Political row erupts over aid to hurricane battered countries
BASSETERRE, St Kitts – A political row has erupted over aid to countries battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria with the government and the main opposition St Kitts-Nevis labour Party (SKNLP) trading words as to the sincerity behind the aid packages.
In a statement, the government of Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris has described as “unfortunate” the statements made by Opposition Leader Dr Denzil Douglas regarding the twin island Federation’s aid package to Antigua and Barbuda, The British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and St Maarten and Dominica.
The government has accused Douglas of “shamelessly” attempting “to sully the country’s image and sow division among Caribbean countries in the pursuit of narrow, self-serving partisan political interests.
Douglas has described the government’s action as “unconscionable, unfriendly, selfish, uncaring and reprehensible”, and aimed at undermining the efforts of Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda to recover from the hurricanes.
“Today . . . the government of St Kitts and Nevis led by Dr Timothy Harris has sunk to the lowest low in a manner that is most unconscionable and calculated to undermine the desperate recovery efforts that are underway in Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda to restore those countries’ operations and the lives of their citizens to a state of normalcy as quickly as possible,” Douglas said.
Following the passage of the two hurricanes that left trails of death and destruction, the St Kitts-Nevis government announced the establishment of a short-term Hurricane Relief Fund by adding a third investment option under the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), which it said “is its sovereign right”.
Under this initiative, which will be for only six months, foreign investors under the CIP can make a non-refundable contribution of US$150 000.
The government said funding raised under this new vehicle will help meet the estimated EC$140 million bill which it now faces to rehabilitate key public infrastructure which suffered damage during the two hurricanes.
“The Team Unity Administration is hoping to raise sufficient funding to provide additional support for disaster relief efforts in nearby islands which suffered far greater damage. In an address to the nation last weekend, Prime Minister Harris announced an initial monetary contribution of EC$2.5million to support disaster relief efforts in Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, The British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and St Maarten. The largest single amount – $1 million – is going to Dominica, which was devastated by Maria last week,” the government statement noted.
It said that Douglas has sought to portray the government as engaging “in a hostile act against Dominica and seeking to undermine recovery efforts there and in Barbuda, which suffered extensive damage as a result of Hurricane Maria.
“Subjected to scrutiny, the statement does not pass the test of rationality. Fortunately, many right-thinking and patriotic citizens have seen Dr Douglas’ ploy and have strongly condemned this naked and shameful display of political opportunism by a man who has not yet come to terms with the fact that his political season has come to an end,” the statement noted.
But Douglas has hit back, noting that in making the case for the aid initiative, the prime minister has reported that two category five hurricanes have made landfall in St Kitts and Nevis causing phenomenal devastation to homes, businesses and key infrastructure in the country.
“While it must be said with certainty that our country has in fact experienced two hurricanes recently, why our prime minister would want to mislead the entire world as to the directness of the impact of these hurricanes and the extent of the damage caused is truly beyond me,” Douglas said.
Douglas said Prime Minister Harris is attempting to “raise money on fake news” instead of painting “an honest picture of the state of affairs” in the twin island federation.
“This dishonest and extremely selfish conduct on the part the prime minister can do nothing but serve to woefully undermine confidence of the international community in any information coming from official sources in our country,” he said.
But the government has said in this challenging point in Caribbean history,” what our region needs more than ever is unity rather than division.
“The Team Unity Administration is committed to the promotion of national and regional unity which is a source of strength the Caribbean needs to conquer the various challenges along its development journey. Indeed, the Team Unity Government sees St Kitts and Nevis as belonging to an interdependent community of Caribbean nations where a major setback in one country will inevitably have an adverse impact of one kind or another in other countries.”
It said that it would continue in its efforts to help the islands battered by the storms and that “talk, as Dr Douglas has already found out, is cheap and empty.
“Actions always speak louder than words. Team Unity will not be distracted. We stand in solidarity with our neighbours.” (CMC)