They are all related to Friday’s emergency sitting of parliament and the resolution passed to adopt the new Report of the country’s Boundary’s Commission, headed by Peter Jenkins, a well-known local business man.
The Report was completed and signed-off on, only minutes before the convening of the parliament. However, only three of the five members signed the document. They included the Chairman Jenkins, MP Marcella Liburd and MP Asim Martin. Not signing were the two from the opposition, Vance Amory and Vincent Byron Jr. It is said that they declined signing because of the unfair process and proposed changes to the boundaries, which they claim.
The opposition has complained that they were only served with notice of the meeting after the Assembly was already in progress.
Shortly after that National Assembly meeting the Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas, flanked by his entire Cabinet and slate of Labour candidates for the poll, announced to the nation and the world that he had dissolved the Assembly. This announcement came sometime around 6:30pm on the steps of the building housing both the parliament and Government Headquarters.
However, this was a move some say was widely expected by both government supporters and the opposition. Scores of red-shirt wearing and jubilant Labour Party supporters were also present to witness the actions of their leader. By that time those supporters who were from the opposition had left the scene to gather on Fort Street where their leaders had headed after leaving the parliament.
It was also widely debated and suggested that once the resolution was passed in the House, it was swiftly taken for the signature of the Governor General, Sir Edmund Lawrence.
It is now been disclosed that while all the political action was taking place on Church Street, including the parliamentary session, lawyers for both sides were in Court with the resident judge, as the opposition made its case for an injunction to be put in place to prevent the new boundary changes from coming into effect.
However, if there was one constant dynamic of Friday night, it was “confusion”, as it relates to what actually transpired and what is the present status…whether there is an injunction or not and whether the boundaries have now been officially changed.
The opposition contends that it did get its wish in securing an injunction albeit after some delay in the matter.
But according to the ruling Labour Party, including those who provide legal representation, the boundaries have been changed.
However the main lawyer for the opposition, Chris Hamel- Smith has explained that that is not the case. Smith says that an injunction is in fact in place and the boundaries have not been changed.
He says the final decision on the matter would not be known until the High Court hears the case next week.
When asked by the media if an injunction has been successfully filed and granted, this is what he said, Yes, in an emergency sitting of the High Court, the judge has granted an injunction restraining the government from issuing a proclamation with respect to the resolution approving the boundaries report that had been approved by the Boundaries Commission late this afternoon (Friday 16th Jan).”
In other words, what Smith seems to be explaining is that yes the resolution was passed in parliament and yes it may have been signed by the Governor General but no, it had not been proclaimed, which is the final official step required. He said that the injunction was granted before the proclamation was made possible.
“So the judge has issued an injunction restraining that proclamation from being made, in order to stop the report from coming into effect,” explained Hamel-Smith.
He was also asked if the injunction was granted prior to the emergency sitting of parliament.
In response, Hamel-Smith said “…this was done whilst the emergency sitting of parliament was going on and that is why the judge gave the injunction in the form of stopping the proclamation of the resolution because by that stage it made no sense trying to stop the actual sitting of the parliament, because of course that was in progress. However she has stopped the resolution from being proclaimed which is what is required for it to have effect.”
He further explained that “It means that the judge has said that things must not change until the Court has an opportunity to look at the whole matter properly and not under the unfair and undue pressure and haste that was created this afternoon.”
The lawyer representing the joint opposition group of PAM, CCM and PLP, known locally as Team Unity, said, the judge has fixed a hearing for next week when the matter can be looked at completely and dispassionately with a view to doing justice on the merits.
“But the judge stopped what happened this afternoon, in terms of trying to rush through a fundamental change to the rules of St. Kitts in a really quite extraordinary and indecent way, added Hamel-Smith.
He said the judge simply stopped that process so that the Court could have the opportunity to properly adjudicate on the matter and provide what at the end of the day would be the results that the Court thinks is fair, legal, and according to the constitution.
In terms of the parliament being dissolved by the PM, Hamel-Smith said, “The Prime Minister can dissolve parliament whenever he chooses and that is a decision he has made.”
But what Hamel-Smith was careful to explain also was that when the case is heard in the coming days, the question the judge would settle is whether the elections that will take place, will take place under the existing boundaries or the new ones.
He said what is expected to be taken into consideration by the judge is the whole process and the developments that played out in parliament on Friday afternoon into the evening.
He suggested that the Court may find that the report of the Boundaries Commission was produced by a process that was illegal and unconstitutional, or it may find that the process was a fair one, in which case presumably it would allow the report to go forward.
“But the Court would now have the opportunity to decide (on) that (question) on the merits and after proper consideration.
He predicts that that would be the course taken by the Court rather than allowing the situation “where the government simply breaks all of the rules.” He added that opposition parliamentarians were given notice of Friday’s sitting, some of them, after the time that the sitting was to begin. The House had been scheduled to commence at 3:45, just minutes after the Boundaries Commission ended its meeting.
“So how could you possibly have a proper sitting of the National Assembly when the people who are elected to represent the people of St. Kitts and Nevis are not told in advance that that sitting is going to take place?, asked the lawyer.
Another issue that is being presented has to do with the conduct of parliament itself. Though both sides seemed to have had their own plan and design for how matters were to proceed, the opposition is arguing that its members were prevented from debating the resolution before it was passed.
What they are referring to is that after waiting on Speaker Curtis Martin to conclude a private discussion with a Government member, the move was made to vote on the resolution, although no debate had taken place, which is the normal procedure for such matters in the Assembly.
This was objected to by Sandy Point MP, Shawn Richards, who is also the leader of the main opposition party, PAM, and one of the parliamentarians to be greatly impacted by the proposed changes. Richards rose to gain the attention of the Speaker and when he did, he calmly explained to Speaker Martin that propoer procedures were not followed. He said that all the opposition members were awaiting the conclusion of his private conversation and for him to indicate to the House, as he has cautioned them to do, for his invitation or indication that the debate may proceed. But Richards appealed that this was not done and Martin very soberly considered the position and argument of Richards and in the end changed the decision to move to the closing exercises of the meeting and instead allow some debate.
However, after proceeding with the debates the House was abruptly adjourned leaving many of the MPs still unable to make a presentation.
Some are crediting Richards’ action in convincing Speaker Martin to open the floor for debates, as the move that may have saved the day for the opposition, because it gave them more time to allow the legal action to run its course and thereby “buying more time” to allow an injunction to be granted. Wheteher that move would eventaully be recorded as the one that prevented boundary changes will only be known next week.
“So next week the Court will look into the whole matter and decide how we will proceed,” said Hamel-Smith.
It was always known that the next General Election in St. Kitts and Nevis was going to be the most difficult one since independence, almost 32 years ago. The current predictions are that a poll is being planned for Monday 16th February, 2015. The last elections were held on 25th January, 2010, thus in less than two weeks the anniversary of the poll will be upon us. The life of the parliament which has now been dissolved was to expire during the first week of March this year.
Some have predicted that the election could be the most divisive ever, even more than the violent one of 1993.
But it is hoped by many that the political drama that unfolded in Basseterre on Friday 16th January, 2015, is not giving more credence to those predictions.
In the meantime, no one knows for sure what will happen until the court case is heard in a few days’ time.