Dr. Timothy Harris, who was the so called Senior Minister in the Labour Government of Dr. Douglas, up until last month, told listeners during a live talk show on Tuesday afternoon, that his position against the legislation has become more solidified because a critical aspect of it has to do with whether or not, by and large, the unelected senators, provided for in the law, could dilute the influence of elected members of the parliament.
He stated that this is important because parliament should represent the genuine voice of the people. He added that the people have elected their parliamentary representatives to speak for them, but Dr. Douglas was afraid that he could not confidently depend on the support of the elected representatives of the people, so he has tried to increase the number of unelected members in the Assembly, with a view to undermine the voice and representation of the elected members.
Harris advised that this course of action must be viewed against history, saying that since 1952, any effort to increase the number of persons in the parliament has largely come from increasing the number of elected people, rather than going through the senator route, and rather than increasing the number of unelected people. He reminded that St. Kitts and Nevis does not have a parliament that reflects two houses, like in other countries, such as Barbados and Antigua, where there exist a Lower House of elected members and the Upper House of unelected senators.
St. Kitts and Nevis has what is termed a Unicameral House, (where both elected representatives and appointed senators sit).
Harris weighed in on the recent court case that saw the Leader of the People’s Action Movement, PAM, Mr. Shawn Richards and Mr. Sam Condor, of the Labour Party, joining forces to take court action against the Increase in Senators Legislation. They contend that the passage of the Bill on 29th January was unconstitutional because the Attorney General, whom they challenge was not properly sworn in and therefore was not a member of parliament at the time, should not have been allowed to vote on the Bill; thereby allowing it to pass by one vote.
The former minister stated that the very issue that surrounds the government’s decision to bring the Bill to parliament is about priority. “How could Dr. Douglas find money to pay three unelected people; to do what?” He said that when this measure was being taken, there was the issue of the science labs of the Basseterre High School that were contaminated and in need of urgent repairs, with both students and teachers in fear of their health, but monies could be found to fix the problem.
“How could Dr. Douglas contemplate using whatever fiscal space he may have manoeuvred to bring on people to the …government payroll…while at the same time he is saying to the junior clerk, the executive officer, the graduate, we can’t pay you any increment. So you must work year in, year out, on a standard or fixed salary, while the cost of living is getting skywards.”
Harris therefore claimed that this approach tells him that Dr. Douglas is disconnected from ordinary people. And this was part of the major plank of the opposition to the Bill. That is still valid right now, because, on one hand Dr. Douglas said the IMF told the country to contain expenditure, but he is now adding expenditure. And adding it for the wrong reason; adding it to increase the voice of unelected people in parliament, which is contrary to historical traditions. For this, Dr. Harris argues that his former boss in on the wrong side of history and history will condemn him.
More than that said Harris, the people too of the country, will condemn the prime minister for his actions, because in the context of their hardships, the leadership of Dr. Douglas has departed from a concern for people, and that is a major challenge for the government going forward. And that is why he now has a caretaker government.