BASSETERRE: During St. Kitts & Nevis’ 31st anniversary celebration of political independence from Britain last week, Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas acknowledged the economic progress the twin-island Federation has achieved and urged constitutional reform at a quicker pace.
“We have good reason to be joyful because our nation has grown from strength to strength since its birth in 1983…we are truly a nation on the move,” said Dr. Douglas. “We are truly justified in celebrating our progress as a people.”
Douglas said that St. Kitts & Nevis’ rate of economic growth is higher than in all other Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) countries and among the highest in the entire Caribbean.
He said the twin-island Federation had recorded significant progress in various sectors, including tourism, education, health, housing and employment.
“In essence, our nation is on the move; and we are well poised to make a gigantic leap forward to the creation of a new society replete with opportunities for our people to realize their fullest potential and thereby achieve even the most demanding goals of personal and national development that they set themselves,” said Douglas.
He said as the country experiences economic progress, it was also important to “build mechanisms to protect our accomplishments.
“Specifically, our Constitution has been in place for 31 years, and it is important that we pursue constitutional reform with even greater urgency. Our society is changing and it is therefore critical that the constitutional framework that governs the legislative and administrative process be updated to reflect changing realities.”
He said the existing relationship between St. Kitts & Nevis has been the focus of much of the public discussion on constitutional reform.
However, Douglas said even in the absence of constitutional reform, it is critical that politicians in both islands “put the interest of our people before political objectives.
“I stand ready to collaborate with any administration in Nevis to advance the welfare of the people of both of our islands in a fair and equitable manner, and I invite the administration in Nevis to enter into constructive dialogue and engagement with the Federal Government with a view to co-ordinating our development plans and securing a brighter future for our beautiful twin-island paradise.”
Douglas said there were several issues in relation to the Constitution that he believes are also critical to the continued progress of the country.
“Specifically, the constitutional provisions in relation to the ability of the government to incur debt must be updated. There needs to be even more concrete provisions in relation to debt limits and a clearly defined consultation process for exceeding those limits.
“Of course, we have consulted extensively on the issue of debt and fiscal management through the annual budget consultation exercise, but this is based on my government’s strong commitment to public participation in economic decision-making. However, this should not be optional,” he said.
Douglas said that the way debt is incurred beyond certain limits should be mandated by the Constitution.
“Our people have borne great sacrifices and have supported the government in its valiant and successful efforts to bring down our debt and put our country on a solid fiscal footing. We must protect that achievement through appropriate constitutional and legislative provisions.
“In any event, my government intends to develop in consultation with our people a mechanism for incurring debt and for fiscal management that would act as a sort of fiscal covenant between my government and the people of St. Kitts & Nevis.”
Douglas said that the issue of term limits for parliamentarians needs to be put before the people for their consideration on a non-partisan basis whereby each voter should be encouraged to vote based on his conscience and not along party lines.
“Hence, this should be an important element of any constitutional reform process,” he said. “However, the political parties themselves could also initiate processes that limit the number of leaders permitted to serve a Party if that is the will of the members of the party.”
Douglas, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in office, said he was confident that his ruling St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) would be victorious at the next poll.