BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, JULY 23RD 2013 (CUOPM) – There is a great disparity in the present numbers in the 11 constituencies in St. Kitts and Nevis with regard to the inhabitants in each particular constituency and after 25 years the governing St. Kitts and Nevis Government in compliance with the Constitution, a Constituency Boundaries Commission has been activated.
“Mr. Speaker, what it means therefore is that the Constituency Boundaries Commission has a lot of work to do and I want to commend it Mr. Speaker, for starting its work early because I believe by starting its work early, it would have time to do the proper analysis; determining firstly whether there would be an increase in the number of constituencies from 11 to whatever number, ensuring that whatever the final number is 1/3rd of those constituencies must reside in Nevis,” said Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, who noted that the former People’s Action Movement (PAM) changed the boundaries in 1983 and 1988, ahead of general elections in 1984 and 1989 respectively.
Prime Minister Douglas, who has responsibility for elections in St. Kitts and Nevis informed the National Assembly and the Federation that having been guided by the Constitution of the Federation of St. Christopher and Nevis and specifically being guided by Part 4, the limitation of constituencies, specifically part 4 sections 49, which speaks to the creation of the constituency boundaries commission.
Dr. Douglas stated:
Mr. Speaker, if I may be allowed with reference to the Constitution to read the relevant section, 49-1; there shall be for St. Christopher and Nevis a Constituency Boundaries Commission herein after in this section referred to as the commission which shall consists of;
(a) A Chairman appointed by the Governor General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, given after the Governor General has consulted the Leader of the Opposition and such other persons as the Governor General acting in his own deliberate judgement, has seen fit to consult.
(b) Two members of the National Assembly, appointed by the Governor General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister.
(c) Two members of the Assembly appointed by the Governor General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, provided that the Chairman should not be a member of the Assembly or of the Nevis Island Assembly.
Mr. Speaker, being guided by that relevant section in the constitution, I have been informed in my capacity as the Prime Minister and with Minister responsible for elections; I have been informed by his Excellency the Governor General, after consultation that he has had with me and naming the two members on the government side and also after consultation with regard to the naming of the Chairman of the Commission, and having been informed by the Governor General that the leader of the Opposition was consulted for his two members and also on the appointment of the Chairman of the commission; I wish to inform this Honourable House that the commission has been duly created according to the constitution since last year; in fact on the 1st of August Last Year.
Since that appointment of the commission Mr. Speaker, the commission has been doing work. The members of the commission for the records have been meeting under the chairmanship of Mr. Peter Jenkins and the members on the government side or those who have been appointed by the Governor General after consulting with the Prime Minister are the Honourable Dr. Earl Asim Martin, the member for Constituency St. Christopher #1 and also the Honourable Marcella Althea Liburd, the elected member for Constituency St. Christopher #2.
As I said before, I am aware that the Commission consisting of the Honourable Vance Amory, the Member of Parliament of Nevis #10 and Senator the Honourable Vincent Byron, he also has been appointed and is sitting as a member of the commission under the chairmanship of Mr. Peter Jenkins.
Mr. Speaker, I believe it is important that the commission be allowed to do its work without any unnecessary distractions. This is because Mr. Speaker the matter of revisiting the boundaries is of highest priority as is being dictated by our constitution.
In fact so high a priority it is, that after independence in 1983, the boundaries were revisited during the PAM Administration and elections were subsequently held in 1984.
Again, I believe being guided by the mandate given under the constitution that the constitution be revisited every 3-5 years; in 1988 under the Simmonds PAM Administration, the boundaries were again revisited in 1988 for the elections of March 1989.
Mr. Speaker it is important for us to continue to note that in 2009, an attempt was made by this Parliament to receive the report of the commission that was sitting at that particular time, for the elections that were due and which were held eventually in January 2010.
You would recall Mr. Speaker for the records that this matter became involved in the courts and as a result of that the elections were held without the boundaries being properly revisited as the constituency boundaries commission report which was already in the Parliament was really never allowed to be applied because the court a particular matter to deal with pertaining to that report and as a result of that the Parliament ran out of time so to speak and the report was never applied to impact upon the elections of 2010 January.
Mr. Speaker I want to make it absolutely clear that ample time has been given for the revisiting of the boundaries for the elections which are due in this Parliament by 2015 January and maybe an extension of 90 days beyond January According to the Constitution.
So maybe one can see an election being called in 2015 April and so having being seized with this important information, the boundaries commission has been activated by His Excellency the Governor General since August of Last Year 2012, three years before the elections are actually due here in St. Kitts and Nevis.
I make reference in particular with regards to the long period that has been given for the boundaries commission to do its work because there was time in our own political history, at a time when in previous situations before, sometimes the commission was only given a few hours to meet and to deliberate on boundary changes and those boundary changes were actually passed in the National Assembly and applied to have effect in the elections that followed.
So Mr. Speaker I think it is important for us to note that the Governor General in particular His Excellency at that time Sir Cuthbert Sebastian had done his job quite well in ensuring that the boundaries commission was properly in place almost three years before in order to fulfil the mandate of the constitution that the boundaries should be revisited every 3-5 years.
And so Mr. Speaker having been impacted by the constitutional mandate, the commission was put in place by August of Last Year 2012, in anticipation of the elections the latest being April 2015.
Why do I speak at this time of the Constituency Boundaries Commission?
It is because Mr. Speaker those who have in recent times, observe our elections and review the conditions and the environment under which our elections were held have been very, very specific and instructive in indicating the constitutional dictates from their own observation of previous elections, the boundaries needed to be revisited in anticipation of upcoming elections.
Mr. Speaker, permit me yet again to make reference to a document which has been circulated to all members of Parliament in the past and circulating to the members of the commission sitting presently.
It is a report of the Commonwealth Assessment Mission that looked at the situation in St. Kitts and Nevis pertaining to electoral reform and this report came about after an assessment mission visited on the 20th of August 2005 to September 2005.
Mr. Speaker, permit as I said to read from the relevant sections; it says that sections 2.1 of our elections act states that there should be no less than 8 constituencies in the island of St. Christopher and not less than 3 constituencies in the Island of Nevis; and if the number of constituencies is increased beyond 11, no less than 1/3rd shall be in the island of Nevis.
In other words, as the Boundaries Commission does its work, it may decide to maintain the 11 constituencies (8 in St. Kitts and 3 in Nevis) or it may decide to increase the constituencies, but whatever increasing it does, at the final analysis it must be that Nevis must have at least 1/3rd of the total Number because that is what the dictates of the constitution is.
Mr. Speaker it also says to us, that is according to the Constitution that all constituencies shall contain as nearly equal number of inhabitants; and I want to stress that Mr. Speaker.
So I emphasize equal number of inhabitants, not electors, not voters but inhabitants. All constituencies shall contain as nearly equal number of inhabitants as appear to the constituency boundaries commission to be reasonably practical.
So yet again another dictate from the constitution is that the number of residents in each constituency must be near equal as possible and the commission is bounded by this because the constitution says that the commission must in its own judgement, as it sees reasonably practical to bring about as nearly equal number of inhabitants as possible within each constituency.
Mr. Speaker that particular report went on to state the following; in the 2004 election, constituency #2 in St. Kitts had 6,000 voters on the register, followed by constituencies #1 and #8 with over 5,000 voters on the register.
But that was all the way back in 2004; I am sure my colleagues here have the current numbers; I am just saying what the report said; because if it speaks to voters then it speaks to inhabitants or others who may not be resident in the constituency but who are however registered to vote in that particular constituency.
Mr. Speaker the point I want to make is that if we were to look at the statistics that have been recently provided from the census, we would recognize that there is great disparity in numbers with regard to the inhabitants in each particular constituency and that disparity is shown not only in the island of St. Kitts but the disparity speaks also to the island of Nevis. Mr. Speaker, what it means therefore is that the constituency boundaries commission has a lot of work to do and I want to commend it Mr. Speaker, for starting its work early because I believe by starting its work early, it would have time to do the proper analysis; determining firstly whether there would be an increase in the number of constituencies from 11 to whatever number, ensuring that whatever the final number is 1/3rd of those constituencies must reside in Nevis.
And secondly it has a task Mr. Speaker to try to respond positively to the guidance that has been provided by the constitution and that is it must try to have at the end of the day, as near equal as possible the number of inhabitants in each constituency thus fulfilling the guidelines of our constitution.
I wish on behalf of this Honourable House, I wish the Chairman and the members of this commission, successful deliberations as they continue to carry out a critically important constitutional exercise that has been given to them by the Governor General, acting in his capacity of Head of State and in response of course of the mandate been given to him under the constitution of St. Kitts and Nevis to ensure that good governance principles are adhere to, especially in the electoral process and system here in St. Kitts and Nevis.