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Timothy Harris government sets refreshing tone

Anyone who has closely followed politics in St Kitts and Nevis would hardly dispute that the twin-island federation is sharply divided along partisan lines, and happens to be one of the most politically polarized countries in the entire Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Timothy Harris

Timothy Harris

In St Kitts, supporters of the Labour Party and People’s Action Movement were constantly engaged in verbal warfare, often hurling the most vituperative abuse at each other via the radio airwaves or on the pages of each party’s published weekly newspaper.

So acrimonious were these battles, that they conveyed the impression each side had a pathological hatred of each other. It was no surprise, therefore, that when one party was in government, the other was deliberately shut out, and would complain of discrimination.

On the sister island of Nevis, the scenario was basically the same. Additionally, because Nevisian politicians have been always wary of their Kittitian counterparts, there was an uneasy relationship with St Kitts, characterized by occasional threats of secession by Nevis.

Based on reports coming out of St Kitts and Nevis these days, it seems, that the rancour and division of the past are giving way to unity and cooperation in the interest of national development. It is the result of a conciliatory approach which the new Team Unity administration, headed by Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris, has brought to politics and government.

Team Unity, a coalition of three opposition parties, emerged winner in an acrimonious general election on February 16 this year that saw the defeat of the three-term Labour government of former Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas, who initially refused to concede that he had lost.

The three parties, which adopted the slogan Better Together to emphasize their core value of unity, are PAM, the Nevisian-based Concerned Citizens Movement, and the People’s Labour Party formed by Dr Harris after he fell out with Dr Douglas and left the Labour Party.

An area where Team Unity has already shown it is different relates to the treatment of former parliamentarians who served in the defeated Labour Party government. Some have already received their gratuities and other legal entitlements.

In contrast, when Dr Douglas’ Labour government took office in 1995, the defeated Prime Minister Dr Sir Kennedy Simmonds had to wait more than two years before he received his. Dr Simmonds, who led the country into Independence, recalled the humiliation and hardship he endured as a result.

“While the support of friends and well-wishers was a welcome lifeline,
I should not have had to suffer this embarrassment and indignity of depending on that support, of having bank managers writing to me, of having to put my family home up for sale. It is clear that this was targeted malice against me.”

Constitutional reform, aimed at improving governance, with an emphasis on promoting integrity in public life and more transparency and accountability in government, is another important area where the Harris administration is already making a difference.

A bill recently introduced in the National Assembly seeks to limit an incumbent prime minister to serving no more than two five-year terms. Explaining the rationale, Attorney General Vincent Byron observed: “There is this strong feeling, not just in St Kitts and Nevis, but in other areas, where one leader has extended their term in office for too long, there has been a sense that the governance structure of a country is weakened.”

The Tenure Of Office Of The Prime Minister Bill, Freedom Of Information Bill, Integrity In Public Life Bill and Privacy And Personal Data Protection Bill constitute a suite of new legislation to improve governance in St Kitts and Nevis in line with global trends. Mr Byron said an objective was to ensure that the government should not only seek to be accountable to the people at election time, but at all times.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see the same happening in Barbados where our governance too is in need of modernization? The ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) made improved governance a central issue in the 2008 general election, which it won. Eight years on, Barbadians are still waiting to hear what has happened to the plan to introduce a Freedom Of Information Act, among other things.

How come the Team Unity government in St Kitts and Nevis can deliver on its promises in ten months while the Dems are still to do so after eight years? What is the cause of the delay? Barbadians, especially those who voted
for the DLP because of this stated commitment, have a right to know.

As we say “well done” to Team Unity for an encouraging start, we call on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, even though the call may fall on deaf ears, or Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite to give the country an update on the plan to improve governance. It is long overdue.

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