by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Leader of the People’s Action Movement (PAM), Deputy Prime Minister the Hon Shawn Richards, whose party holds four of the 11 seats in St. Kitts and Nevis, says PAM is dissatisfied with its current state of affairs within the Team Unity Coalition.
“I think it has become very clear to all persons who have been observing and listening that the state of the coalition cannot be described as being the best at this particular point in time,” said Minister Richards during an interview with Daren Matthew Ward of Observer A.M. in Antigua and Barbuda.
The other coalition members include the Peoples Labour Party (PLP), which holds two seats, and the Concerned Citizen’s Movement, which holds three.
The Issue of “Fair Share”
The continued rumblings within Team Unity reached a turning point when the Premier of Nevis, the Hon Mark Brantley, leader of the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), the final third of the Coalition from Nevis, brought up the topic of “fair share” of the Citizenship by Investment Programme at the PAM’s convention on March 13.
Previously, Brantley suggested that in 2021 St. Kitts and Nevis earned more than $500 million from CBI during his February 2022 monthly press conference. He admitted that the programme had been a sore issue for some time.
“In so far as the CBI, that’s always a vexed question for me because you are absolutely correct that in 2021 when the country and the world [were] still in the grips of this pandemic, that St. Kitts and Nevis had a windfall so far as CBI was concerned and we earned north of $500 million from CBI.”
He added, “I can say it because it is the fact that Nevis got no more than it always got, and so Nevis got the same amount from the proceeds of CBI in 2019, in 2020, and 2021 and that is $3.57 million per month. It is a matter that I have raised with the Honourable Prime Minister because for me and the island of Nevis, it is unacceptable, and I’ve raised that, and I’ve said that this can’t be how the country is going to function going forward.”
Rewatch the press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0SR5TgvRXs
What exactly is the fair share for Nevis?
According to the Charlestown Accord, the fair share is based on a pro-rata population basis, meaning the funds should be shared based on the size of the populations of both islands.
An example of this:
Assuming the population of St. Kitts and Nevis is 50,000, with 35,000 on St. Kitts and 15,000 on Nevis.
The revenue earned in 2021, as suggested by Brantley, was $500 million.
Based on the pro-rata allocation structure in the Charlestown Accord, Nevis’ gross allotment calculated before the operational cost stands at $150 million or thirty percent in CBI Revenue of the $500 million Brantley reported.
Prime Minister Harris addressed the tunnel vision on revenues, citing Clause 110 of the Constitution, which outlines how money should be distributed between the Federal Government and the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) as the supreme law of the land and should be a guiding principle when allocating funds.
“You can’t just look at revenue. The founding fathers say if you want to do a proper allocation, you have to look at the costs, and it makes sense because you can’t have revenue without expending resources to get the revenue, and therefore, that has to be deducted before you could make a determination about what portion will go there of the net,” said Dr. Harris during PLP’s March 16 press conference.
He added, “It’s simple; that’s how it works in corporations, gross net. Gross revenues cost of sales. So you can’t just come and look at the revenues because sometimes you have to spend a lot [on] marketing, travelling, staff operations; all those are critical elements in determining, in the end, the net result, that is what is important.”
The actual net revenue remains unsubstantiated, with the Deputy Prime Minister also sharing that he is unaware of a true depiction of the CBI revenue.
“Part of the complaint that you also have had from members of parliament is that when you try to get information relative to financial resources of the country, that is shrouded in much secrecy.”
Harris suggested that if there are issues in the way things are done, have an independent analyst look at the program and evaluate what is fair.
“I’ve been saying this to the Premiers, let us get the experts because perhaps if I were to do something, somebody will say, well you have your agenda, [vice versa]. Let’s get an independent person of acceptable repute, internationally [or] regionally, to come in and look at what we are doing and give us advice on the way forward. For me, this is critically important if we were to have an enduring settlement for a period of time.”
A Bevy of Rebuttals
In rebuttal of the Premier’s claim, Prime Minister the Hon Dr Timothy Harris said the CBI Program has never been raised for discussion at Cabinet meetings by Premier Brantley or any other member of Cabinet.
Dr. Harris made that statement during a press conference on March 16, the lead up to PLP’s week of activities for their convention, where he also spoke of an agreement made to increase the allocation to Nevis by 50 percent; from $30 million to $45 million and outlined that the Federal Treasury funds pharmaceuticals, and medicines for the hospital and health centres on Nevis; salaries and wages for employees of the Nevis Island Administration and more.
The tennis match between the coalition leaders continued a week after the press conference where Minister Richards declared PAM’s support of CCM and its leader, Brantley, in his fight for a fair share of the CBI revenue.
Richards said Team Unity failed CCM.
“Having been apprised of the various engagements on this matter and the failure thus far to find resolution, I am led to the inescapable conclusion that there has been no genuine effort to resolve this over the years and that our Team Unity Government has failed in its promise to the CCM and to the people of our beloved sister Nevis,” said Richards in an address to the nation posted on PAM’s Facebook page.
The party leader called for an improved process to determine the final allocation of funds from the CBI program to Nevis to have the necessary revenue to run their own programs.
” If the NIA is given its agreed share of the proceeds of national efforts, then there will be no need for the federal government to itemise how much is spent on programs such as STEP or PAP or the Peace program in Nevis. The NIA would then have the necessary resources to finance its own programs for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in Nevis.”
Where does the Coalition stand?
During the interview with Observer Radio, Richards admitted that things between him and Prime Minister Harris could not be described as comfortable at the moment.
“I have stated quite openly that I do not support the Prime Minister for a third term as Prime Minister. That is a principled position and let me make it abundantly clear that that particular position isn’t about me. It is a principal position, which I’ve taken that is an agreement that we had leading up to 2015 when the Team Unity Coalition was formed.”
Concerning Harris aiming for a third term, the PM said the focus should be on the future of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis instead of the topic of a third term. He declared that his view on the matter had been made publicly clear.
“I am not sure why this is even in a conversation; we have just come out of an election, we are still working our way through the pandemic, and every person involved in decision making ought to be focused on one thing at this point in time, the future of our people. Keeping them safe, keeping them strong, putting the country back to work again so that our farmers can earn more, our fisherfolks can live and feed their families. That is what our attention should be on.”
The Prime Minister continued, “Elections are not due [until] 2025, I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow [or] even tonight, and we are focused on a political agenda when the focus really should be on the people.”
See the entire press conference here: https://youtu.be/lwYwLYHEGWc.
Another concern shared by Richards was related to the fair share of resources within St. Kitts.
“Additionally, there is also the case whereby it is felt that resources in St. Kitts itself are not shared fairly amongst the constituencies. In many instances, it is felt that the Prime Minister [directs] resources to his constituency in a proportion which is far greater than the resources afforded to the other constituencies.”
Examples stated by Richards included the 15 Venezuelan houses that were given away free of charge earlier this year, which were all built in Constituency No. 7 and the difficulty of people getting into the Skills Training Empowerment Program (STEP) and the Poverty Alleviation Program (PAP) in other constituencies.
“One must note that he’s the Minister of Finance; he’s the Minister of Human Resources. He also has oversight over the PAP program. And I have said to the Prime Minister that something about that isn’t right. Because you then make it look as if your other representatives; they’re incompetent, they don’t care, they have been making no efforts to satisfy the needs of these particular constituents. And so one has to wonder, well, what specifically is the motive?”
The Deputy Prime Minister said discussions concerning the coalition are expected this week.
Worst-case scenario, Richards said the people would have to go back to the polls.
“The nuclear option, of course, would be to go back to the polls and let the people determine who they want to continue to serve them as a government,” said Richards near the end of his interview on Observer Radio Antigua.
Listen to the Deputy Prime Minister’s entire interview here:
There have been growing whispers of a vote of no confidence, which would lead to a snap election when the current administration has only been in power for two years come June 2022.
Elections in Nevis are also around the corner, being constitutionally due by April of 2023.