By Devonne Cornelius
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Non-governmental and faith-based organizations in St. Kitts and Nevis have written to Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris on matters concerning the national electoral process.
Officials identified issues within the Code of Conduct for the Political Process; the Pre-Election Period of Sensitivity; Abuse of Office/Integrity in Public Life; Neutrality in the Electoral Process; Election Day Delay; and Fundamental Constitutional Principles.
The letter is dated June 08, 2022, from the St. Kitts Christian Council; the St. Kitts Evangelical Association; the Nevis Christian Council; the Nevis Evangelical Association; The St. Kitts Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce; and the St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association.
The letter said: “We are of the firm view that the execution of the Code of Conduct should be mandatory after every dissolution of the National Assembly to ensure that our society is not plunged into election-induced chaos, as emotions are heightened during election campaigns. We, therefore, anticipate your soonest execution of the Code of Conduct in your capacity as Political Leader of the People’s Labour Party.
We also write to raise some concerns observed by our non-governmental organizations which can diminish our people’s confidence in our electoral system, create social instability, cause widespread anxiety, negatively affect the local economic climate, and undermine the respect for true democracy and the rule of law in our Federation.”
On the matter of Pre-Election Period of Sensitivity, the letter said “The Executive, led by your Cabinet of Ministers, should refrain from implementing major policy decisions that are likely to commit an incoming Government.
Ministers remain in office and in charge of their departments, but it is customary for them to observe discretion in announcing initiatives that are new or of a long-term character in their capacity as a minister. The Executive should refrain from making significant appointments to, or sanctioning employment of persons within, the Civil Service, ancillary government employment or benefit programmes and other government-owned entities.
We were reminded of the foregoing conventions associated with the operation of our Constitution when, for example, in a recent public announcement on May 30, 2022, you referred to a policy decision made by the current Cabinet of Ministers as being “good news provided by the Team Unity Administration and more particularly, by the People’s Labour Party.” This reference – and other major announcements made by you and your Cabinet of Ministers within the past two weeks – run counter to the pre-election period of sensitivity conventions and can be reasonably seen as being used for political gain.
Major policy decisions and public statements of that nature are even more concerning to our organizations as your Cabinet of Ministers only consists of three (3) elected Members of the now-dissolved National Assembly. You have therefore constituted a Cabinet with less than one third (1/3) of elected representatives of the people. Whilst it may be within your constitutional right, as Prime Minister, to do so, please be reminded that we are a people who have expressly stated in our Constitution that we believe in a true democracy where the voice of the people is paramount. The actions of your Cabinet of Ministers, made up of a minority of elected representatives of the people, should therefore be even more sensitive in nature and limited in scope at this time to conform with constitutionally connected conventions.
Continued actions in breach of such conventions and fundamental democratic principles will only do harm to our maturing democracy.”
The non-governmental and faith-based organizations reminded Prime Minister Harris of activities that may be deemed as Abuse of Office and to refrain from engaging in any such activity.
“A public official commits an offence of abuse of office if he or she — seeks or accepts personal or private benefit for himself or herself or a member of his or her family or a person associated with him or her, whether or not the benefit places him or her under an obligation to the person giving or offering the benefit. Uses public funds or resources for private purposes, including party political purposes. Fails to act impartially, or gives undue preferential treatment to a person or group of persons.
Acts in a way that allows or might reasonably be thought to allow, a conflict of interest to arise between the public duties and private interests of the public official. Interferes in, or seeks to influence, otherwise than as part of his or her duty, the appointment, promotion, suspension, demotion or dismissal of a public official or other person. Induces or encourages another public official to act contrary to the Code of Conduct.”
Political parties and citizens have raised concerns about the electoral process in the country claiming that there is unusual activity taking place at the country’s electoral office.
The letter said “There should be greater emphasis on the peaceful and orderly conduct of the impending election. Neutrality on the part of the Electoral Commission, electoral officials, the Royal Saint Christopher and Nevis Police Force and the Defence Force is paramount. The Electoral Commission has ultimate control of the election and there should be no interference with its operations.”
The organisations went on to urge Prime Minister Harris to announce an election date “to relieve the nationwide anxiety engulfing our society…”