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St. Kitts-Nevis is celebrating its 31st anniversary of political independence from Britain on Friday with the usual pomp and ceremony and Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas urging constitutional reform at a quicker pace, while acknowledging the significant economic progress the twin-island Federation has achieved over the years.
“We have good reason to be joyful because our nation has grown from strength to strength since its birth in 1983…we are truly a nation on the move. We are truly justified in celebrating our progress as a people,” Dr. Douglas said in radio and television broadcast.
Dr. Douglas said that the rate of economic growth is higher than in all other Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) countries and among the highest in the entire Caribbean.
He said the twin-island Federation had recorded significant progress in various sectors from tourism to education, to health, housing and employment.
“In essence, our nation is on the move; and we are well poised to make a gigantic leap forward to the creation of a new society replete with opportunities for our people to realize their fullest potential and thereby achieve even the most demanding goals of personal and national development that they set themselves.”
But he said as the country experiences economic progress, it was also important to “build mechanisms to protect our accomplishments.
“Specifically, our Constitution has been in place for 31 years, and it is important that we pursue constitutional reform with even greater urgency. Our society is changing and it is therefore critical that the constitutional framework that governs the legislative and administrative process be updated to reflect changing realities.”
He said the existing relationship between St. Kitts and Nevis has been the focus of much of the public discussion on constitutional reform and this certainly needs to be addressed with a view to ensuring, among other things, that the government processes would continue to work smoothly and to deliver improvements in the standard of living of the entire population.
But he said even in the absence of constitutional reform it is critical that the key actors in government in both islands “put the interest of our people before political objectives.
“I stand ready to collaborate with any administration in Nevis to advance the welfare of the people of both of our islands in a fair and equitable manner, and I invite the administration in Nevis to enter into constructive dialogue and engagement with the Federal Government with a view to coordinating our development plans and securing a brighter future for our beautiful twin-island paradise.”
However, Prime Minister Douglas said there were several issues in relation to the Constitution that he believes are also critical to the continued progress of the country.
“Specifically, the constitutional provisions in relation to the ability of the Government to incur debt must be updated. Specifically, there needs to be even more concrete provisions in relation to debt limits and a clearly defined consultation process for exceeding those limits.
“Of course, we have consulted extensively on the issue of debt and fiscal management through the annual budget consultation exercise, but this is based on my Government’s strong commitment to public participation in economic decision-making. However, this should not be optional.”
Prime Minister Douglas said that the way debt is incurred beyond certain limits should be mandated by the Constitution.
“Our people have borne great sacrifices and have supported the government in its valiant and successful efforts to bring down our debt and put our country on a solid fiscal footing. We must protect that achievement through appropriate constitutional and legislative provisions.
“In any event, my government intends to develop in consultation with our people a mechanism for incurring debt and for fiscal management that would act as a sort of fiscal covenant between my Government and the people of St. Kitts and Nevis.”
Prime Minister Douglas said the Constitution should also include clear provisions to protect the population from being misled by politicians “who team up with a party to persuade the people of their commitment to the agenda of the party, knowing beforehand, that after the people have elected them on that basis, they would abandon the party and pursue another path”.
While he made no mention of any person in particular, it was obvious Dr. Douglas was referring to his former Cabinet colleagues – Dr. Timothy Harris and former deputy prime minister Sam Condor – who have formed their own political party and have joined with the opposition in filing a motion of no confidence in his administration.
“This is a serious threat to our democracy and to ensuring that the will of our people prevails in our society,” Dr. Douglas said, noting that if the process by which parliamentarians “cross the floor” is not made more responsive to the concerns of the electorate, then in a Parliament with only 11 elected members the likelihood of instability is very high.
“Of course the solution to this problem might be to increase the number of elected parliamentarians if this is the wish of the people, but this could result in significantly higher costs. On the other hand, in the context of the increasingly complex economy that is emerging in our society, a larger Parliament with a wider range of skills and experience would definitely add value to the parliamentary processes and would help to make the very important Public Accounts Committee more effective.”
Prime Minister Douglas said that the issue of term limits for parliamentarians need to be put before the people for their consideration on a non-partisan basis whereby each voter should be encouraged to vote based on his conscience and not along party lines.
“Hence, this should be an important element of any constitutional reform process. However, the political parties themselves could also initiate processes that limit the number of leaders permitted to serve a Party if that is the will of the members of the party.”
In his broadcast, Prime Minister Douglas, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in office, said he was confident that his ruling St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) would be victoruoous at the next poll.