In a few days, members of the National Assembly of St. Kitts and Nevis will be meeting to debate…the controversial “The Senators Increasing of Number Bill 2012.”
Simply put, this new draft legislation is intended to double the amount of senators that now sit in the legislature. Currently there are three; Richard Skerritt and Nigel Carty from the government side and Vincent Byron Jr. on the opposition benches. Therefore a 100% increase would take the total to six. In comparison, there are 11 elected members of parliament, representing the people of the 11 constituencies in St. Kitts (8) and Nevis (3). Senators are not elected by the people but are appointed by their respective political parties and leaders, though officially it is the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, in whom such right is vested.
On the surface it all seems academic…the move to increase the senators, that is. However, while the government has outlined its reasons, the opposition has a different perspective and is convinced that there are ulterior motives, on the part of the country’s Prime Minister, who appears to be the one behind the measure.
There are also claims that even some members of the ruling party are not in favour of the move to double the number of senators. However, once the Bill is taken to the voting stage on Friday 7thDecember, 2012, it would be made very clear, just who is for, and against the Bill. But it is clear that the opposition parties of PAM and CCM have no intentions of voting “aye”.
According to opposition senator, Vincent Byron, “It was a Bill that came out of nowhere. We had not anticipated that the government, after almost three years into its current term, would want at this stage to increase the number of senators in the National Assembly.”
Byron recently said during a radio program that if one was to look at the rationale given by the Prime Minister, as to why we would have an increase in the number of senators, it would be easy to reject his reasons.
The PAM official said that when one looks at the objects and reasons given, there are some basic reasons that were advanced by the government:
The first was that it was found necessary to facilitate the election of a Deputy Speaker in order to ensure the smooth running of the National Assembly.
But Byron stated that “The country would remember that we have had something of a debacle on this issue of a Deputy Speaker. We on the opposition benches, have for quite some time, objected to the fact that there has been no Deputy Speaker. We feel that the House is not properly constituted without a Deputy Speaker; that there should be a Deputy Speaker, because under the constitution there should be a Deputy Speaker, within a reasonable time, if there is none.”
He continued, “The House itself, in its parliamentary session after an election, cannot get started unless there is a Speaker elected and a Deputy Speaker. “
The senator is of the view that the first reason that the Prime minister gives here, to ensure the smooth running of the National Assembly, is insincere.
“One reason he has given is that the Speaker, the Hon. Curtis Martin has an unfair situation where he sits all day to hear the debate, and we have said to the speaker on numerous occasions, it is an untenable position…all he has to do is take a break…he runs the affairs of the House. So if we start at 10 O’ Clock, we have an adjournment at 1:00pm until 3:00pm, while he takes lunch… So to suggest that it’s because you want to give the Speaker a break you are now going to see the need for a Deputy Speaker, again I say that is totally insincere, to put it mildly, to say the least, “ opined Byron.
The matter of appointing a Deputy Speaker said Byron is an easy issue for us. “If there is a need to have a Deputy Speaker, so that the House can be properly constituted, (and we think that it is not), he (the Prime minister), can call one of the 9 members on the government side to perform the duties. Skerritt has already done it, though for only one day, he can do it again or they can call on Senator Nigel Carty to do so. Or any other member on the government benches can fulfill that role and there is no need to have more senators to put on to the payroll of the public service in order to have a Deputy Speaker.”
The second reason that was given was the complexity of running government business requires more resources, but Byron reminded that we are under the gun from the IMF and that we have put a moratorium from hiring new people in the public service. “We are not supposed to be hiring more people, because we are watching our wage bill. People are being retired immediately when they reach the retirement age, because we are on austerity measures and the concept that we need new and additional human resources, again I say is a joke, because we are talking about human resources in the Cabinet, in the parliament, in the ministerial level and to me, it is very easy to solve that problem without hiring any additional people.”
“And the way to do that is that Dr. Douglas stays home more often. When we saw the Bill on the Order Paper, we wanted to ask how many days in each year has the PM travelled. If we want to be charitable and we say it is a 100 days in a year…if he was to cut out those 100 days, that would add to the human resources in St. Kitts, rather than he trying to run the country remotely. We often hear the PM is 10 man in one; all he has to do is leave 5 of them here, he can go with the other 5, and that would add to solving the issue of complex government, he just has to stay home more often, apart from the fact that it would also help to reduce the debt and help to pay down the debt instead of swapping our land. So I think that’s an easy one to solve.”
The second reason advanced by the government is that it (the increase in senators) is necessary to improve on the complexion of parliament by introducing new people, while taking into account gender balance. “So he wants new people, and he also wants gender balance, because there is only one female. Again I say that is very, very easy. You want new people, let Minister Carty go home to rest, and Ricky Skerritt, and hire new people in their places. He can do that with a stroke of a pen and he won’t have to pass Bill or anything like that, because they serve at his pleasure, not at the pleasure of the people. He could ask them to step down, because just that alone would solve the problem,” stated Byron.
“By introducing three new people into parliament, it changes the complexion of the parliament and if we have been able to fight for Universal Adult Suffrage so that the people, through elections, could have representatives, representing their voices, these three individuals who would now come into the House are not coming as representatives of the people, they are coming on the basis of Dr. Douglas…he is the one who is adding to that mix. It, I would suggest, is watering down the effect of the vote through elections. Not that it is not a constitutional right to do so; I would be the first to admit that… The constitution gives him the right to do that, but if we say that we are a democratic nation, this is something that the people should have a say in and should be put to the people. And I do think that the Bill itself is misguided and out of tune with what is happening,” stated Mr. Byron.
Byron has also shared his opinion on why the new measure is being attempted. “And of course we can always surmise why it’s being done at this point in time, because the country will remember just a few weeks ago, this whole idea of the land swap deal in parliament, that went that marathon session, two of his senior members of Cabinet, the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, the Hon. Sam Condor and the Senior Minister in the Cabinet, the Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris spoke most eloquently against the land swap deal. They were flabbergasted. They did not know themselves, until that day, what lands were being swapped. And they spoke out most strongly against it. Now this is something most unprecedented, it does not happen…when senior members of Cabinet would go against the PM.”
“And one could only surmise that the need to introduce such a Bill is being done not for the reasons advanced, as part of the objects and the reasons of the Bill, which I think are all insincere, it is really to act as a buffer against these two gentlemen who have shown that they are willing to put country above self and have been speaking out against the policy of Dr. Douglas to give up our land.”
“We do not know what would happen in a vote, if there is a division, (a request that each vote be clearly stated), but the PM seemed to understand that he would have been defeated if the vote had come up on Wednesday, (21st November, 2012), and postponed it for two weeks hoping that somebody might have a change of heart come the 7th of December,” speculated Byron.
That meeting on 7th December was postponed and is now taking place on Tuesday 15th January, 2013.