By LR Liburd
St. Kitts-Nevis Observer
Former Minister of National Security in the Labour Party Government, Dwyer Astaphan has voiced his displeasure over the unfulfilled promises made by Team Unity during its campaign for the February 2015 Elections.
Speaking on his weekly radio programme ‘The Operating Room’ aired by Winn FM, the co-founder of Operation Rescue pointed to Team Unity’s February 2015 Manifesto and highlighted some of the 193 promises the leader and contesting candidates made to the nation should they be elected into office.
Astaphan, a known critic of former Prime Minister Douglas, said he had voted for a change and had accepted the promises and undertakings that Team Unity’s Manifesto embraced.
Quoting from the Manifesto, Astaphan said page five states, ‘It is time for our people to reclaim our country from the tentacles of a corrupt, outmoded and self-centered regime.’ He said he had bought into that “but as far as I am concerned, until and unless I can see proof that thorough investigations have been done and revelations are being made to the public and justice pursued if and where necessary, then I’ll have to say that we still have not reclaimed our country 13 months later”.
Astaphan is of the view that if Team Unity waits too late to move in and tie down things, the evidence is going to disappear and leave them with either a weakened case or no case at all. As a consequence, he asked: “Why is it taking so long? Were they fooling us when they say they are going to investigate things? He added that “as long as I continue to have these concerns, I have to say that our people have not yet reclaimed our country from the tentacles of a corrupt, outmoded and self-centered regime. And this administration better make sure that it avoids being branded as such a regime.”
Noting that his obligation is to what he thinks is right, the former Government Minister spoke to the issue of politicisation of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force.
“At page nine of the Manifesto, they say that they would depoliticise the Police Force. Now, here is my opinion! When I heard that the Police High Command was present at the Church Service to mark the First Anniversary of the Team Unity Victory, I wondered why the Police High Command was there. It is a political celebration!”
He then moved on to the People Employment Programme (PEP); an initiative of the former Administration.
“At page 12, they promised ‘that a reorganised PEP programme would allow our young people a decent living wage and the opportunity to prosper’. Is that happening? How many persons have been added to PEP? What are they doing? From which Constituencies are they coming? What’s the total number in PEP? Tell me what has changed!”
At pages 14 and 31 they promised to create 2000 new jobs and 150 by the end of 2015. Where are we on those? Also at page 14 they promised ‘to return land back to the people where it belongs’ and at page 16 ‘to repeal the vesting of certain lands Act. How much land has been returned? Has that Act been repealed?
Astaphan opined that the members of Team Unity’s talk about giving people a chance to settle down in government is the biggest mistake they could ever make in their lives, adding that the only thing that must be settled with people who are in government is their consciences.
He also pointed to page 33 of the Manifesto in which Team Unity promised to provide access to cheap financing. “Well,” he said, “they have done so for the Fair Share Programme, but how were those funds spread insofar as Constituencies are concerned? Was there a fair spread of the Fair Share? Was the sharing fair? Was it transparent? I would like to know.”
After resigning his post as Minister of National Security and had endorsed the Hon. Marcella Liburd as his successor as the Party’s representative for Constituency Two in the 2010 Elections, Astaphan distanced himself from Labour and embraced Team Unity.
In so doing, he was very critical of Dr. Douglas and was calling for the Integrity in Public Life legislation. Therefore, as a supporter of the tri-party coalition, he has decided to hold its members’ feet to the fire.
“At page 43, Team Unity promised to pass Freedom of Information and Integrity in Public Life Law and Regulations. Thus far, 13 months later, we have seen the reading of the Freedom of Information Bill, and I don’t know when they plan to come back with it to pass it. But I do not get the impression that there is too much enthusiasm for it. Similarly, I do not have the impression that there is an awful lot of enthusiasm for the Integrity in Public Life Regulations. And if I am correct on this, then it would be soon time for Operation Rescue, or if not Operation Rescue, certainly me and people who may be thinking like me, to go back on the battlefield.
“Integrity in Public Life and Freedom of Information are essential components of the transparent and efficient governance construct that we are hoping for and that we demand. It has taken too long and I am wondering if there is any enthusiasm for it.”
Astaphan reiterated that he had voted for a change in government, and describing himself as a self-respecting, country-respecting, law-respecting and God-fearing man, he declared that he could not accept the continuation of the corruption and the cloak and dagger style of government that he saw in the past and fought so hard to get rid of.
He further commented on the divestment of Government’s shares in the private sector, with a view of the ordinary man reaping benefits.
“At page 44 of the Manifesto, Team Unity promised to divest the Government’s shareholding in Cable TV. Has it done so? If so, why did the ordinary people of this country not get a shot at the shares? They promised to protect consumers but con companies continue to dig out consumers’ eyes and continue to dig out workers’ eyes. And recent complaints of shareholders in FLOW…$11 million or $12 million in profit and they cannot declare a dividend. Back to colonialism, because members coming and protect the people.”
His final comment on the Manifesto was the promise of political parties’ accessibility to the State-owned ZIZ Radio and Television Stations.
“At the same page 44, Team Unity promised that they would provide equal access to State-owned media to political parties. Has that happened? Not as far as I know! Are they afraid of Douglas the way he was afraid of them? Are they afraid of opposition voices? Are they demagogs like he was, or like they say he was? Do they, like him, believe that ZIZ is a political arm of Team Unity? ZIZ is owned by everybody in this country, regardless who they vote for.”
The outspoken social activist proffered the view that the leaders, movers and shakers in Team Unity need to understand that people would not sit and “be submissive and let them do the foolishness that we worked so hard to get rid of on the 16th of February 2015. And if they continue to act this way, they are going to be in for a big surprise”.
“As I said, we are not going back Douglas and that kind of paradigm; that kind of construct never be embraced in this land again. We are forward-thinking and upward-moving, and those who we elect to govern must govern and serve not rule and abuse,” Astaphan stressed.
He claimed he and a number of others from Operation Rescue, including Richard caines, Terry Adams, Oliver Spencer and Mr. Politics, had voted to replace one set of opportunists with another.
“We have legacies to leave for our children and our grandchildren and we have to fight to make do better so that tomorrow would even be better. If we don’t fight, if we yield, if we are submissive and if we are indifferent, it will be worse for all of us. And whoever is happy with a piece of bread in their hand and a beat to jump to at their feet, I am not in that club with you all.
“This country has enough talent and decency to provide good and capable persons to govern and serve. And if we have to keep shuffling the pack, we will keep shuffling. There are good ones in this pack; there are good ones who support the Labour Party. Let’s take the good, forget this stupid political tribalism, this political gang warfare, they are the best people in terms of capability and conscience and compassion and commitment to country, and put them in there. Let’s not be loyal to any one of them. Let them serve us, let’s make them serve us. There are too many squares in round holes, old squares in round holes and new squares in round holes. Too much corruption is going on, too many bad things are happening,” the one-time politician intoned.
He claimed that people are stealing left, right and center from the Government, including Credit Card abuses, and that some of them are using the Government’s equipment to clean their own yard, fix up their own place and set up themselves. He also said some of them are usurping the rules and functions of Government agencies and accepting kickbacks left, right and center.
He however pointed out that “the Team Unity Government is still too relatively young. Mistakes and missteps have been made, but corrective measures can and should be taken. Goodwill still exists, but if there are no tangible signs that they want to live up to the expectations that we the people had of them, then things would go downhill fast for them. I voted to end all of these bad practices”.