Posted On: Monday, 20 August 2012 Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2012
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The widely anticipated participation by the only living person who signed the original Treaty of Basseterre still in active politics in the inauguration of the OECS Assembly was not to be. This was cemented by a newcomer, a political rookie, who has never been in Government, nor the political leader of a political party.
Lester Bird, 74, and Kennedy Simmonds, 76, both signed the original Treaty of Basseterre in 1981 and both are still alive but Simmonds retired from active politics in 2000.
Lester Bird however, signed the original Treaty of Basseterre for his home country and member state Antigua and Barbdua. He was Deputy Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda when he signed.
Thirty-one (31) years after the signing of the Treaty of Bassetere, the OECS was celebrating a major mileston, the inauguration of the OECS Assembly, a legislative filter for legislation to be passed within the OECS.
The inauguration session was to be addressed only by the Host Prime Minister, the Honourable Baldwin Spencer; the sitting Chair of the OECS, the Honourable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves; a representative of the non-independent states, the Honourable Rueben Meade and; someone to represent the Leaders of the Opposition of the independent member states of the OECS.
Among the choices were:
1) the Honourable Lester Bird, 74, who served as Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda for 10 years (1994 to 2004); political leader of the Antigua Labour Party for the last 19 years (1993 to present) and; Leader of the Opposition for the last eight years (2004 to present)
2) the Honourable Dr. Keith Mitchell, 65, who served as Prime Minister of Grenada for 13 years (1995 to 2008); political leader of the New National Party for the last 23 years (1989 to present) and; Leader of the Oppostion for the last four years (2008 to present)
3) the Honourable Arnhim Eustace, 67, who served as Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for five months (Oct. 2000 to Mar. 2001); political leader of the New Democratic Party for the last 12 years (2000 to present) and; Leader of the Opposition for the last 11 years (2001 to present)
4) the Honourable Stephenson King, 54, who served as Prime Minister of St. Lucia for four years (2007 to 2011); political leader of the United Workers Party for the last four years (2007 to 2011) and; Leader of the Opposition for the last nine months (2011 to present)
5) the Honourable Hector John, 42, who is serving his first term in office in Dominica as an opposition MP (2009 to present) and; Leader of the Opposition for the last two years (2010 to present)
6) the Honourable Mark Brantley, 43, who served as the Chairman of the committee to secede from the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis in 1998; does not serve in a leadership role in any political party and; who has served as Leader of the Opposition in the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly for the last five years (2007 to present)
Mark Brantley was chosen to speak on behalf of the leaders of the opposition. Lester Bird, Dr. Keith Mitchell, and Stephenson King did not attend the ceremony in Antigua on August 10th.
And no excuses for their absences were read into the records of the Assembly by either the Clerk, the Speaker, or the Deputy Speaker. Their absence represented 50% of the Leaders of the Opposition for independent member states. Much speculation has been tossed about to explain their absence.
The unavailability of a statement explaining the absence of the Honourable Lester Bird from the inaugural sitting of the OECS Assembly has attracted a lot of discussion.
The radio talk shows in Antigua and Barbuda have been dominated by sympathasizers of Bird who was effectively blocked by political rookie Mark Brantley of Nevis, from speaking at the inaugural sitting of the Assembly on August 10th, 2012.
Antigua's Lester Bird is the only living ative politician who signed the original Treaty of Basseterre. All of the others have since died with the exception of Sir Kennedy Simmonds, who retired from active politics in 2000.
So how is it that a political rookie could block Mr. Bird? The answer is easily explained by those with an appreciation for the geopolitical situation within the Caribbean.
Lester Bird is the leader of the only Labour (ideologically left) political party presently in opposition in the OECS. So it is fair to say that Bird was outnumbered by his ideological opposites who dominate the opposition benches in OECS Parliaments.
But this occasion was an opportunity for the ideological "right" to do the right thing and yield to the Honourable Lester Bird for various reasons:
1) Bird is second most senior Leader of the Opposition among his peers in the OECS.
2) Bird is also the only living politician who signed the original Treaty who is still in active politics.
But political rookie Mark Brantley refused to yield to the senior politician and arguably opted for siding with the ideological opposite to Bird on this occasion.
Mr. Brantley is the second most junior politician among his peers in opposition; is not the political leader of any of the two parties that he represents as Leader of the Opposition; has never served in a Government and; lead a movement that barely failed a move to break up the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis in 1998.
The Ideological "Right"
The word "right" used in the phrase ideological "right" does not mean correct. It is used to differentiate from the ideological "left".
According to the International Democrat Union, the conservative club for like-minded (ideological right) political parties, the following political parties in the OECS are also its members:
1) Dominica's Freedom Party (following the 2008 trouncing by the Labour Party, the DFP gave its support to the main opposition UWP which is now headed by Hector John as Leader of the Opposition)
2) Grenada's New National Party (Dr. Keith Mitchell, its leader, also served as a vice chair of the conservative body and has enjoyed the pleasure of his US Republican counterparts in Washington, DC including former Vice President Richard "Dick" Cheney)
3) St. Lucia's United Workers Party (lead by Stephenson King)
4) St. Vincent's New Democratic Party (lead by Arnhim Eustace)
5) St. Kitts' People's Action Movement (lead by Lindsay Grant, Eugene Hamilton likely to take the position at the end of September)
Antigua and Barbuda is not listed in the IDU's membership role.
So of the six independent member states of the OECS, five of them share the same political ideology according to the International Democrat Union. Nevis is not listed as an individual member but Brantley is influenced by St. Kitts' PAM Party.
Brantley who has served as Leader of the Opposition of the National (St. Kitts and Nevs) Assembly is a member of a political party on Nevis, the CCM, but the main opposition political party on St. Kitts, PAM, yielded the position of Leader of the Opposition to him presumably due to the fact that the CCM captured more seats (2 to PAM's 1) than it with only a third of PAM's votes.
Fact: PAM received 8,607 votes on St. Kitts and CCM received 3,128 votes on Nevis in the last Federal Election.
Did Lester Bird protest the inaugural sitting of the OECS Assembly? Without official word from his camp, it would appear so. What is clear, is that he could not be happy with the choice of Mr.
Brantley and many of his supporters in Antigua and Barbuda have echoed those sentiments over the last week on the talk shows in Antigua and Barbuda.
Up to the time this item was published, Mr. Brantley had still not responded to the following questions sent to him on August 12th:
"Mr. Brantley, can you confirm whether there was contention between yourself and Mr. Bird as to who should have delivered the statement on behalf of the Leaders of the Opposition? Did Mr. Bird express a desire to deliver that statement? Can you explain why Mr. Bird was absent and also why Mr. Mitchell was absent?Can you also state Mr. Brantley, as a once highly proclaimed secessionist, whether you still favour secession for Nevis from St. Kitts in light of your statement about fragmentation and isolation in your statement at the OECS Assembly?A number of Parliamentarians who were present at the OECS Assembly have told me that many parts