BASSETERRE – Opposition Leader Dr Denzil L. Douglas Wednesday said he had written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Michael Perkins, requesting a formal apology and explanation for the exclusion of the Parliamentary Opposition from the national delegation that attended the recent sitting of the OECS Assembly in Antigua last month.
In his letter, Douglas, a former prime minister, said that Article 10 of The Revised Treaty of Basseterre makes provision for the establishment of the OECS Assembly which is the principal body that reviews legislation passed by the OECS Authority and the regulations made by the respective Ministerial Councils.
“It is my understanding, based on my inquiries with the OECS Commission based in St Lucia, that the Speaker of the various national parliaments of member states is the focal point and lead coordinator responsible for inviting and facilitating the participation of the five government officials who would comprise the national delegation attending the event,” Douglas wrote.
He said that Leader of the Opposition had the option of selecting one other member of the opposition benches to attend the Assembly that coincided with the meeting of OECS leaders.
“The language of the Treaty is explicit and should need no interpretation, yet, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition of St Kitts and Nevis has not been invited to any of the three sittings of the OECS Assembly that took place in July 2016, December 2017 and now, June 2019.
“My absence has not gone unnoticed and has called into question the level of seriousness, priority and commitment that St Kitts and Nevis has toward regional integration and the esteem to which it holds the OECS Assembly,” said Douglas.
He said the exclusion of the opposition “is unacceptable” and wanted to place on record his “displeasure and abhorrence over what can be considered as a deliberate act by yourself, in your capacity as the Speaker of the National Assembly, to exclude the participation of the two representatives of the Parliamentary Opposition of St Kitts and Nevis from the recently concluded sitting of the OECS Assembly”.
“Such a deliberate act flies in the face of the very democratic principles of transparency, openness, responsiveness and accountability that the OECS Assembly was created to defend,” Douglas wrote in the letter that was copied to Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne in his capacity as current chairman of the OECS and Dr Didicus Jules, the Director General of the St Lucia-based OECS Commission.
Douglas said the opposition parties can play an integral role in the Westminster parliamentary system as an important part of the system of checks and balances that holds the Executive accountable to the people.
“As one who has been privileged to serve the people of the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis on both sides of the political aisle, and who signed the landmark Revised Treaty of Basseterre Establishing OECS Economic Union on behalf of St Kitts and Nevis on June 18, 2010, I understand the rationale for the establishment of the OECS Assembly very clearly and possess a healthy appreciation for the role and value of the Opposition within any democratic system.
“As Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis during the inter-governmental negotiation of the new Revised Treaty of Basseterre, I was personally involved in helping to design and shape the philosophical underpinnings of the Revised Treaty of which the OECS Assembly was one of three new bodies created to improve governance in the new areas of legislative competence accorded to the OECS Authority,” he wrote.
He said during his tenure as prime minister, the opposition was represented on the delegations attending the OECS Assembly, adding “this undemocratic practice of exclusion as a way of silencing the lawfully elected members of the Parliamentary Opposition must end now”.
“Your failure to fulfil your fiduciary responsibility to invite me in my capacity as Leader of the Opposition demonstrates an obscene abuse of the Speaker’s discretion under the laws of St Kitts and Nevis and violates your duty to operate as an impartial entity,” Douglas said as he requested Perkins to provide the reasons for “this gross neglect and disrespect”.
The OECS groups the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla. Only the elected opposition parliamentarians attend the OECS Assembly. (CMC)