By Arley Gill
Congratulations are in order for Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris of St Kitts and Nevis and to his partners in his Unity government.
Dr Harris must be recognized, regionally and internationally, for his selfless and tireless struggle in the defence of democracy and good governance in the English-speaking Caribbean; from the time of his fall out with Denzil Douglas, when he was a member of Douglas’s government, to his sojourn in the opposition ranks.
Dr Harris was resolute and stood tall in the face of a man who spared no opportunity to use, misuse and abuse political office to maintain political power. The victory at the polls must have had a bitter-sweet taste in the mouth of Dr Harris, now that he assumed the office of Prime Minister.
Several articles have being written on this subject of St Kitts and Nevis politics and the shenanigans of former Prime Minister Douglas. As such, I do not want to bore readers with rehashing on the subject. However, you will have to excuse me a bit because what we witnessed in St Kitts over the last couple of years must not be allowed to repeat itself in this part of the world.
Denzil Douglas’s behaviour, as Prime Minister, was an embarrassment to us as Caricom citizens. We witnessed his attitude ranging from blatantly refusing and frustrating the debate of a no-confidence motion tabled about two years ago; to attempting to change the constituency boundaries at the last hour; to the chaos at the polling station on election day February 16; and the unacceptable delay in counting the ballots and declaring the winner. All of this, unfortunately for St Kitts and Nevis, confirmed to the world that they are a third world country.
It is my respectful view, that third world is not about our economic conditions; but, more so, our attitude to governance and the rule of law. We are poor nations, no doubt; but we are politically stable and peaceful.
It was reassuring to hear Prime Ministers Mitchell of Grenada, Gonsalves of St Vincent and Persad–Bissessar of Trinidad speaking out early on the issue of the unfolding election day drama in St Kitts. I am sure other Prime Ministers also would have voiced their concern.
However, going forward, Caricom must look at ways in which they can put pressure on sitting Prime Ministers who behave in the way Douglas did. I know it is the mantra not to get involved in domestic politics. I will say that the politics of any regional country is a domestic issue for Caricom. It is my humble opinion that other Prime Ministers should have refused sitting at the same table with Denzil Douglas — a long time ago; he should not have been given that privilege to sit with democratically elected leaders, while he frustrates the democratic process in his own country. A few years ago, I got into trouble for demanding of Tillman Thomas — the Prime Minister of Grenada then — to “Open up the Parliament’’. I was still a member of his NDC-led party. You see, Mr Thomas always said he is committed to defending democratic institutions. But, when the time came for him to stand and be counted he failed miserably.
What Mr Thomas was avoiding was a no-confidence motion. And, while constitutionally he could have governed for a period of time without opening the parliament, it is an affront to the democratic principles he swore to defend and to the citizenry of the country. I am of the considered view that this single act has caused irreparable harm to the political legacy of Mr Thomas.
The situation in Guyana is also unacceptable. Local government elections, which should have been held sometime ago, were repeatedly delayed. It is morally inexcusable to hold on to power when you clearly do not have a majority and, as such, a mandate from the people to govern. Let the people make their decision on the due and scheduled date for elections.
I maintain that some of our leaders behave as if to say: ‘If the British did not write that a thing is wrong in the constitution they gave us along with our independence, then it is okay to do that thing’. The irony is the British believe that they are so mature and civilized, that they refuse to even write a constitution for themselves.
I remember reading a book about Rudy Giuliani, the former New York Mayor, (he is in the news these days for saying US President Obama does not love the United States) and he made the point that in fighting crime in New York in those lawless days, part of the strategy was to punish the smallest crime so that you send a message; and that small-time offenders are discouraged from becoming big-time offenders. That stuck with me. Denzil began with just the refusal of the no-confidence motion. He believed he got away with it, so he could have done bigger things.
I read Sir Ronald Sanders’ piece on this subject and, as usual, he dispenses so much wisdom. I cannot disagree with anything he said. I will just add, though, that our leaders have to show more maturity and responsibility at all levels. Regardless of whatever reform comes into being — if ever — it will be human beings to ‘man’ the system. It’s what Sir Ronald referred to as, “fearless independence’’, and it is probably more important than “structural independence’’. This, to me, is arguably the most important quality of our leaders at all levels.
For instance, Prime Minister Gonsalves has come out publicly and demanded that the president of the West Indies Cricket Board should not be returned as president in the upcoming elections of the Board on March 7. Now, he is a member of the Caricom Prime Ministerial Sub-committee on Cricket. If it is that Mr Dave Cameron is returned as president, one will expect that Prime Minister Gonsalves should step down from that committee since he clearly indicated that he has no confidence in Mr Cameron. Maturity and honour demands that.
It is that mature, responsible and selfless leadership that we, as a people in the Caribbean, must demand. To put country first must be more than words, it must be action.