The Privy Council of the United Kingdom is a centuries’ old institution whose role was traditionally to advise the Monarch.
It evolved over time with one part operating as the Cabinet of Ministers of that country, another functioning as a judicial entity(the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council), and the rest of it being essentially symbolic.
The symbolic component is made up mostly of British politicians, high-ranking judges and civil servants, and members of the clergy who form this broad group of persons who ‘advise’ the Monarch.
In reality, however, they don’t advise the Monarch. And their appointments are, for all practical purposes, and as I said, symbolic.
They get to be referred to as “the Right Honourable”.
In the United Kingdom, many, if not most, appointments are ex officio.
Also, access to this ‘club’ was extended to some member states of the British Commonwealth, for example, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands, some former Caribbean colonies, etc.
For public officials in those states, although the convention is that ‘it is improper to ask the Queen’, membership is facilitated by the British Government, typically via overtures on behalf of an aspirant.
I’m not certain if inductees still have to take the Privy Councilors’ oath( although I believe that they do). Here’s what it looks like:
“I swear by Almighty God to be a true and faithful Servant unto the Queen’s Majesty, as one of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. I will not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done, or spoken against her Majesty’s person, Honour, Crown or Dignity Royal, but I will let and withstand the same to the uttermost of my power, and either cause it to be revealed to her Majesty Herself, or to such of her Privy Council as shall advertise Her Majesty of the same. I will, in all things to be moved, treated and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare my mind and opinion, according to my heart and conscience, and will keep secret all matters committed and revealed to me, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said treaties or counsel shall touch any of the Councilors, I will not reveal it unto him, but will keep the same until such time as, by the consent of Her Majesty, or of the Council, publication shall be made thereof. I will to my utmost bear faith and allegiance unto the Queen’s Majesty; and I will assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences and authorities granted to Her Majesty, and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all foreign princes, persons, prelates, states or potentates. And generally in all things, I will do as a faithful and true servant ought to do to Her Majesty. So help me God”.
Now, while I have great admiration and respect for the United Kingdom and its people, and I place enormous value on the bonds between that country and ours, I think that we need to revamp our own oaths of office and Parliament here in St. Kitts & Nevis, removing all references to the British Monarchy; and while we’re at it, we need to change our Constitution accordingly, and to remove Queen Elizabeth’s face from our money.
I, for one, have been advocating this for years.
Take a good look at the oath. I don’t know about you, but it bothers me in that it seems to place on our Prime Minister an obligation to a foreign Government, which obligation could possibly cause him to be conflicted and compromised in the discharge of duties to our Federation.
And if the correct legal interpretation is that the oath doesn’t conflict or compromise him and that my concerns are unfounded( at least from a legal perspective), then, at the very least, its contents are an embarrassment to me as a citizen of an independent nation, as is the fact people in our Federation, and worse so our leader, still have an appetite for OBEs, MBEs, Knighthoods, and all of those other honours from the British Crown.
Does it have anything to do possibly with an inability or a disinclination to validate ourselves? Or does it provide for us with a title that gives us the salve of international recognition which we crave and cannot get from a local honour?
So with all of that said, Denzil Llewellyn Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts & Nevis, has just been admitted to the Privy Council and is to be referred to as “The Right Honourable”.
He had been after it for years, and it pained him that he was made to wait so long. You see, Her Majesty and her Government aren’t likely to be so indelicate as to just say no( unless the applicant is an out-and-out Mugabe type), but if they think that they need to, they’ll send you a message by making you wait.
And they did make Denzil Douglas wait. In fact, no other Commonwealth PM in history, as far as I’m aware, has had to wait as long as he, to be admitted to the Privy Council. He has the ‘record’.
Let’s make some comparisons.
Julius Chan became PM of Papua New Guinea in 1980 and he was admitted in 1981. Kennedy Simmonds became PM of St. Kitts & Nevis in 1983 and he was admitted in 1984.Emmanuel Esquival became PM of Belize 1984 and he got in a year later. Erskine Sandiford was admitted in 1989, two years after becoming PM of Barbados, while Owen Arthur made it in 1995, one year after defeating Sandiford at the polls.
P.J. Patterson got in a year after becoming Jamaica’s PM in 1992.
Hubert Ingraham was appointed in 1993, one year after becoming the Bahamas PM, and Perry Christie made it in 2004, two years after replacing Ingraham as PM.
Keith Mitchell made the club in 2005, ten years after becoming Grenada’s PM. He held the Commonwealth ‘record’ until Denzil Douglas came and snatched it from him by being admitted to the Privy Council sixteen years and four months after becoming PM of St. Kitts & Nevis.
What a ‘record’!
And as if all of that isn’t sufficient of an affront to the people of St. Kitts & Nevis, here they are, enduring their most severe challenges in recent history, worried about joblessness( you’d be shocked at the amount of high school, CFB, and other graduates who can’t get a job in this land of their birth), about businesses downsizing and closing, about economic stagnation and contraction, about failing infrastructure, high inflation, education, health, safety, security and a swelling Debtors’ Jail population, and having questions about Social Security, about the SIDF, about massive insider trading and conflict of interest situations, about a ‘Duvalier’ election in Nevis and the cavalier, manipulative approach to elections in general, about integrity in public life and the integrity of the institutions of Government, and about democracy itself and the future of their nation.
And in this time of deep anxiety and crisis and what do they get from their PM? The announcement that he is now a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council and that henceforth they must refer to him as “The Right Honourable Dr. Denzil L. Douglas”.
In other words, as far as he’s concerned, the people of this country can catch their backsides, and as they do so, they can also kiss his Right Honourable backside. At a time of great uncertainty and anxiety, when the people need compassionate, sensitive, competent, visionary, transparent and transformative leadership, they’re getting nothing of the sort. Just more of the same. And their PM is rubbing salt in their wounds.
Next thing, he’ll be looking to get a Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth.
But note this: what Her Majesty giveth, Her Majesty can taketh back.
And note this also: there’s a limit to the disrespect and humiliation that a people will put up with. Even the docile, friendly, forbearing people of this Federation.