Posted On: Thursday, 09 August 2012
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Basseterre, St. Kitts, (Thursday 9th August, 2012) – Government and opposition parliamentarians from the twin-island state of St. Kitts and Nevis, will on Friday, 10th August, 2012, join their counterparts from throughout the Eastern Caribbean, for the inaugural sitting of the newly established OECS Assembly.The five members from St. Kitts and Nevis will be Mark Brantley and Eugene Hamilton from the opposition benches and Dr. Denzil Douglas, Marcella Liburd and Dr. Timothy Harris, from the government side. In total, there is expected to be 39 OECS Parliamentarians, drawn from the member countries.
At present Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines are full members, while the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla are Associate Members.
According to the OECS, the Assembly is designed to improve the governance arrangements in the OECS. However, already, some citizens and politicians in the sub-region are already challenging, not the idea or ideal of the Assembly, but its composition and proposed functioning.
For example, there are those citizens across the region who are of the view that instead of automatically selecting or appointing current MPs from the respective parliaments of each territory, a separate election, with different candidates, should be held to “elect” those persons to serve in the sub-regional body.
As a cost saving measure, the suggestion is that each OECS Assembly member should be elected during the General Elections of each member state, rather than having ONE period when such persons are elected. In the United States, members of the House of Representatives are not all elected at the same time, thus the feeling is that the OECS should adopt a similar formula and move away from the automatic selection of those already serving in the territorial legislative bodies.
The St. Kitts and Nevis parliamentarian and Deputy Leader of the People’s Action Movement, Eugene Hamilton, says this formula is “an excellent idea and a good suggestion because it is not necessarily true that the person who may represent local issues here in our Assembly, may necessarily be able to represent issues on a regional level, so it is a very important suggestion.”
In addition, Hamilton said he had other concerns that truly need to be addressed, as they relate to how decisions are to be made and new legislation to be approved. “We meet in Antigua tomorrow, (Friday 10th August, 2012), mainly to inaugurate the Assembly itself, but I have concerns still, over aspects of the OECS Treaty. The OECS Regional Assembly, which is what we are supposed to be members of, both opposition and government, can debate Bills in various areas, that can affect each territory, but even after debating those Bills, what we seem to be doing in that Assembly is just making recommendations to the OECS Authority, which is comprised of all Heads of Governments. So I have a difficulty with that. I had a difficulty with it in my own parliament when it was debated; I did not support that aspect of the Bill and thus did not support the Bill for that reason. As soon as I get an opportunity, maybe on the regional level, I will again question and demand that the authority that this treaty seems to be giving to the Heads of Government is problematic.”
Hamilton says the treaty is giving “Power to Heads of Government to pass laws, because that is where the laws are passed… at the Authority. It gives power for them to pass laws, a power which none of them have under their own individual constitutions…and so for that reason I have difficulty with it and the first opportunity I get I would raise it as a concern that ought to be addressed.”
Therefore, what Hamilton is arguing is that the General Assembly of all 39 members can introduce, debate and agree on a particular piece of legislation, only for it to be changed and not approved by the Authority (comprised of Heads of Government). Hamilton said it appears as though that the Authority does not have to accept the recommendations of the Assembly, which suggests that they can amend, correct and change and expand and maybe broaden whatever comes from the Assembly.
“It is difficult for me to accept that after debating at the Assembly level, the Heads of Government can then, in a different forum, without what I would call any opposition, turn it into law…and that is where I have the difficulty. In St. Kitts and Nevis for example, Prime Minister (Dr. Denzil) Douglas does not have any carte blanche authority to make any law affecting the citizens of this state…it has to be something that is passed by our parliament and that is of concern to me. Perhaps it is callous of me to say it in this way, but I will say it anyway…if the practice does not change, it will be a talk shop for the Assembly, because we would just go and talk and talk and talk, and talk, and what we say may not necessarily be accepted by the Authority.”
Hamilton said that though one of the key agenda items for the inaugural session is the election of a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, he has no knowledge of who the candidates are for the posts and what they bring to the table.
Hamilton said the absence of a Deputy Speaker for the National Assembly of St. Kitts and Nevis continues to be a bother to him and perhaps the time is fast approaching again for the matter to be put back on the front burner of discussion.
Friday’s ceremony for the launch of the OECS Assembly will take place in Antigua & Barbuda where it will be based.