possible equality in the number of inhabitants in each constituency.”

This is what my Government has tried its best to do. We can, however, wait no longer. As we speak, our sincere attempts to create more equitable constituencies remain before the Courts, compliments of the PAM. And so, we approach new elections just as we emerged from the last one – with the PAM attempting to frustrate the people’s business and frustrate confusion via the courts, and the Government attending to the people’s business. My Government, fellow citizens, must now choose between the dictates of the clock, and the very important task of creating constituency equity.

In light of the foregoing, I have today, in accordance with Section 47, Subsection 4 of The Constitution of St. Christopher & Nevis, advised His Exellency the Governor General, Dr. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian, to dissolve the Parliament of St. Christopher & Nevis with immediate effect, in order that we may prepare the way for the general elections that we have all been so eager to hold. And on that note, let me put in context yet another charge being promoted by the PAM ““ namely, that my Government is reluctant to hold elections based on the current boundaries. The people of St. Kitts & Nevis have delivered massive victories to the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party based on these boundaries. In addition, the dramatic transformations in the physical, economic, social, and political infrastructure of our nation by Labour have impressed upon the voters of St. Kitts & Nevis the competence, the effectiveness, and the social and economic progress that successive Labour administrations have delivered. So, no. My Government had no reluctance, and has no reluctance, in going to the polls on the existing boundaries. There was an inequity to be fixed, we had determined that we would do all in our power to fix it in the best interest of our nation, and THAT is what we were committed to do.

I have been informed only this week that the Commonwealth, Caricom, and OAS have again accepted my invitation to observe our national elections. It is my fervent hope that when the Commonwealth Expert Team comes in to observe the elections, there will be no “blame game” on the part of PAM.

Fellow citizens, my Government has worked very hard to be worthy of the trust and confidence placed in us by you – the electorate. We have, in many ways, done the impossible on behalf of the people of St. Kitts & Nevis. At a time of real and frightening global economic turmoil, we have kept this tiny country, little more than a dot on the world map, but a place that you and I know to be rich with history, with character, and with potential, not only afloat, but thriving. At a time when superpowers are floundering economically, St. Kitts & Nevis is reporting surpluses. At a time when many countries, states, and municipalities are having a hard time meeting basic payroll, sound economic management on the part of this Government is making it possible for us, not merely to provide our public employees with their salary, but to provide them with additional financial resources. The physical infrastructure in this country is second to none. Just look at our roads and our highways”¦..our schools and our health centers”¦”¦our hospitals and our sporting facilities”¦”¦our airport and our seaports”¦”¦the thousands of modern, attractive homes that thousands of our nationals can now point to as their own. Thousands of formerly landless persons are now proud landowners. Fellow, citizens, your Labour government has delivered. We have met the task at hand. Indeed we have gone the extra mile ““ because we believe and we know that that is what we, the people of St. Kitts & Nevis, deserve.

Fellow citizens: When it became apparent that this tiny nation of ours would come crashing down if we remained in sugar”¦”¦when it became apparent that the doors to our traditional export markets were being slammed shut, and would remain open only if we sold our sugar at a price that would bankrupt us as a nation, your Government did not panic. Your Government did not despair. There is an old say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” And that is what we did in order to save this precious country of ours from humiliation”¦.from social and economic chaos”¦”¦from the desperation that is the lot of so many small nations around the world. Your Government moved without delay to put in place the best financial minds, the clearest economic and financial analysis, the most thorough and in-depth processes of cost/benefit analyses, in our determination to come out of this crisis not only standing ““ but standing tall. And today, almost half a decade later, not only did our country not collapse as a result of the removal of the traditional cornerstone of our economy, but unemployment has fallen since that time from 16% to 6% – – — – Six percent! At a time when major world powers are hovering near double digit unemployment levels.

The members of my cabinet did indeed roll up our sleeves and go to work in defense of defense of this nation. And today the range and variety of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in St. Kitts Nevis are vaster and more varied than at any time in our history. Single handedly, the Labour Government transformed a traditional sugar mono-culture economy into a far more diversified ““ and therefore far more resilient, economy based on non-sugar agriculture, light manufacturing, air-based tourism, cruise-based tourism, financial services, and information technology. Our manufacturing sector’s exports to the United States outpace those of our OECS partners. The minimum wage in St. Kitts-Nevis is higher than any in the OECS – and is one of the highest in CARICOM. Spending in St. Kitts-Nevis by cruise ship passengers is greater than that in any other island state in the region. At a time when major investment projects are, understandably, closing down both throughout the region and around the world, investment projects in St. Kitts & Nevis ““ Oceans Edge, Silver Reef, Christophe Harbour, Beaumont Park, and so on, continue moving forward, providing income, increasing spending power, and injecting capital into our economy. We have committed ourselves, not only to providing income-generating opportunities for our people, but we have also ensured that the basket of goods that make up their daily expenditures are affordable. And we have done this by successfully controlling the cost of some 40 food and non-food essential items. The agricultural sector has expanded dramatically, with production increasing some 600% between 2001 and 2008. The nation’s farmers, once on the periphery of our economy, are now serious business men and women, supplying both the local market and large hotels, and generating considerable income in the process. Taxi drivers and others associated with the tourism industry continue to profit from 500,000 cruise ship passengers arriving here annually. Government policies and programs have resulted in extreme poverty plummeting from 11% in 2001 to 1.4% in 2008. In an innovative approach to crime-fighting, we have provided second-chance job-skills training to some 1,000 young people. We have established a skills-expansion secondary high school that will enable nationals of this Federation to reap the considerable income-generating opportunities associated with our new and transformed economy.

Fellow citizens, my Government understands the importance of a multi-sectoral approach to crime fighting, and has aggressively promoted the formation of strategic anti-crime alliances throughout the Federation, the region and the world, while investing heavily in training, equipment and infrastructure upgrades. We are pleased to report that we have been successful in reducing crime in all categories except gang violence, and on this front remain relentless in our efforts to bend the trajectory downwards as well.

Fellow citizens: Every cabinet that I have had the honour to lead has committed itself to doing the hard work that was necessary in order for us to, in clear and quantifiable terms, change St. Kitts & Nevis for the better. We have made considerable and impressive strides and, as a result, St. Kitts-Nevis ranks as a vibrant, well-managed, stable and self-reliant economy and society ““ not only compared to the region, but indeed relative to the rest of the world. These accomplishments were not the result merely of effort. These accomplishments were not merely the result of dedication to country or concern for the future of our fellow nationals. Instead, these accomplishments were the result of all of these factors PLUS the existence, in this Labour Government, of a unique and highly effective combination of skills-sets, determination, experience and character. They have resulted for the combination of special traits possessed by the team of ministers, specialists, advisers, and technocrats that this Government has put together”¦ the team that can, and has, delivered.

In the weeks ahead, by the power vested in me, I shall announce the date on which we will all go to the polls to decide in whose hands we shall place the future of St. Kitts & Nevis. I believe that the journey that we have travelled together, thus far, makes a convincing case that St. Kitts-Nevis is now in competent and visionary hands; and this, we know, is exactly what is needed in these rather trying and challenging times.

I thank you for having given to me and my cabinet colleagues the opportunity to serve. We have accomplished a great deal, but our work is not yet done. I ask that over the holidays, as you reflect on all that is important to you and your family, you give serious thought to where we, as a nation, have come from; and I urge that you give serious thought to where you would like us to go. It is my hope that upon sober reflection, you will respond favorably to my request that for the next electoral term in our nation’s journey, you will continue to repose your trust and confidence in the competence and care of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party.

Thank you, and may God continue to bless this nation of ours!

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