I felt exhilarated by this new dispensation. It was like a breath of fresh air to many people, both at home and abroad. It promised integrity, transparency, efficiency and fairness in the governance of the people’s business. And I was part of it.
Little did I suspect at the time, and even for some time thereafter, that it was a hoax, a con job on the supporters of the Labour Party and on the people of this country generally. Little did I suspect back then that all Douglas was interested in was power.
And although there were concerns early, and I voiced them, my education in these matters took some time to be completed. Indeed, only very recently I was told that, as a University student in Jamaica he had said that he’d one day rule St. Kitts & Nevis, and that he’d do so with an iron fist.
A young man’s dream or goal of being his country’s leader is okay, but if he wants to rule his country and to do so with an iron fist, then watch out! Because, to ‘rule with an iron fist’ means to be arbitrary, autocratic, tyrannical, punitive, abusive, vindictive and dictatorial.
And that’s the exact opposite of what true leadership is all about.
But whether or not he ever made that comment, the people of St. Kitts & Nevis need to soberly and objectively assess and define their present situation, nineteen years to the day since the elections of 29th November, 1993, and to determine whether they’re living with a leader or under a ruler.
There’s a book entitled ‘The Dictator’s Handbook’ written by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, and published by Public Affairs, which is a member of the Perseus Books Group. It makes the argument that a dictator acts more in his own interests than in the interests of the people. And once elected, or otherwise ensconced, he manipulates, abuses and jockeys people, the law, and the system generally, all in his own cause. And he doesn’t mind running up enormous public debt or otherwise having the people suck salt, if it means keeping himself in power.
In the book, ordinary voters are referred to as “interchangeables”, while the cadre of persons who the dictator needs close to him to keep him in power are called “essentials”. And in between the two groups are the “influentials” who may have some say, such as party hacks and acolytes, but they’re not as ‘high maintenance’ and as critical as the ’essentials’ are to the survival and longevity of the dictator. Of course, he’ll try his best to keep his cabal of ‘essentials’ as small as possible, because the smaller the number of people he must depend on to stay in power, the better it is for him. And while he can depend on their support, he can live with, indeed, he even encourages, feuds between individuals in the group of ‘essentials’, because that reduces the likelihood of them ganging up on him.
Now the ‘interchangeables’ and the ‘influentials’ get favours, but the ‘essentials ‘get the juicy morsels, such as high-level government positions to act as props, numbers to count, and buffers for the dictator; they get sweet contracts and other deals; they ‘insider’ trade like crazy. They get to front in business ventures.
And they enjoy massive concessions, etc., while much of their debt to the Government for tax, electricity, payroll contributions, etc., is ignored, highly discounted, or even forgiven.
And along with the ‘influentials’ and the ‘interchangeables’, they’re used by the dictator to win elections, if elections do take place. And even when elections do take place, they’re tightly orchestrated, rigged charades.
They’re also used as shields and defenders of his unwillingness to govern on a platform of accountability, transparency, integrity and democracy.
And all of this nefariousness goes on pretty much unchecked. Because, firstly, the prosecutorial processes and law enforcement (both blue collar and white collar) are under the influence of the dictator, and while innocent people lose their liberty, we see that guilty ‘essentials’ and ‘influentials’, and even sometimes guilty ‘interchangeables,’ are protected.
Secondly, many professionals and business concerns are either getting, or are looking for, something out of the deal, and they prefer not to rock the boat or appear to be biting the hand.
Thirdly, public servants and other workers are afraid of losing their jobs or of an opportunity to get a house, a scholarship for their child, or whatever else they believe wouldn’t be forthcoming if they were to displease the dictator or one of his ‘essentials’.
And fourthly, the ‘interchangeables’ and other ordinary folks might be rendered innocuous: (i) by their blind support of the dictator; (ii) by a lack of analysis; (iii) by fear; or (iv) by any combination thereof.
So the people who’re left are usually not able to gather sufficient momentum to depose the dictator. And so he rules. He sucks the power out of people and organizations and he swallows it all up. And as they weaken, he grows stronger.
Yet as daunting as this may appear, the end comes. And, as we’ve seen throughout history, in lands far, near and everywhere, it comes seemingly out of nowhere. And ‘poof’, the dictator’s imperious robes are replaced by tatters.
Sadly, though, after much affliction has been visited upon the people.
I can provide voluminous evidence to show the severe damage that’s been done as a result of the iron-fisted, dictatorial rule which Denzil Douglas allegedly said, over 30 years ago, that he’d impose upon the people of St. Kitts & Nevis, and which he has imposed. But that would take a book. And this is just an article. So I’ll use just two examples to illustrate the point.
Firstly, he wants to pass a law to increase the number of Senators from three to six.
He pads the room with supporters at Party Annual Conferences, and has his way.
He co-opts yes men and yes women to the Party Executive, and has his way. He puts his yes men in Cabinet so that he can have his way. And he has done the same thing in Parliament, only this time he wants more yes men and yes women.
And with these additional ‘yessers’, he wants to destroy Sam Condor and Timothy Harris politically, and he wants to change the constituency boundaries and continue imposing himself on the people of this land.
That’s what dictators do.
Secondly, about six years ago, he advised his colleagues that a Foundation would be established by the Government, that it would be funded by the Citizenship by Investment Program and that it would be called the SIDF.
Back then, he knew that his fiscal profligacy would lead the country inevitably to debt restructuring. And he knew that if the money was to go into the
Consolidated Account, or some other Government account, it would have to be used to help service the national debt. And if that happened, he might find himself short of options toprovide pork barrel and other things that he’d need to do in order to win an election.
So the Government didn’t establish the SIDF. Instead, the National Trust, a 100% owned subsidiary of the National Bank which is itself 51% owned by the Government, did so.
The intention was, to me, clear: he wanted to have control over the SIDF and its money, but he also wanted to block out the Director of Audit, the Cabinet, and the Parliament.
And the SIDF account started to grow fat.
Up to the time of my resignation in July, 2008, at no time can I recall any report coming to us from him as to the activities of the SIDF, or as to the amount of passports (and other related details) issued under the Citizenship by Investment Program. I don’t recall even being told that National Trust had indeed set up the SIDF. I learned about that long after I’d left.
The SIDF has a very highly paid staff. It rents space in The Sands Complex at $15,000 a month. Its annual operational costs could exceed $ 3million, and its councillors and advisers/consultants are all hand-picked or approved by Douglas.
It’s a separate government with the single largest and easiest supply of raw cash that he could ever dream about, and he exercises effective control over all of it.
All of that power concentrated in one person and exclusionary of individuals who were elected by the people of this country to represent and serve them, and exclusionary of the audit process that is so vitally necessary in the public sector!
That’s dangerous in the extreme.
But it’s not only myself who is concerned. Many of you are as well. Indeed, even some persons connected in one way or another with the SIDF have become verynervous, as they consider the ramifications of the whole thing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if at last one of them makes a hasty exit soon.
The secrecy and the intrigue in the SIDF are the things of which dictatorship is made.
By contrast, Antigua & Barbuda just passed a Citizenship by Investment Act.
That Act and its Regulations, though less than perfect, are far more respectful of the people of that country than ours are of our people.
The Government had intended to include named charities, but the Opposition argued them out of it. So apart from the corporate investment option and the real estate option, our neighbours to the East have stipulated by law:(i)that all contributions will go to a Government account set up under its Finance
Administration Act, subject to the scrutiny of the Director of Audit for Antigua &Barbuda, and (ii) that the Minister responsible for the citizenship program has to report on it in as detailed manner to Parliament every six months.
This commendable effort we’re seeing in Antigua & Barbuda to be transparent and democratic is not in our Dictator’s Handbook.