Caribbean poll

Idyllic isle elections caught in a political storm

Seat of power

As the tiny dual-isle nation of St Kitts-Nevis goes to the polls today (Friday August 5), the Commonwealth birthplace of American founding father Alexander Hamilton risks becoming embroiled in a chain of scandals trickling down the Caribbean islands.

The nation, sited between Anguilla and Antigua, is an idyllic holiday destination, with cloud-shrouded mountains, rainforests, beaches and more green vervet monkeys than its 56,000 human inhabitants. The house on Nevis where Hamilton was born is a major tourist attraction.

Increasingly, however, St Kitts-Nevis is bracketed with allegations about governance, probity and rule of law further up the Caribbean archipelago, where endemic corruption has led to a commission recommending a partial suspension of the British Virgin Islands’ constitution and the re-imposition of direct British rule.

Dubai’s Middle Eastern Times newspaper claimed earlier this year that 5,500 passports were offered as payment for a St Kitts-based company called Caribbean Galaxy to build a prison under the nations’ Citizen By Investment (CBI) programme.

Prime minister Timothy Harris, who leads the People’s Labour Party (PLP), has strongly refuted corruption allegations.

Mark Brantley, the premier of Nevis who leads the island’s Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), says Dr Harris portrays Nevisians as mendicants dependent on handouts from its larger neighbour in order to deny them their fair share of CBI funds.

Historic home

Mr Brantley said Nevisians are frustrated because their island represents 21% of the combined St Kitts & Nevis population but gets just 7% of CBI funds.

“Clearly Dr Harris thinks this is equitable,” he said. “We are just shut up.”

Elections were called after the prime  minister was forced to dissolve Parliament due to the People’s Action Movement and the CCM filing a motion of no confidence in his coalition government.

Dr Harris responded by dismissing six government ministers, including minister of foreign affairs Mr Brantley.

This week, Sir Kennedy Simmonds, who served as the first St Kitts-Nevis prime minister in 1983, called for the removal from office of Dr Harris, who was named in a 2018 British High Court judgement on a bribery case.

Sir Kennedy said Dr Harris is not good for democracy and the St Kitts-Nevis federation, which was “sinking into a crisis of morality in the midst of a rampant and self-seeking dictatorship” amidst “a political nightmare of nepotism and greed”.

He accused Prime Minister Harris of “trying to corrupt the electoral process and steal and buy the election”.

Michael J Prest, an investor in Nevis financial services and property, is concerned about the situation on the island and is challenging St Kitts & Nevis’s director of public prosecutions Valston Graham and Nevis’s regulator Heidi-Lynn Sutton to demonstrate that public officers follow due process and the rule of law.

“Investors look for sanctity of commercial contracts, respect for due process and the rule of law,” he said. “Without these, money will find another destination.”

Allegations of impropriety in the Caribbean have gathered strength in recent months. In April, British Virgin Islands premier Andrew Fahie was charged with cocaine trafficking and money laundering conspiracies after being arrested in Miami by the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

In May, a highly-critical final report of a commission of inquiry launched by the BVI in 2021 to report on widespread abuses recommended suspending the territory’s constitution and dissolving its elected government.

In May, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland called at an anti-corruption conference in St Kitts-Nevis for greater collaboration among Commonwealth Caribbean member states to “sweep corruption aside”.

The elections are being contested in St Kitts by the PLP, the St Kitts & Nevis Labour Party and the PAM and in Nevis by the CCM, the Nevis Reformation Party and Moral Restoration Movement.

This article appears under the terms of the DB Direct service

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