Q: Welcome, Prime Minister, and thank you for agreeing to this interview. The Opposition has been talking a lot about the Motion of No Confidence (MONC). What is your position on this matter?
A: I have already said that the MONC will be heard. However there are other bills that have to be heard as well. It is important to note that the People’s Action Movement (PAM) Administration is now criticizing my Administration because a debate has not yet been held. When the PAM was in office, however, the Labour Opposition introduced two MONC’s. The PAM Administration absolutely refused to debate either of these motions. Not for six or nine or eleven months, but for three years. Indeed, neither of the No Confidence Motions that the then-Labour Opposition introduced was ever debated in the PAM controlled Parliament. This therefore strips the People’s Action Movement of the moral authority to criticize the timing of this MONC debate. That is extremely important point. And we should not sweep it under the rug. Nonetheless, as I have said before, the MONC should be heard, and I have every reason to believe that it will be considered by Parliament along with other legislative initiatives.
Q: The Opposition claims that you are violating the Constitution. Your reaction?
A: I have to assume that if the framers of our Constitution felt that a MONC had to be considered within a certain time frame they would have specified that. The Constitution of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, which came into being some four years before ours, for example, was very clear as to the timelines within which a motion of no confidence must be heard in that country. The team that wrote the St. Kitts-Nevis Constitution included a number of highly learned lawyers, and even though the St. Kitts-Nevis Constitution is almost identical to that of St. Vincent & the Grenadines in many respects, the framers of the St. Kitts-Nevis Constitution chose not to include the type of time-frame specific language that the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Constitution contains. And so, I have to be guided by what the Constitution does – and does not – actually specify. Let us remember, however, that when the People’s Action Movement created our country’s Constitution, they were, at that exact moment, facing a Vote of No Confidence from the then-Labour opposition, which they had, for years, refused to hear. This could help to explain why they did not specify the time frame within which such a motion would have to be heard – because had they specified a deadline it would have forced them to consider the motion that was before them. And so, we have the Constitution that we have. Nonetheless, the MONC has to be heard and the Speaker assures me that it will be. The second important point for the public to understand is that this MONC is being pushed not because of any national crisis or governmental failing: Debt is down. Crime is down. We have budget surpluses. A 1.9% growth is projected for 2013 – and this, during a global recession. Major projects – domestic and foreign – are moving forward. Significant and broad-based government funding for skills-training and apprenticeships is being provided. Political freedoms are alive and well in SKN. But there is one individual who wishes to become Prime Minister without first winning the support of either the Labour Party membership or his Cabinet colleagues. He has decided that the quickest way to do this would be to deliver to the People’s Action Movement, in exchange for a promise to be named prime minister, a seat earned by (a) Labour campaigning, (b) Labour funding, and (c) Labour loyalty. If he wishes to join forces with the People’s Action Movement, he has that right. And if, together, they decide to put forward a Motion of No Confidence in Labour since that would serve PAM’s overall interests and his personal interests, that is their right as well. What he does not have the right to do, however, is to turn over to the People’s Action Movement a seat won when he told the voters that he was with the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP). Let us remember that those voters knowingly rejected the Peoples Action Movement in the last election and so it is not within his right to turn their votes, in effect, over to PAM. The voices of these voters now need to be heard. The MP from that Constituency needs to resign his Labour seat, go back to the voters of that constituency, and allow them to speak via an immediate by-election. Everyone has ignored those whose votes are being traded as a matter of personal convenience, and this is not acceptable.
Q: What do you think it means that two of your senior Ministers have become your fiercest critics?
A: Couples joined in holy matrimony sometimes end up in divorce. Relatives often become estranged. Tensions within organizations and political parties are not unknown. Even Cain and Abel could not find common ground. What I do know is that I have the honor of leading a highly cohesive, highly focused, and highly effective cabinet. And I thank the Honorable Asim Martin, Marcella Liburd, Jason Hamilton, Glenn Phillip, Patrice Nisbett, Nigel Carty, and Ricky Skerrit for the hard work and competence that they bring to their responsibilities on a daily basis, to the benefit of our country.
I’d like to throw something out for the public to ponder however. At first, we were told that it was me whom they did not trust or like. They said that I was too dictatorial. After a while, however, they made it clear that it was not just me. It was, indeed, all of their Cabinet colleagues, whom they publicly disparage as “Yes” men and women, as weak, and as lacking the boldness of character that they – Harris and Condor – supposedly possess. And then, lo and behold, we realized that it was not just me, and it was not just their Cabinet colleagues, it was the entire Labour Party that they disliked – because they decided that they absolutely would not come to their Labour comrades to discuss their concerns; they absolutely would not come before their Labour comrades to seek their [the members’] support for Mr. Harris as St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party Leader; and they absolutely would not come before their Labour comrades to demonstrate to them their love for our great party and their readiness to work within the Party to make our Party stronger. Instead they decided to join forces with the Peoples Action Movement in such a way that together , they hoped, they might be able to cause the downfall of this Labour Government. However, that is not going to happen. A party built on those motivations lacks the moral fiber and positivity that is needed for the long haul. And if there is only one thing that the St. Kitts- Nevis Labour Party has ALWAYS had, it is moral fibre and positivity. Just look at our origins. Just look at our history. Just look at the myriad ways in which we have expanded the horizons of our people and you will see why a party that was formed “to defeat one man” is destined to stumble and crumble.
Q: What do you say to those who say that you have been Prime Minister for too long?
A: I did not inherit this position, as you know. I have, to the contrary, always been a highly responsible and productive member of our society, in general, and the SKNLP, in particular – first as a medical doctor, and then as an elected official. It is important to remember that the rank and file of the SKNLP first voted for me as Party Leader. Then, the country later voted for the SKNLP, mindful of the fact that if Labour won, I, as Party Leader, would most likely be named Prime Minister. Finally, having let the SKNLP to victory at the polls, my Cabinet colleagues then agreed that I should serve as Prime Minister. That is the process by which I have become Prime Minister. In addition, I am required to vacate my position as Party Leader every year in order for the Party membership to vote on whether they wish me to return as Party Leader, or they would prefer someone else to assume the reins. My key point is that I do not wish to die in office. It is my desire and intention, instead, to oversee a smooth transition to new leadership within this outstanding Party, in order that our unparalleled work might continue unbroken, and this I shall witness – as shall everyone else.
Q: What makes you better suited to lead St. Kitts-Nevis than your opponents?
A: It is not I who decided that I should lead, but the voters. So maybe you should ask them. The traits that I possess which have been of greatest benefit to SKN, however, are, I think, (i) my high energy level and my commitment to seeing multifaceted missions through to the end; (ii) my intuitive understanding of the heart-felt aspirations of people of all classes, creeds, and ages – I connect with people easily; (iii) my ability to grasp and synthesize highly complex issues, separate the relevant from the irrelevant, and come up with solutions that will have long-term benefits for the nation; (iv) my determination to ensure that each generation finds itself with greater social and economic options than the generation that came before, and my success at doing this; and, very importantly, (v) the first-rate team of Ministerial Colleagues and other experts whose views and insights figure so prominently in all that I do.
Q: Your reaction to the most recently created political party?
A: It is a mask being used by the People’s Action Movement to win votes that they could not win as the People’s Action Movement. It is PAM by another name and it does not take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Sam Condor is running in Constituency 3 and so PAM has decided not to field a candidate there. Not so much because they want Sam Condor to win, but because they need the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party – which they have absolutely zero chance of defeating on their own – to lose. Similarly, Timothy Harris is running in Constituency 7 and, there again, PAM has decided not to field a candidate in the hope that Timothy Harris will help them to defeat Labour. It is not going to happen. The people have seen through the smokescreen and they will not be fooled.
Let us remember however, that this is not the first time that a new political party has been established in St. Kitts-Nevis. Earlier this year, the National Integrity Party was established, and some years back, the National Empowerment Party. Most importantly, St. Kitts-Nevis is a democracy, and anyone wishing to form a political party is free to do so.
Q: What was the cause of the rift that developed between you and these two former Cabinet Members?
A: For a long time prior to my removal of Timothy Harris from the Federal Cabinet and the resignation of Sam Condor, they had both been attempting to undermine the Labour Government from within. It is the Government’s and the people’s good fortune, however, that the Honorable Asim Martin, Marcella Liburd, Glenn Phillip, Patrice Nesbitt, Jason Hamilton, Nigel Carty, and Ricky Skerritt are extremely focused and competent professionals and public servants. Therefore whatever under-mining Harris and Condor may have been trying to carry out has been more than counterbalanced by the intense focus and productivity of the other seven members of cabinet. Prior to their departure, for example, we would be in an important meeting with the IMF – and this actually happened – attempting to advance the economic interests of the Federation, and Mr. Condor would be running off to appear on a radio show to issue a statement that he thought might be injurious to me, politically. Or, major business interests might share information with them, information which would require Cabinet knowledge and action, but they would not share that information with us. Instead, they would keep it to themselves and then, at what they perceived to be the strategic moment, they would release it to one of their talk show friends. So we, in the Cabinet would learn about these particular issues as a result of a talk show host making those issues public. But again, as I said, we may have had two individuals attempting to undermine the Cabinet, but let us not forget that we had seven who were extremely competent, extremely dedicated, and extremely disciplined because you will remember that no matter what Condor and Harris said that was negative, neither I nor any other member of Cabinet ever said one disparaging word against them. We did not think that was appropriate and we never did. Not as long as they were members of the Federal Cabinet. They are no longer in Cabinet and so that is a different matter. But as long as they were in Cabinet with us, not matter what they were saying publicly – and they were saying a great deal, for months, the seven other members of Cabinet kept our peace. Out of respect for the office that they held, and out of respect for the Cabinet and Government in which we serve.
Q: Finally, Prime Minister, the recently departed Cabinet Ministers have expressed concerns about the role of nominated members of Cabinet. Are their concerns valid?
A: That is more than a bit befuddling. First of all, our Constitution provides for the nomination of Senators by both the Government and the Opposition. Secondly, this is an option that both the previous Administration as well as my Administration have exercised: For example, Mr. Richard Caines, an extremely vocal critic of my Government, served as a nominated member of Cabinet in the Simmonds-led Administration of the People’s Action Movement, and was assigned to the very powerful Ministry of Finance. In addition, the wife of Mr. Condor, one of the recently departed Cabinet Members, also served as a nominated – as opposed to elected – member of parliament during the previous Labour Administration. Even Mr. Tapley Seaton, Q.C. who served as Attorney General during the Simmonds-led Peoples Action Movement Administration was nominated, not elected. Finally the Constitution makes allowances for the number of Government and Opposition Senators to be increased. We had proposed that the Government gain two new Senators, and the Opposition, one – an increase that is less than the maximum number allowed for by law. For all of these reasons, the disparaging remarks that the Opposition is now making about unelected Members of Parliament are difficult to understand.
Thank you, Prime Minister.