Even though elections are constitutionally due to be held in St. Kitts & Nevis in the next two years, incumbent Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas is already predicting a Labour Party victory at the polls.
As PM since 1995, he’s the longest serving national leader and head of government in the Americas.
“We will win the next elections because there is no match for the popularity of the Labour government and because of the achievements in the last 17 years,” Dr. Douglas told journalists at a press conference in Toronto last Saturday prior to meeting with nationals. “In the next elections, we will bring the people of St. Kitts & Nevis a slate of new candidates along with a few experienced ones like me. I want this election to come quickly because I feel that it’s time for Denzil Douglas to begin to think about retiring.”
Douglas has been under fire recently following the dismissal last January of senior Minister Dr. Timothy Harris and the resignation two days later of Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor.
Harris, the party’s chair, was dismissed for opposing government-sponsored legislation while Condor cited “issues with good governance and constitutional integrity” as his reasons for stepping down.
Douglas said he did not plan to run in the next elections.
“I was planning to exit and hoping there would be a smooth transition, but because of the defections, the party has asked me to take it through another election,” he said.
The PM noted that Condor and Harris’ departure could not have come at a worse time.
“That has been a distraction of some concern because it came at a time when St. Kitts & Nevis was really attempting to resolve a lot of the financial and economic challenges that we are facing,” said Douglas. “It became a distraction because it was at a time when we were about to go to parliament with the 2013 budget that would have showed for the first time after several years a surplus. Democracy is however alive and well in St. Kitts & Nevis and so although we treated the motion of no confidence with a certain amount of polarity and knowing it had to come before the parliament, we also have been guided by our constitution and the rules of the House that says government business takes precedence over private matters.”
The opposition People’s Action Movement party and several parliamentarians took action to institute measures for a motion of no-confidence tabled in the country’s parliament.
During the press conference, Douglas addressed several issues, including the controversial citizenship program and the redeployment of sugar cane workers.
The PM defended his government’s economic citizenship program that allows foreigners to obtain citizenship through its “Citizenship by Investment” program established in 1984. While the passport allows holders to travel visa-free to numerous countries around the world, Douglas said he’s confident the travel document will not end up in the “wrong hands” and thus lead to the imposition of visa requirements for St. Kitts & Nevis nationals seeking to enter Canada.
Citing criminality, security and border integrity concerns posed by their controversial economic citizenship program, the federal government enforced visitor visa requirements on Grenada and Dominica 12 years ago for selling passports to anyone who could afford to purchase the travel document.
“We are very much concerned about security and that is why we have reputable international agencies that do the screening,” said Douglas. “We are very concerned that our jurisdiction can be tainted if the checks are not in place. We have a citizenship program that’s very attractive and a number of countries support our program, including those in the European Union that allow our citizens to travel visa free within their territories.
“Canada has also traditionally allowed our citizens to travel without a visa. We want to safeguard that, so the government and out Citizenship Investment Unit work closely to ensure that those traditional relationships are in no way affected as a result of the citizenship program.”
The PM said the number of passports issued under the program has not exceeded 1,000.
In 2005, nearly four per cent of the islands’ population lost their jobs when sugar cultivation ceased after more than 350 years. Almost 50 per cent of the workforce was women, the majority holding just a primary level education.
Douglas said many were retrained and are now working in the hospitality sector and on a farm the government established in the sugar belt. Others were contracted by the government to sew uniforms for schoolchildren.
“We have created out of that workforce a new skilled group of people that are holding their own in the new dynamically changing services economy that we have created,” he said.
Douglas stopped over in Toronto on his way to the third International HIV Treatment as Prevention Workshop that ends today in Vancouver. He is the regional spokesperson on HIV/AIDS and other health matters.
“I believe that in the continuing fight against HIV/AIDS, there has to be the highest political support given if we are to continue to manage this pandemic that seriously affects the Caribbean region,” said Douglas, who has a medical degree from the University of the West Indies. “Over the years, we in the Caribbean have developed the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS, which has been identified by the United Nations as an international model that can be replicated by other regions of the world.
“UNAIDS is concerned that the level of financing that the fight against HIV/AIDS is attracting is declining, so I am going to Vancouver to join other political leaders and those working in the fight against the pandemic to look at new initiatives to be pursued.”
Senior government Minister Marcella Liburd and medical practitioner Dr. Vance Gilbert accompanied Douglas to Canada.