By John Denny Observer Reporter
johndenny@thestkittsnevisobserver.com (Charlestown, Nevis) ” A symposium on secession from the Federation held last week brought discussion from close to home and from the Diaspora. Among the speakers were: software engineer and community activist Everton Powell; attorney and former Junior Minister Colin Tyrell; newspaper columnist Washington Archibald; law student and business man Conrad Liburd, renowned economist and former professor of Howard University Dr. Everson Hull and former Premier Hon. Vance Amory. The symposium was held over two days. The first was an all day and into the evening event including an historical overview of the Nevisian quest for secession, lessons learned from the 1998 referendum, the benefits of full independence, strategies for pursuing secession and exploring the costs of becoming independent. The second part of the symposium was a panel discussion broadcast on VON Radio Tuesday Aug. 12, the 10th anniversary of the referendum for full independence that came five percent short of the 67 percent needed for passage. “Secession is something that resonates with all Nevisians,” said Former Premier Amory. “Not politics will move this forward, but passion and personality.” The thrust of making the case for full independence is economics and the secessionist feel Nevis is getting the short end of the stick. “The difference in population demands that St. Kitts politicians grab all for St. Kitts,” said Dr. Hull. “For a Kittitian politician to do other wise is being politically suicidal. They are not being mean spirited, they are doing what a worthless system demands they do.” Dr. Hull cited itemized figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing that in free grant money from 1973 to 2006 St. Kitts received almost $244 million while in the same time period Nevis got $6,295,212. Broken into percentage it works out to St. Kitts getting 97.5 and Nevis getting 2.5 percent. “The Labor Government of Basseterre has been fiscally reckless,” said Dr. Hull. “It has failed each and every year it has been in office to balance its books. It has racked up deficits for several years of well over $50 million in each year. This has not been the case in Nevis, where a more fiscally prudent government has produced a sequence of budget surpluses or minor current account deficits.” Public debt because of poor financial choices in Basseterre are another reason Dr. Hull feels Nevis can make it on her own. According to the statistics Nevis only accounts for only a 13.3 percent share of the public debt while it has 25 percent of the population. Per capita, the Federation has an extremely high public debt, 197 percent of the gross domestic product. “The cumulative public debt has been described by the International Monetary Fund as being among the highest in the entire world,” said Dr. Hull. “At the end of this year, the government of Basseterre will spend $155.7 million just to service the public debt. Those funds will soak up about 37 percent of the revenues coming into the central government of Basseterre. This debt must be paid on time. It is a contractual agreement. The people of Nevis are paying a stiff price for this fiscal recklessness.” Mention was made of the amount of money spent paying interest on money Basseterre barrowed has cut into police budgets. “At the same time the hoodlums are beefing up their own armed forces and fanning them out to different parts of the country, the government of Basseterre has slashed the number of police staffing positions from 421 in 2001 to 398 in 2007,” said Dr. Hull. “They have cut police positions at the same time a crime wave has been increasing. We now have a homicide rate among the very highest in the world.” Taxes going to St. Kitts from businesses in Nevis are another reason to cut the knot, according to Dr. Hull. By his estimation, six to seven million dollars a year could be going into the coffers in Charlestown. A familial relationship could and should remain between the sister islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, the doctor. said, but that does not mean Nevis has to be ruled by Kitts. “We have strong family, religious and sporting ties,” he said. “But there is absolutely no reason why those who have not been elected by us, must continue to speak for us. We have our own cadre of leaders here in Nevis that are every bit as capable and eloquent as those in St. Kitts.” Economic unfairness was the same reason that drove Anguilla away from the government of Basseterre, according to Dr. Hull. “I think Anguilla has done extraordinarily well and has left St. Kitts- Nevis in its past,” he said. “It has a much more developed hotel industry. The per capita income of Anguilla is much better than here and there is much for us to learn from them, despite the fact that they are still under British rule. One of the biggest advantages they have is any grants or funding Anguilla gets, no longer has to be funneled through St. Kitts.” The biggest hindrance to full independence would be political, according to Dr. Hull. “Uniting the parties is going to be the hardest part,” he said. Minister Robelto Hector was slated to give the opening remarks at the symposium, but did not make it. The NIA held a launch of activities for the 25th anniversary of independence later in the day and Premier Joseph Parry gave a speech. “This afternoon is a special time for us, as it is the beginning of the celebration of our 25th Anniversary,” said the Premier. “It was 25 years ago that St. Kitts and the island of Nevis, this twin island nation, took the bold step of Independence. It was 25 years ago that this island with $250,000 started the government of Nevis. Many persons had low expectations, because a small sum of $250,000 was not expected to take us anywhere.” Dr Hull is disappointed in the Administration’s lack of interest in full independence for Nevis. “I don’t see what they are celebrating about,” said Dr. Hull. “It is estimated that about $30 million per year is leaking out of Nevis to St. Kitts. The NRP was founded on the basis of independence, but if you ask them now, their reasons against it are rather shaky. Among other things, they claim it would sever family ties, which is not true. I believe that every one of (the NIA) is in their heart in favor of independence. But because the CCM says they are in favor of independence, the NRP has to be against it. It is political and it is unfortunate that it has to be that way.”