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August 16, 2013

Dr Gonsalves responded on August 13.

Fri Aug 16, 2013

From Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves to Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace

August 13, 2013

Dr. The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves
Prime Minister
The Hon. Arnhim Eustace
Leader of the Opposition
Democrat House

Thank you for your letter dated the 5th day of August, 2013, on the above-captioned matter.

At the outset, let me state my clear view on this issue: There is no proper basis for either the OECS or CARICOM to intervene formally in the current political situation in St. Kitts and Nevis. Accordingly, I am unable to make any formal representation for the resolution of the on-going challenges in that magnificent country.{{more}} Informally, I will continue to speak with Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas. I set out my reasons below.

It is axiomatic that a democratically-elected government ought always to be representative of the people. That representativeness is made manifest in a government which commands the majority of the representatives elected in free and fair elections. When a government no longer has the support of the majority of the elected members of the Parliament, it has several options, namely: (i) To resign and cause fresh general elections to be held; (ii) to face a vote of confidence in the legislature in appropriate circumstances; or (iii) to act in accordance with any other appropriate constitutional directive given by the Head of State (Governor General).

These are eternal, core principles of good governance. So, it is usual and expected that when a motion of no-confidence, properly-drafted, is duly filed against a government, such a motion ought to be deliberately considered and determined by the legislature in the shortest time practicable, having regard to all pressing or other extraordinary exigencies of State. That is an established constitutional convention in parliamentary democracy.

In the Constitutions of some CARICOM member-states, there are detailed provisions governing the filing and debating of no-confidence motions. For example, in the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a no-confidence motion is required to be debated, by way of the Speaker’s expressed mandate, within 21 days of its filing. In Section 47(2) of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it is stated thus:

“(a) If notice in writing is given to the Speaker signed by no less than three Representatives, of a motion of no confidence in the Government, the Speaker shall ____

(i) if the House is then sitting or has been summoned to meet within five days, cause the motion to be considered by the House within seven days of the notice, or

(ii) if the House is not then sitting and has been so summoned (and notwithstanding that Parliament may be prorogued) summon the House to meet within fourteen days of the notice and cause the motion to be considered at that meeting:

Provided that if the House does not, within twenty-one days of the notice, meet and dispose of the motion, the Clerk of the House shall summon a special meeting of the House at such time and place as he may specify for the purpose of debating and disposing of the motion.”

I have been advised that the Constitution of St. Kitts and Nevis makes no comparable provisions as outlined in the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This does not mean that the eternal, core principles, and established constitutional convention, to which I have earlier adverted, are inapplicable.

However, the matter of the no-confidence motion in St. Kitts and Nevis has been complicated by the institution of legal action by members of the parliamentary opposition against the Speaker of the House of Assembly and the government, to compel the summoning of Parliament to debate and dispose of the no-confidence motion. In addition to this, the Honourable Speaker has filed an application in the High Court in which he has claimed, among other things, certain relevant declarations. Once this legal process was embarked upon, a new situation arose which presaged inevitable delays. Even after the litigants from the parliamentary opposition discontinued their legal action, it was open to the government to insist upon a pronunciation by the High Court on the vital constitutional issue at hand. Meanwhile, the Speaker’s application to the High Court still subsists.

Thus, the eternal, core principles of REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT underpinning the filing, debating and determination of a no-confidence motion have become entwined with the sanctity of the judicial process and the RULE OF LAW, themselves bedrock principles of a free and democratic society. That twin process is now being played out before our very eyes in St. Kitts and Nevis within the context of the constitutional formulae touching and concerning the separation of powers.

It is imperative that the Court act with speed to hear and determine the matter currently before it. Any delay is unacceptable and injurious to the rule of law, representative government, and democratic society. I am sure that the Honourable Chief Justice is mindful of this, even in the Court vacation, and especially so since the recent stricture against delays in our Eastern Caribbean jurisdiction by the Privy Council in Antigua Power Company Limited v the Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda et al. [2013] UKPC 24.

I turn now to the oft-repeated indictment by the parliamentary opposition in St. Kitts and Nevis that the government lacks “moral legitimacy” on the basis of some yet undefined or even spurious legal/constitutional grounds. Clearly, on any reasonable reading of the Constitution, the government is not illegitimate. Further, its acts or omissions have not been legally challenged as being illegal or unconstitutional. To the extent that the legal challenge by members of the parliamentary opposition touched and concerned the government’s legality or constitutionality, these opposition members have undermined the very basis of this contention by the discontinuance of their court action.

It is evident to any objective observer that both the government and the opposition in St. Kitts and Nevis have been playing the legal rules in the judicial process in a manner to accord each a perceived political advantage; this is not unusual in a competitive political system as either side jockeys for the electorate’s favour. In all this it is important to note that it is in the legal action of members of the parliamentary opposition which triggered the Defendants to respond in like manner, as indeed is their constitutional right. It is in that context, too, that the High Court is duty-bound to proceed expeditiously in hearing and determining the legal matter before it. Meanwhile, the Speaker, in a dispassionate exercise of his office, has sought the Court’s guidance in a context in which he had no other practical option.

Fundamentally, though, this is a political issue, not a legal one, although the law is its foundation stone and the judicial process, one arena of the on-going political war. It will in due course be resolved politically, most likely in the impending general elections.

On the issue of the government’s alleged lack of moral legitimacy, there is ample room for polemics on either side of the political divide revolving around: (i) The bundle of public values touching upon Representative Government; and (ii) The matrix of public values concerning the Rule of Law, including the integrity of the judicial process.

Other queries in the debate on “moral legitimacy” also arise, including:

(i) Should two elected Representatives who secured their election on the ticket of a political party be permitted, without public reproach, to bring down a government because they now disagree with, or is opposed to, the Prime Minister who led that very ticket in the last general elections?

(ii) Should such elected representatives not do the honourable thing, in accordance with the principles of public morality and respect for their voters, by resigning and contesting by-elections?

(iii) Would by-elections in those two seats not constitute the most potent indicator of the public’s stance on this on-going political drama?

In short, those who come to equity and moral legitimacy ought always to come with clean hands. One cannot in good conscience use these vaunted principles as swords against others, but opportunistically as shields for themselves!

The difficulty faced by the OECS, CARICOM, or indeed any international body such as the Commonwealth, to intervene in the impasse in St. Kitts and Nevis is that a possible path, or at least the opening of an avenue, towards a political resolution, resides in the internal judicial and political processes. In the absence of an exhaustion of these internal processes, any formal outside interference in a country’s internal affairs is premature and unacceptable, particularly since there is no break-down in law and order and none is reasonably apprehended.

At the same time, the prolonged pendency of a no-confidence motion, for which due notice was submitted to the Speaker of the House of Assembly in excess of six months ago, is cause for unease.

I have spoken informally to my colleageue, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. Denzil Douglas, on the overall situation on more than one occasion over the last six months; I will continue to do so. Of course I have not spoken to the Speaker; I have no “locus standi” so to do. I expect that the Speaker would have been properly advised in this matter by legal and other counsel.

Dr. Douglas is a distinguished regional leader who has a justifiably huge reputation as a defender and promoter of representative government, popular democracy, the rule of law, and good governance. I feel certain that he is unlikely to act contrary to the public interest or in any manner calculated to diminish his personal standing before the bar of public opinion and the high regard of his Sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who has honoured him with membership of her Privy Council.

Please be advised accordingly.

There is one final matter: You are wrong in two respects in your assertions regarding the Grand Beach Accord of 2000 between Sir James Mitchell and me which paved the way for a resolution of the political impasse in St. Vincent and the Grenadines at that time. First, I was not the prime beneficiary of that resolution; the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines were! Secondly, there is no material equivalence or similarity between the condition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2000 and the situation in St. Kitts and Nevis today; thus, any comparisons are flawed. Each of these political conflicts has had profound dissimilarities; the current situation in St. Kitts and Nevis is “sui generis”. It has to be resolved within the context of its own parameters and in accordance with its own textual peculiarities.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves
Prime Minister