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Brantley: “Is this what our democracy has come to?”

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by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Premier of Nevis and former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Aviation, the Hon. Mark Brantley describes the current political climate in the Federation as a constitutional crisis.

“Well, I think the only word that comes to mind is crisis. We find ourselves in a political and constitutional crisis here in St. Kitts and Nevis. You know, last night a photo was sent to me of the new Government and the new Cabinet comprising three elected individuals and three selected individuals; and we have to wonder, is this what our democracy has come to?” said the leader of the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) during an interview on WINN’s Island Tea on May 12.

Brantley admitted that the problem in the Team Unity coalition started before the 2020 General Election and when asked why they then supported Prime Minister the Hon. Dr Timothy Harris, for a second term, Brantley revealed that his Concerned Citizen Movement (CCM) has a different perspective.

“And I will tell you quite candidly that I and my party had a different view after the 2020 elections, and the seats were cast, and we knew who was in and who was out. Our position was that Team Unity should have, at that point, taken a different direction. The Prime Minister knows this, that we did not support him to continue as Prime Minister… that has been the position, and so we wanted in the CCM to make a change, but our colleagues decided that they would proceed otherwise. And so we did and we said, okay, let us continue the effort to try to work and resolve these issues. Sadly, we failed.”

The Premier’s statement follows his dismissal as a minister in the current administration and the dissolution of Parliament.

New Cabinet meets with Government Officials

On Wednesday, May 11 the reshuffled Cabinet of Ministers met with Permanent Secretaries in the Government, and upon meeting with them, the Prime Minister said, “I expect that the ministers would have the fullest cooperation and support of every Permanent Secretary in general and those that are directed to report to them by way of the constitutional mandate and the reorganisation of the Cabinet.”

The legitimacy of the current construct of the Cabinet has been called into question.

Currently, three elected MP’s and three appointed ministers make up the Cabinet, who now share the responsibility of the ministries that just lost their MP’s.

Observers suggest that there is currently no Government since the dissolution of parliament and that the country is on pause until a new government is sworn into office.

PAM Leader Shawn K Richards addresses media at RLB International after his return to SKN

Leader of the People’s Action Movement (PAM) Shawn Richards, upon his return to St. Kitts

and Nevis, suggested that since six former MP’s wrote to the Governor-General expressing that they no longer support Prime Minister the Hon. Dr Timothy Harris,  Dr Harris’ leadership at this time is illegitimate.

“Dr Timothy Harris has no moral authority to govern. Our parliament is comprised of 11 elected representatives; six of us are from PAM and CCM and do not support Harris. Two others are from the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party, and they, too, do not support Harris. This leaves Harris and one other member of his party who support him. In addition, there is one additional MP who seems to have put his personal benefits ahead of his loyalty to [the] country and his party. So in a country that is supposed to be democratic, we have a situation where three elected MPs out of 11are masquerading as a government, while eight duly elected ones clearly do not support this travesty that is being condoned by a few who benefit from the handouts of government resources.”

Brantley echoed the former Deputy Prime Minister’s sentiments about the apparent illegitimacy of the current makeup of the Cabinet while alluding to an agenda behind the six MPs being fired.

“I believe that those who made the moves that they made two days ago miscalculated because they thought perhaps we would rush to the High Court for some type of relief, and then they could say that the matter is tied up in the court. No, there is no court proceeding; let us go to the people and let people determine. And my own view is that there is only one certainty coming out of this next election is that Timothy Harris will never be the prime minister of St. Kitts and Nevis again.”

Before the dissolution and the firing of the six MPs of PAM and CCM, the Prime Minister lost the support of the majority of parliamentary ministers. The Governor-General was asked to act upon this loss of support through a letter signed by the six former MPs.

However, the Governor-General replied saying, “I wish to advise that under our Constitution, no such power resides in the Governor-General, and I am therefore unable to accede to your request.”

The constitution does not expressly provide the Governor-General with the power to remove the Prime Minister because of a letter expressing the majority no longer supports Dr Harris as Prime Minister. The expressed mode is through a Motion of No Confidence, which was filed on April 25.

What does the dissolution of parliament mean for the government?

According to Chapter V – The Executive section 52. Ministers, the Prime Minister has the authority to appoint senators ministerial portfolios.

Sub-section five says, “If [an] occasion arises for making an appointment to the office of Prime Minister or any other Minister while Parliament is dissolved, then, notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (2) and (4), a person who was a Representative immediately before the dissolution may be appointed as Prime Minister and a person who was a Representative or a Senator immediately before the dissolution may be appointed as any Minister other than Prime Minister.”

Sub-section two says, “the Governor-General has the authority to appoint a Prime Minister, and he shall appoint a Representative who appears to command the support of the majority of the Representatives.”

Sub-section four speaks to appointments made by the Governor-General without dissolution of Parliament. The constitution says, “Appointments to the office of Minister, other than the office of Prime Minister, shall be made by the Governor-General, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, from among the members of the National Assembly.”

If not relieved of duty, government ministers remain in post and continue the work of their departments when Parliament is dissolved and are replaced when a new government is formed following a general election.

Dissolution also marks the start of the pre-election restrictions period, where restrictions are placed on what the government can do, whether in initiating policy or in the use of official resources.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Shawn Richards predicted that the snap election would likely be called between late June and early July, which suggests the announcement of candidates for PAM and PLP are likely in the coming days.

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