Published On: Tue, Mar 26th, 2013

Opposition MP warns of possible civil unrest in St Kitts-Nevis

Eugene HamiltonST JOHN’S, Antigua -- In addressing the first sitting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Assembly taking place in St John’s, Antigua, on Tuesday, St Kitts and Nevis opposition member of parliament, Eugene Hamilton, warned of possible civil unrest in the federation over the failure to debate a long-outstanding parliamentary motion of no confidence.

According to Hamilton, the motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas and the government of St Kitts and Nevis was served on the clerk of the federation’s parliament on December 11, 2012, and despite correspondence to the speaker of parliament, to date, some one hundred and five days later that motion remains un-debated.
The speaker of the national assembly, Curtis Martin, in response to an inquiry from the leader of the opposition Mark Brantley, has reportedly confirmed that this motion must be dealt with expeditiously, subject to the exigencies of government business.

Since the filing of the motion, Parliament has convened on 15th and 29th January to debate the Senators (Increase of Numbers) Act 2013, which the High Court later declared unconstitutional on 29 February.

Hamilton pointed out that the rules of the St Kitts and Nevis parliament do not address how No confidence motions should be dealt with. But the Standing Orders of the National Assembly under the National Assembly Elections Act states:

(1) In any matter not herein provided for, resort shall be had to the usage and practice of the Commons House of Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland , which shall be followed as far as the same may be applicable to the National Assembly, and not inconsistent with these Standing Orders nor with the practice of the National Assembly.

Hamilton then referred to Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice, 24th Ed., pg 344, which speaks to “Confidence Motions” and says this:

“From time to time the Opposition puts down a motion on the paper expressing lack of confidence in the Government or otherwise criticizing its general conduct. By established convention the Government always accedes to the demand from the Leader of the Opposition to allot a day for the discussion of a motion tabled by the official Opposition which, in the Government’s view would have the effect of testing the confidence of the House. In allowing a day for this purpose, the Government is entitled to have regard to the exigencies of its own business, but a reasonably early day is invariably found. This convention is founded on the recognized position of the Opposition as a potential government, which guarantees the legitimacy of such an interruption of the normal course of business. For its part, the Government has everything to gain by meeting such a direct challenge to its authority at the earliest possible moment.”

Hamilton went on to say that the primary exigency of government business that is referred to is the budget debate, which was initially set down for a sitting on December 11, 2013. The night before, on 10th December, Douglas made a national broadcast to advise that the sitting would be postponed because two members of Cabinet had failed to attend a scheduled budget meeting. On December 11, the clerk of parliament sent out a notice stating that the meeting had been postponed.

Douglas has repeatedly and consistently stated in numerous public broadcasts and addresses, including an address to the Chamber of Industry and Commerce on 18th December 2013, that the budget debate should take precedence over the motion of no confidence.

“Six elected representatives, including myself, who constitute a majority of the eleven elected members of Parliament, have signed a letter addressed and delivered to His Excellency the Governor General indicating our intention to support the motion of no confidence,” Hamilton pointed out.

Douglas, in an interview on 15th March, stated that the budget debate will now be set down for 9th April 2013.

However, Hamilton noted that, in Section 71(1), the Constitution of St Kitts and Nevis states:

“The Minister for the time being responsible for finance shall cause to be prepared and laid before the National Assembly before, or not later than sixty days after, the commencement of each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Government for that financial year.”

He went on to point out that it is now 86 days since the start of the fiscal year and no estimates have been brought before the National Assembly.

“I am of the view that this is a mandatory provision and that the minister of finance, who is also the prime minister, and the government are in breach of the constitution,” Hamilton said.

“I fear that any attempt to convene parliament to debate a budget at this juncture before debating the motion of no confidence can result in civil unrest that could impact adversely on the region especially if the OECS members fail to impress upon our speaker and prime minister the need to follow the constitution and Westminster traditions,” he warned.

Hamilton urged the OECS Assembly to ensure that peace abounds in St Kitts and Nevis and that solidarity is engendered around protecting the democratic traditions that he said are being undermined in St Kitts and Nevis by the conduct of both Martin and Douglas.

“The precedent that is being made by the conduct referred to cannot be allowed to stand and ultimately exported throughout our region,” he said.

Hamilton said that he expected nothing less than a resolution calling for the immediate convening of parliament to debate the motion of no confidence before any other undertaking.

“As good stewards of our democratic traditions, citizens of the region are expecting you to be forthright as protectors of those traditions and laws that are required and which underpin functional stable societies,” he concluded.

By Caribbean News Now contributor.

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