Now, Douglas as a frequent flyer is nothing new. As a matter of fact, many persons over the past seventeen years have lamented the apparent hypocrisy of Douglas who, when in opposition, tormented Prime Minister Kennedy Simmonds, accusing him of travelling too often, not reporting to the Nation about the purpose of his trips and not showing any tangible benefits accruing to the Country as a result of his “many” travels.
But now that Douglas is the Prime Minister, not only has he “doubled down” on frequent flying but, as many say, he has made Simmonds, who was often parodied as “Columbus”, look like “Uncle Joe”, the modest St. Johnson Village resident, Labour stalwart and government Minister, whose preferred mode of transport was human-powered, “using P2” as we say locally.
Of course, one cannot be surprised at the hypocrisy of Douglas on the frequent flyer matter, because on most issues, which he utilised every available platform to vociferously criticize Simmonds, he has either done much worse, as with integrity in public office and freedom of information, or done nothing at all, as with the “Bryant Clause” in the St. Christopher and Nevis Constitution. Flip-flopping and hypocrisy have become the hallmarks of a leader who some supporters call “the consummate politician”. And whilst there is evidentiary value in that characterization, the economic, social and political consequences for St. Kitts and Nevis have been grave, to say the least, as the records show.
On the economic front, after years of fiscal mismanagement and reckless behavior by a callous, frequent flying Douglas, by December 31st, 2011, St. Kitts and Nevis had accumulated a massive public debt of $3 billion, a Debt-to-GDP ratio of two hundred percent, second only to Japan, and defaulted on interest payments to government bond holders for the first time in our history. After setting year-on-year records for murders over a seventeen-year period, in 2011 St. Kitts and Nevis gained world-wide notoriety as the second-most murderous country on Earth, with a homicide rate (per hundred thousand population) of seventy-five, second only to Honduras. “Devil’s Island” was used to characterize St. Kitts in the latter years of the Simmonds administration, but under Douglas “Sugar City St. Kitts” had become “Murder Inc.”. It has been announced that on Monday, August 27th, 2012, the OECS Appellate Court will give its ruling on the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) election petition case brought by Mark Brantley against Hensley Daniel. That case is the most recent in a string of election petition cases at the local (NIA) and federal levels that have differentiated St. Kitts and Nevis, in the Western Hemisphere, as a leading jurisdiction for electoral disputes which serve only to promote acrimony and strife.
Yet, despite the terrible, recessionary state this country finds itself in, despite the pain and suffering of the ordinary man and woman who struggle daily to pay increasing food, housing, utilities, vehicle, education and health bills from shrinking wages and salaries, a malady resulting from Douglas’ arrogant, obstinate leadership, our “caring Prime Minister” continues to stay the frequent flyer course, hoarding hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of frequent flyer miles on first-class junkets all over the world, rubbing shoulders with Kings, Sultans and Queens, staying in five-star hotels, being chauffeur-driven around the world’s most expensive cities in limousines, and just nonchalantly having a great time at the expense of increasingly desperate taxpayers in St. Kitts and Nevis. Frequent flying, it appears, is a valuable component of Prime Minister Douglas’ stratagem for governance of the (hapless) people, for the (privileged) people, by the (heartless) people.
But all of the aforementioned are probably well known, so what is Douglas’ frequent flyer problem? Someone, a “lister”, proffered in a post (last week) to an internet chat list that, of the ninety-two days since May 20th, 2012, Douglas had spent only ten days in St. Kitts and Nevis. A few weeks earlier, the same “lister” said on the very same internet chat list that Douglas used some of the frequent flyer miles he had accumulated over the years, to fly twenty-six members of his family from New York to St. Kitts (and back) for the 2012 Music Festival. That purported departure by Douglas, to use miles earned whilst travelling on government business for a family pleasure trip seems to have irked the moral conscience of Kittitians and Nevisians, many of whom, hitherto, remained silent while Douglas operated at the edge or on the other side of law and rectitude, and ignited a political firestorm that has even staunch Labour Party supporters shaking their heads in disbelief and shame. Whilst I cannot confirm the veracity of the contents of the posts by the “lister”, it is noteworthy that neither Douglas, nor anyone from the Prime Minister’s Office, has refuted the claims.
Therein lay Douglas’ frequent flyer problem. It is hard for even the most ardent supporter of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party, whether residing here or abroad, to contemplate that at this time when Douglas is imposing austerity measures that include freezing civil servants wages and salaries, a civil servant hiring freeze, retrenchment of civil servants, cuts in civil servants pensions, 85% increase in electricity rates, introduction of a 17% Value Added Tax (VAT), cutbacks to the Student Education Learning Fund (SELF) programme, cutbacks in support for Health Institutions, to name a few, Douglas is not only callously proliferating his travels abroad, but using frequent flyer miles earned during many unproductive, luxurious forays to some of the furthest parts of the Earth, to facilitate rapture of scores of members of his family! How insensitive!
The Jamaica Observer said in its Editorial last week (Sunday, August 19th, 2012), “St. Kitts and Antigua/Barbuda teeter on the verge of economic implosion…”. Now, those of us who live here already know that because we can see it, we can feel it and we definitely can taste it! Apparently, Douglas does not have any awareness of our dire circumstances, because if he did he would: 1) not be the prolific traveler that he is, but instead would put his head down right here “on the Rock”, focus not on himself and his business but on the people, and try to come up with some workable solutions to the country’s malaise and lassitude of a people overburdened with hardship, on his watch; and 2) if Douglas knew this country was on the verge of “economic implosion” and ensuing social instability, he would definitely not use perhaps millions of frequent flyer miles that were accumulated on trips paid for by government to fly twenty-six, or any number of family members, anywhere, anytime.
Instead, a “caring” Douglas, as leader of this country, would have long put in place a government frequent flyer policy and travel rewards program with all the airlines that provide service to St. Kitts and Nevis and on which government employees travel. A business travel rewards program, such as the American Airlines “Business ExtrAA” http://www.aa.com/i18n/businessPrograms/businessExtraa.jsp, a Google entry away, allows any public or private institution to earn the frequent flyer miles, whenever their employees travel on their behalf. Had Douglas put in place such a program, voila, all the miles earned by government employees over the seventeen years he has been in office, would have been put into a pool, managed by government, for use by ALL public sector employees, including himself, to reduce government’s travel budget and save taxpayers’ hard-earned money. I am told that many local institutions already utilize “Business ExtrAA” as part of cost rationalization and reduction initiatives, especially in these recessionary times, and Douglas would be well advised to follow suit.
But, there’s a caveat. Many people in St. Kitts and Nevis, perhaps now a large majority, have come to realize that Prime Minister Douglas’ perception of development does not have in it, a place for Kittitians and Nevisians. His concept of empowerment does not envision a dignified existence for the people of this country, so he has not genuinely factored in exaltation of the masses of local people as a priority of development. Consequently, he spends most of his time overseas, with foreigners, where he feels more comfortable and sleeps better. But, he knows, he has to be re-elected when the current term in office ends! Therein lay Douglas’ frequent flyer problem.