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Address by Honourable Shawn Richards, Political Leader of the People’s Action Movement, PAM, On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the party Delivered on 15th January, 2015

During those five decades, the People’s Action Movement experienced its fair share of accomplishments and adversities. Through each era, however, we have always weathered our political storms with courage, just as we have tempered our successes in humility.

Despite the many challenges that our party and its leaders have had to face, we have been fortified in an abiding faith. Ours has been a devotion that the cause for which we toil is planted in the humanitarian belief that we must fight to create a better life for the poor and we must struggle for the deliverance of their greater prosperity.

PAM has had an outstanding record in opposition and a record of excellence in government.

Our Golden Jubilee has been for the better of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis, and indeed Anguilla. Between 1965 and 1980 we defended the people’s cause in opposition and when we were given the opportunity to govern for 15 years, we championed the aspirations of the dispossessed, the single mothers and low income workers, by creating a social and economic transformation. This transformation has been life changing for many who were once humbled by their poverty.

Our history has been one that makes us proud. It has been a history that resisted the tough punches of intimidation, victimization, persecution and unlawful prosecution.

As we reflect on those golden years, we are comforted that it has all been for the good of the people…all the people, not just a few.

Today as we launch a year-long series of anniversary activities, we do so knowing we have put country above self. We do so feeling satisfied that we brought this country from almost economic malaise to become, during our time in office, the nation with the highest economic growth rate in all of Latin America and the Caribbean, between 1980 and 1995.

As we celebrate this Golden Jubilee today and the months ahead in 2015, we appreciate that we can only bask in the glory of the good times, after we look back on the early years and the struggles we had to endure.

In this broadcast therefore, I hope to sensitize you about our origins and to recount the circumstances that led to our formation. I have elected to take this approach, because given the passage of time I believe it is important to educate our people about our history.

Yes, I shall also speak about the progress we brought while in government and recognizing that an election is only weeks away, I shall also provide a quick glimpse of the bright future that awaits us as the People’s Action Movement moves forward in unity.

 

The Early Years of Formation

The People’s Action Movement was established because of the unfair economic policies that the Labour government of the day was exacting on the people of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, which at the time was still a colonial territory.

In the early 1960s, the political conditions were harsh and there was an administration that was insensitive, especially to the ambitions of the people of the sister islands of Nevis and Anguilla. They were treated like second class citizens.

Both islands had been agitating for improved social and economic conditions. They also cried out for far more political autonomy, but the Labour government steadfastly refused to budge.

It preferred to rule from the central offices of power in Basseterre, rather than devolving some responsibility to local councils in Charlestown and The Valley.

At the time of the formation of PAM, the men and women who would emerge as leaders were hurt by the decision of the government to impose even more electricity taxes on the people, even though they were facing hardships with low wages, poor housing, lack of piped water and poor sanitary conditions.

The cry of the people was, “We Shall Overcome”. This was the message of hurt from the people in Anguilla, Nevis and here at home in St. Kitts.

What they wanted to overcome was the squalor of poverty and social injustice that pervaded their communities.

For instance, in Anguilla, there was hardly a paved public road and electricity was limited to only a very few. Over in Nevis, there was hardly a family with running water in their homes. There was no doctor living on island for most parts. Life was hard and the government appeared unconcerned.

And here in St. Kitts when the poor people thought life could not get any worse, the government decided to charge them more for electricity, sparking what has become known as the Electricity March in Basseterre.

 

The Electricity March

An article that appeared in the Democrat newspaper of 19th December, 1964 stated that  a “Demonstration to protest against the high cost of electricity which government intends to impose is due to take place tomorrow afternoon in Basseterre.” The people were objecting to this dramatic increase in the price of electricity to the small consumer.

What the government had done on November 20th 1964 was to introduce a new charge for floor space. In other words, they were no longer going to charge only based on how much electricity you consumed, but rather the size of your house. This meant that the charges would be significantly increased on the ordinary poor working class people.

It is said that over 3,000 persons took part in the demonstration that began at Warner Park, starting at 3:00pm ending at Government House and the Chief Minister’s residence.

The march was organized by a special committee led by Dr. William Valentine (Billy) Herbert and Mr. Courtney Dickenson. But the historic march itself saw additional young leaders, like Dr. Kennedy Simmonds, Michael Powell and Richard Caines carrying placards along the route.

Reports said there were young women carrying tins of kerosene, young men carrying lighted lamps and hundreds of placards being carried by school children, businessmen and women, agricultural workers, factory workers and clerks. They were also joined by people from Nevis, and from districts in the town and countryside of St. Kitts.  One placard read, “No more oppression” while another asked the question “Must we have darkness instead of light?” As one writer said while reflecting on the demonstration, the light was not far away.

With the pressure placed on the Chief Minister and his colleagues, by Herbert, Caines, Dickenson, Pereira, Powell, Simmonds and other leaders, the Labour Government eventually backed down and abandoned its plans to charge the floor-space electricity tax on the poor people. The thousands of marchers shocked and frightened the Bradshaw Government.

It is clear therefore that while PAM has always been fighting on behalf of the people to reduce electricity rates, Labour has always been trying to pile more electricity taxes on them…just as they are doing today in modern times.

It was this march and the reasons that led to it, that finally ignited the desire to form the People’s Action Movement.

That protest rally was addressed by Dr. Herbert, Michael Powell, Richard Caines and Colin Pereira. They, along with others, like Dr. Simmonds, would eventually become the founding members of the People’s Action Movement.

The PAM electricity march on 19th December, 1964 registered the first victory against the Robert Bradshaw administration. It was also PAM’s first triumph on behalf of the working class people of this country.

With that success, the people agitated and demanded that the leaders of the march take further action to go the ultimate mile to establish a new political party to continue the fight against the incumbent Labour Government, so that a better life could be enjoyed by all citizens.

 

The Establishment of PAM

As a people that have always been about the good that we could do and an organization that puts people first, it was only natural therefore that the decision was taken to form the party. So, 27 days after the march, on Friday 15th January, 1965 birth was given to this great political organization, the People’s Action Movement, PAM.

On this historic day, we, the People’s Action Movement decided to “Clasp Hands and Strive for Progress”. This also became the motto to which we remain committed today.

On Tuesday 19th January, 1965, the founders went one step further to formalize the new organization and on that day, they officially wrote to the Administrator and the Chief Minister, informing them that a new political movement had been formed in the territory.

Under the signature of Dr. Herbert and Dr. Simmonds, the new group made clear that it was their desire and intention to oppose the present government, where necessary, with respect to its attitude and approach to the numerous unsolved problems of the territory.

By Sunday 31st January, 1965 PAM held its first public meeting which had to be hosted at then Pall Mall Square, now Independence Square. The government refused to grant permission for the new party to meet at Warner Park, which was the same venue where Bradshaw’s Labour party held many of its own meetings.

What this shows is that on its very first journey as an official party, PAM also got its first bout of victimization. But as they say, every bad deed by those intending to harm you, delivers a blessing. Over 6,000 people turned out to hear the PAM speakers in what was the first ever public meeting of a political nature, taking place in Pall Mall Square.

Dr. Herbert who opened that meeting told the massive crowd that “…my job this evening and the job of the committee, is not merely to find fault with Government, our job here this evening is to show you what could be a progressive and modern method of thinking in Government.”

This was the beginning of what would eventually become of the most progressive political organizations in St. Kitts and Nevis and the Caribbean.

The first Steering Committee elected to launch the party comprised of 11 persons, namely;

Dr. William V Herbert – Chairman

Dr. Kennedy Simmonds- Secretary

Mr. Colin Pereira- Assistant Secretary

Mr. Michael Powell-Treasurer

Mr. Richard Caines-Member

Mr. Cecil “Moonlight” Roberts-Member

Mr. Joseph Sutton-Member

Mr. Victor Maynard-Member

Mr. Richard Shelford-Member

Mr. Shefton Warner-Member

Mr. Courtney Dickenson-Member.

 

It is important to note that even at this early stage, PAM had a blueprint for the social, political and economic advancement of the country. This was ably articulated in the policy statement read out by Chairman William Herbert.

The first aim outline in the document read as follows: “We aim at (the) Unity of the entire population of St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla and the integration of all classes.”

From its very birth, PAM has been about UNITY and the togetherness of all the people.

We also spoke then to the objects of the “Elimination of unemployment and under employment; the establishment of a higher standard of living, adequate housing, workmen’s compensation, old age pensions and benefits. These were not in existence in 1965. It was PAM who first pledged to have them introduced and eventually did.

Our party then also pledged the encouragement of foreign capital investment and local capital; as well as committing the avoidance of the wasteful spending of public funds.

The party was now ready to prepare for other burning political issues of the day, including the General Elections of 1966.

 

The Need for Water in Nevis

But even before those elections one of the very first major humanitarian undertakings of the new PAM party was to take water to the people of Nevis. Yes, water.

As other PAM leaders have recounted, and as we have written in the past, the water situation in Nevis had been deplorable for many years. The Labour Administration of the day continued their neglect of the island and left water pumps in disrepair.

There was no water at all in many parts of the island and in some areas it was only available for one or two hours each day. Given the huge water problem in Nevis in 1965, the people there began to demonstrate and agitate and eventually they closed down a number of government offices in civil protest. Patients at the Alexandra Hospital had to be sent home because the lone doctor there had no water work with. But yet, the government did nothing.

However, it was PAM that stepped in and on 22nd May, 1965 the leaders of our party loaded over 2,100 gallons of water and transported it across to Nevis, where it was distributed at Government Road, Bath Village and Brown Hill.

To us today, this may seem like a trivial matter, but back in 1965, it was a life and death situation for the people of Nevis. So just as PAM stepped in on behalf of the people in St. Kitts on the matter of electricity, over in Nevis the new party intervened to help Nevisians with their water problem.

As we have said before, PAM has always been the party that seeks to lift the poor people into a better life of existence and out of the bowels of poverty. While others have tried to keep them poor, PAM has, from its very beginnings, worked to make their life better.

 

The 1966 Elections

After these early episodes, the next major challenge was the 1966 elections. The performance of PAM in those elections was outstanding for a party formed less than a year before the polls.

Our first manifesto was titled, It is time for change”. Given the massive poverty at the time and the social problems, the focus and title of the manifesto was indeed appropriate.

Recognizing that the people were turning against them the government came up with a scheme called INDELCO, promising that some 96 million dollars were to be spent by an overseas investor to develop Frigate Bay as a new town. Some 49 years after, the people of St. Kitts are still waiting for Labour to deliver on its promise of the INDELCO 96 million dollars development. At one point the government even tried to fool the people, telling them that someone was bringing the 96 million dollars on a plane to St. Kitts.

But just like the promises of Stevia, White Gate, La Vallee, Hyatt Hotel, Auberge Hotel, and so many other empty promises of Labour today, that 96 million dollar project never materialized.

Compare those empty promises of the 1966 elections with the commitments made by PAM and you will see for yourselves which party delivers on its promises.

It was in 1966 we promised that if we won we will do the following:

  • Increase the wages of domestic servants and non-establishment workers
  • Reduce the voting age from 21 to 18
  • Tax relief for parents supporting what was called an illegitimate child
  • The right for so called illegitimate children to use the surname of a consenting father
  • Autonomy for Nevis and Anguilla
  • The Old Age Pension Scheme and

The elections were held on 25th July, 1966 with 24 candidates contesting the ten seats. PAM fielded 9 candidates, Labour 7 the United National Movement 2, and there were six Independents.

Our first slate of candidates were Dr. Kennedy Simmonds against William Glasford in East Basseterre, Joseph Pole in West Basseterre against Joseph N France, Dr. William Herbert against Paul Southwell in East Sandy Point, Richard Caines versus F.T Williams in West Sandy Point, Clair Tweed up against Icen Wharton in Saddlers, Tabernacle, Michael Powell against Fitzroy Bryant in Cayon.

In Nevis Our Candidate was Ivor Stevens against Eugene Walwyn of the UNM and Fredrick Parris against James Brooks of UNM and Ernest Warner, an independent.

Down in Anguilla, PAM had Peter Adams against three Independents, namely Christopher Romney, David S Lloyd and Kenneth S Hazel. Herbert Hughes, who is now the Chief Minister of Anguilla, was supposed to run for the Labour Party in Anguilla but he withdrew before being nominated when Anguillians criticized him for siding with Bradshaw.

At the end of this first poll involving PAM, we won two seats with Adams in Anguilla and Parris in Nevis.

But more importantly, as a new party only formed months ago, PAM secured almost 5,000 votes…getting some 4,936 votes.  Labour got 6,249 and UNM 1,323. With this outstanding performance by PAM, two things were clear. One, that PAM had significant support and was here to stay. Two-that there were many people who were not for Labour and their policies of hurt.

 

The First Convention

After the elections PAM continued its work to strengthen its organization and the first General Convention of the party was convened on Sunday 29th January, 1967.

Those elected to the first official executive were

Dr. William V Herbert-President

Dr. Kennedy Simmonds-Vice President

Mr. Richard Caines-Secretary

Mr. Colin Pereira-Assistant Secretary

Mr. Michael Powell- Treasurer

Mr. Bysie Laplace-Assistant Treasurer

 

Other Executive Members in St. Kitts were- Ralph Gumbs, Cecil Roberts, Vincent Sadio, Percy Liburd, St. Clair Dias, Shefton Warner, and Hubert Proctor.

From Nevis, were Fred Parris and Ivor Stevens, while from Anguilla it was Peter Adams and one other person who was to be determined at a later time.

By the time the next general Elections came in 1971, PAM was even stronger as was illustrated in that historic and massive “brush if you brushing” march and demonstration throughout Basseterre.

The meetings of the party were attracting large crowds, even in the Labour strongholds and Labour was beginning to run scared as the people echoed the call, “It is time for change”. But the high point came on Saturday 6 May, 1971 when the PAM Executive called on the people to “sweep out” Labour. They responded in thousands. Young, old, men women and especially children came in their numbers carrying brooms. Those who could not find brooms used coconut branches. They swept the streets moving from PAM headquarters. They travelled throughout Central and East Basseterre, singing the song, “Brush if you brushing.”

Labour responded with all types of election gimmicks and tricks. They got the army to control the ballot boxes as they were transported and on Election Day, 8th May, 1971, the presence of the army was used to instill fear in the people. No representatives from PAM were allowed to travel with the ballot boxes.

Labour cheated its way back into office and when it did, it set out on a campaign of dismissals.

 

Victimization and Post Election Dismissals

It was here that the massive victimization began in this country. One Caribbean newspaper, the Barbados Advocate while writing about the victimization, said, “The wages of opposition (under Labour) is dismissal.” Scores of people were fired from the civil service and other jobs. People were harassed and the government sent army men to travel on the inter-island ferry across to Nevis to intimidate the people.

Many nationals had to run away to the United States, Canada, the US and British Virgin Islands and other territories.

The Barbados Advocate also wrote “…two days after Mr. Bradshaw’s Party  election victory, armed uniformed police delivered dismissal notices to a number of Civil Servants in the middle of the night…”

 

The Dawn of Victory & Time in Government

The 1970s was a difficult time for the PAM party but we never gave up. Eventually by the time the next election was held in 1979 for a by-election after the death of Premier Bradshaw, PAM had its first victory in St. Kitts when Dr. Kennedy Simmonds defeated Labour’s Anthony Ribeiro in Central Basseterre. Labour had desperately tried to steal that election too but the Court defended democracy and rightfully declared Simmonds the winner.

That first taste of victory experienced in 1979 blossomed again, (one year later) in 1980, into another major triumph when PAM won three seats in St. Kitts and formed an alliance with NRP in Nevis to establish a coalition government.

(Later in 1984 and 1989, PAM squashed the dominance of Labour and won 6 of the 8 seats in St. Kitts, leaving Labour with only 2 seats. This shows the strength of PAM and what it had become after its earlier years of election defeats.)

It was from this period that St. Kitts and Nevis began to see real prosperity, enhanced democratic practices, vastly improved economic progress and social benefits for the poor and ordinary working class man and woman.

But the greatest achievement came in only three years after attaining government when Dr. Kennedy Simmonds did what Labour had always failed to do, and that was to work with the political leaders in Nevis, especially Dr. Simeon Daniel, to take this country into political independence on 19th September, 1983.

PAM in government transformed and modernized St. Kitts and Nevis.

Nevis got what they were always fighting for…their own local government and seats around the table of the federal administration.

Amongst the great successes and programs that benefited, especially the poor and working class included the following:

  • Reduction in the voting age to 18
  • Abolition of Personal Income Tax 
  • Abolition of the Death Tax
  • The Schools Meals Feeding Programme
  • Purchase of the Sugar lands that we are today enjoying for housing and other development
  • Introduction of Cable television
  • Introduction of the 13 weeks maternity leave
  • Introduction of the Dull Season Bonus for then sugar workers
  • Finance for the completion of the Deep Water Harbour and the Golden Rock Airport now RLB International
  • Creation of Port Zante
  • Construction of the Kennedy Simmonds Highway on the Southeast Peninsula
  • Reduction in the working days of the civil service to exclude work on Saturdays
  • Introduced a modern telephone system with Cable & Wireless, the people  and the government as joint owners
  • Establishment of Severance Pay for workers
  • Abolished the vindictive rule that stated that a female civil servant who got pregnant had to be fired if she was not married
  • Improved the electricity and water services in Nevis
  • And worked with the British Government and people of Anguilla, to give them their long fought freedom and internal rule

 

These are just a few of all the great works of PAM in government from 1980 – 1995.

 

 

The New Challenge Ahead

 

Now that we are in opposition again, we have used the past 19 years to rebuild and forge new alliances to once again deliver the people from the grips of another Labour Government that is even worse than the one we faced in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

This “New Labour” of today is all about self… (personal) self-aggrandizement. Its leaders have enriched themselves with millions on the backs of the working class people.

 

They have moved this once prospering nation to the brink of financial disaster with a National Debt that once stacked as high as 3 Billion Dollars; a murder rate that gives us the shameful title of one of the leading murder capitals of the world.

This present government has also introduced a Value Added Tax that has caused the cost of living to soar so high that the poor are feeling the squeeze and crying out.

Just as Labour did in 1965, this New Labour has been forcing increased electricity taxes on the people making it extremely hard for homeowners to cope and also causing some small and large businesses to close.

The level of unemployment has risen so high that not even a temporary work programme called PEP has managed to stem the growing ranks of the unemployed which must be in the double digits.

This is the life and condition that we face in St. Kitts and Nevis today. And when we thought it was not possible to worsen, the uncaring Labour Government has been selling our passports to persons whom the US and Canadian Governments have called terrorists and supporters of terrorist organizations.

This has led to the Canadians withdrawing our visa free status and the Americans have had to warn their business sector that they should be wary of people claiming to be “economic citizens” our St. Kitts and Nevis, because as the US says, they may be trying to evade American tax laws and security checks.

This has also been a government that has been willing to compromise the health, safety and life of almost a 1,000 students and teachers at the Basseterre High School, who for over five years have been complaining that the school is contaminated. Many have suffered illnesses and have had to face thousands and thousands of rising medical bills. While the teachers, parents and students cry out, our imposed and over-stayed leader has claimed that there is nothing wrong at the school. But within days of that claim the school had to be closed because of the same contamination.

Fellow citizens this New Labour has been a failed government! It has been an uncaring administration. It has been a government that has out-lived its welcome. It is time for it to go.

And that opportunity is fast approaching.

 

Moving Forward in Unity

As I said earlier, PAM is moving forward in Unity as we try to deliver a programme of prosperity for our people.

Our approach is to unify the country and we have decided to forge an alliance with the Concerned Citizens Movement, CCM and the People’s Labour Party, PLP.

This alliance will allow St. Kitts and Nevis to “breathe again”. It will allow us to re-instate true democracy and prosperity.

The best way forward for this country is via the route selected and being offered by the alliance of PAM, CCM and PLP, Team UNITY.

With this united approach and with the support of you the people, our three parties will take us to the promise land of victory and prosperity, with reduce taxes, reduce cost of living, integrity in public life, freedom of information, fixed election dates, term limits, an end to victimization and the end of the wastage and pilfering of the millions in the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation, SIDF.

With us deciding to work together our three parties will be able to unite a country that has been too divided. A country that has far too long allowed political differences to plant wedges of hatred and acrimony that destroy family relations and strong community spirits.

This has become a political culture poisoned by ONE Man, who is disrespectful and at variances with the established moralities of a civilized society. 

The questions you must ask are… Do you think he has been in office for much too long? Do you think it is time for a new leader? Do you think it is time for a Government of National Unity?

As PAM moves forward in UNITY we do so in the best interest of the people. We have always been a party that cares about the people and a party that puts people first. This we will continue to do when you place your trust in us again come the next elections.

After 50 years as a political party, PAM has the skills and knowledge of how to govern.

Today, we are reflective but we are also keeping an eye on the future because as one of our deputies likes to say, Better Days are coming.

 

Anniversary Activities

Fellow citizens, the celebrations for our Golden Jubilee are just beginning and they will continue throughout the year.

On Friday, we journey to Central Basseterre for a Happy Hour and BBQ Fiesta. On Sunday we worship together at St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Sandy Point then again on Monday we return to Central Basseterre for a special constituency meeting.

We will also be jointly hosting public meetings tonight Thursday at Godwin Ghaut Lawn in Constituency #4, and another meeting on Sunday 18th in Molineux.

More events and activities will be unfolded in the coming weeks because we are also mindful that an election is about to be called and this may affect our schedule of events.

But I wish to express, on behalf of my current PAM executive and the membership, my gratitude to the people of this country who have supported us over the 50 years of existence. We will pay tribute to many, in coming months, as a show of that appreciation.

 

Conclusion

In closing I extend Happy 50th Anniversary to PAM and I also express my gratitude to all the founding fathers for the many years of toiling in the era of opposition so that we today may enjoy a better life.

 

Thank you.

 

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