This however is not a new idea, given that during the period leading up to independence such a political construct was recommended by a former Attorney General and former Premier, the late Lee L Moore, when he at the time served as Opposition Leader.
Now three decades after, the man who has been occupying the seat as Head of Government for 18 of those 30 years of independence, is of the view that constitutional reform is urgently needed.
“Our constitution has been in place for over 30 years and as our democracy evolves, it would become necessary for changes to the constitution, hence my government will as soon as is practicable, initiate a process of constitutional reform. Over the years we have focused on the provisions in respect of the relations between the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis and there is a clear and obvious need for change in this area,” espoused Douglas in his New Year’s Address for 2014.
“Indeed I have expressed the view previously that there should be a government for St. Kitts and a government for Nevis and a federal entity with representatives from both governments that would make decisions in respect of matters of common interest,” added the Prime Minister.
He however admitted that there might be other views on the matter, and some of which could be at variance to those that he has expressed. Douglas indicated that a consultation process may yield superior formulations and that he is prepared to support any formulation that yields the best results for the people of St. Kitts and Nevis and amendments that would advance peace and stability.
Douglas is also hoping for constitutional change that would speak to what governments can do when it comes to the public debt.
“But the need for constitutional change goes beyond the relations between St. Kitts and Nevis. Our people have made great sacrifice to the public debt and balance our fiscal accounts after our economy was ravaged by a series of hurricanes and the sugar industry endured a prolonged period of hardships from weather conditions and the consequence of trade liberalization,” he stated.
During his tenure as Prime Minister, St. Kitts and Nevis saw its public debt move from just over 200 million dollars under the PAM/NRP Administration to over three thousand million, (or three billion).
The government has also come in for much criticism for what the opposition says has been the mismanagement of the economy and the public purse. As a result, the islands have witnessed greater economic hardships with higher food and other commodity prices, as well as a dip in the quality of social services-affecting the schools, hospitals, roads and other activities that were designed to benefit especially the poor and working class.
In the end, and for the first time in the 30 year history of an independent St. Kitts and Nevis, the country had to turn to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, to help in the execution of a bailout plan. Over 84 million US Dollars had to be borrowed from the IMF as part of the austerity measures that were applied.
Having gone through that experience that has also seen higher prices for electricity, water, gas and the introduction of the Value Added Tax, (VAT), the Prime Minister is making the point that “We have to ensure that we do not again find ourselves with excess high debt and fiscal deficits.”
He has also acknowledged that “Our people have made great sacrifices to bring down the debt so dramatically and we must ensure that the constitutional provisions in relation to debt are even more stringent and requires even higher levels of public disclosure, public consultations and parliamentary debate.”
During the course of last year, (2013), the main opposition party, the People’s Action Movement, PAM, had advocated that the time had come to save the country from what they referred to as “a reckless Prime Minister who has mismanaged the economy and country”. Looking ahead and as part of the safeguard for time to come, PAM made known its intention to seek constitutional reform to institute term limits on the post of Prime Minister.
It seems, from what Prime Minister Douglas said in his New Year’s Address, that he is now willing to embrace that concept, but he also has his own spin on the subject.
“People must be given the opportunity to decide if they wish to impose time limits on politicians. I believe that any time limit should be applied retrospectively to periods already served,” said Douglas.
However, he added that he expects that during the course of the reform process, other issues will emerge and will be ventilated in the relevant consultations.