On Monday, Prime Minister Timothy Harris delivered an Address to the Nation in which he revealed the date of our imminent election as Friday June 5, which falls two weeks today. And as we noted last week in our editorial “We are Ready to Celebrate Democracy” we at the St Kitts and Nevis Observer believe he is right to call on the people of our country to vote sooner rather than later. But there was one other feature of his address that, while mentioned only fleetingly, may come to represent one of Team Unity’s undeniable achievements since 2015: the country’s plummeting crime rate.
Five years ago, in June 2015, a BBC news report on crime in St Kitts and Nevis led to mass outrage and embarrassment. We endured the shame of hearing our islands referred to as “the most violent place on earth” and, given the global reach of the BBC, we also had to suffer the humiliation of thousands of people around the world thinking that St Kitts and Nevis was a lawless society and could almost be considered an outpost of the old “American Wild West”.
We at the St Kitts and Nevis Observer noted at the time that it was not the first time an international news agency has published or broadcast damning reports on the state of crime, especially the high murder rate, in the Federation. In December 2010 an NBC news crew visited St. Kitts and aired a piece on the prevalence of murder here. In 2014, the UK newspaper The Guardian listed Basseterre as number one of the 10 world cities with the highest murder rates per capita, citing data from the United Nations.
The BBC report was broadcast just three months after Team Unity won the 2015 election following 20 years of former Prime Minister Denzil Douglas sitting on what was by then looking more like a throne and less like a parliamentary democracy. But the voters ensured that the winds of change came and the days of one man sitting in charge for two decades would finally come to an end. What would also come to an end in the five years since 2015 is the rampant crime that led to those terrible headlines and ugly international reputation.
While no country will ever be completely free of crime, the transformation under Team Unity means crime is now at its lowest in a generation. It is an exceptional achievement. Homicides, particularly those related to gang violence, as well other major crimes, are at their lowest for 14 years. As the Prime Minister noted in his address: “for the first four months of the year they have fallen by 60% relative to last year, and overall major crimes on a whole are down by 44%.” The government has curtailed murders and gang-related violence by investing in the skills and capabilities that allow our police to do their job properly – such as specialist training, forensics capabilities and CCTV projects – while backing initiatives, such as programmes for marginalized and vulnerable young people, aiming to save them from a life of crime.
We are on the right trajectory but of course there is always more to be done. Prime Minister Harris has shown he is serious about tackling crime and ensuring our islands are safe for residents and tourists alike. In his budget address in December 2019, Prime Minister Harris increased the amount allocated for the National Security budget in 2020 to $99.2 million, a 5% increase from 2019. Tourism is a key pillar of our economy and, taken as a whole, we rely on international visitors for our livelihoods. The government and police must ensure that our islands remain an attractive and safe place to visit.
But we cannot help but compare the Prime Minister approach to eradicating crime with the attitude of his predecessor. And because we will soon be voting it has never been a more important time to do so.
It is undeniable that Denzil Douglas has shown repeatedly that he believes himself above the law. Citizens may well have read about Mr Douglas’ detention at London Gatwick airport. He has never explained why he was detained for questioning by UK border agents after reportedly trying to leave the country with cash worth $85,000 hidden in suitcases which he had failed to declare to customs. The incident, which occurred just six months ago in November 2019, led to the opening of a UK National Crime Agency investigation and the seizure of the cash. Mr Douglas claimed the news report of the incident in the famous British newspaper The Daily Mail was false but the facts in the article are supported by British court records, as reported by the Observer.
Citizens of St Kitts and Nevis may have also read about the scandal involving Denzil Douglas’s Dominican citizenship. As readers of this newspaper know, Douglas had claimed in court that taking possession in 2015 of a passport of a citizen of Dominica did not make him a Dominican citizen. However, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court disagreed and ruled in March 2020 that by accepting and possessing a Dominican passport he had pledged loyalty to Dominica and was a Dominican citizen, meaning he had broken the SKN constitution and was disqualified from sitting in Parliament. When he was forced to leave Parliament because he had broken our Constitution, Douglas said he had given his passport back earlier so it did not matter anymore and he would run for Parliament again. But how we have anyone representing us, let along the Prime Minister of our Federation, taking the citizenship of another country without any concern for his or her loyalty to our flag and people?
And do we trust such a person to tackle all manner of crime and keep us safe? Or do we want to go back to the past and its high crime rates? Voters will have to make up their own minds on June 5 on how the government and previous government performed on key domestic policies and few can be as important as whether it is more or less safe for us to walk the streets. We do not know who will win the election but we do know that we need a Prime Minister and a government which will toil late into the night to continue driving down crime. And we do know that no man should be above the law.