Team Unity: How it started, where it went wrong

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Team Unity began with great hope defeating a 20 year political dynasty before ending in Team Disunity…where did it all go wrong?

It was in December of 2012 when then-Leader of the Opposition Mark Brantley filed a Motion of No Confidence (MoNC) in the then 18-year St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) administration led by Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas, that would lay the foundation that would topple the administration just two years later.

The MoNC filed by Brantley was announced in a press conference hosted by the St. Kitts opposition People’s Action Movement (PAM) and the Concerned Citizens’ Movement (CCM).

At the time of the filing, it was publicly known of a rift between PM Douglas and his Deputy PM Sam Condor and Senior Minister Dr Timothy Harris.

January 2013

Fast forward to January and more than a month after the MoNC had been filed and not heard, Condor and Harris came under increasing pressure to indicate whether they would support a MoNC filed against the government they were a part of.

PM Douglas warned his two most senior Cabinet Ministers that they should either resign or submit their resignations if they intended to oppose the government’s policies.

However, on January 25, Dr Douglas sacked Senior Minister Dr Timothy Harris due to his opposition to two recent government-sponsored legislation, including one to increase the number of senators in the National Assembly.

While Condor too had opposed the legislation in question, Dr Douglas had opted just to remove Dr Harris.

“He has consistently refused to confirm to the Cabinet that he will support the budget when it comes before the parliament for approval, and he has refused to confirm to Cabinet that he will vote against a Motion of No Confidence in the Government of which he is a Senior Minister,”  Douglas said in a statement.

Five days later Deputy Prime Minister Condor tendered his resignation from the Cabinet.

April 2013

Members of the opposition including the People’s Action Movement and other parliamentarians that did not support the government of Prime Minister Douglas, took court action to try and force the administration and the Speaker of the National Assembly, to institute measures to have a Motion of No Confidence tabled in the country’s parliament, without delay after months of abeyance.

The legal action commenced 4th April 2013, in the name of six of the 11 elected parliamentarians in the National Assembly, namely Mark Brantley, Shawn Richards, Eugene Hamilton, Sam Condor, Vance Amory and Dr. Timothy Harris.

June 2013

More than six months after the MoNC was filed it still had not been heard in the National Assembly, and the two former government Ministers launched their new political party, the People’s Labour Party (PLP).

Dr Harris was identified as the leader of the newly-formed party, and speaking at the party’s launch, declared that they chose to form the new political party because “we are committed to a better St. Kitts and Nevis.”

July 2013

Condor and Harris officially crossed the floor during a July 8 sitting of Parliament where they sat with Opposition members. Speaker of the National Assembly Curtis Martin explained the matter.

“Today, I have received – just before Parliament began – I received a letter and I also received verbal notice from the Members for St. Christopher Three and St. Christopher Seven regarding their seating arrangement in the National Assembly. They have asked that their seats be taken up in the back centre portion of the Opposition Benches”

September 2013

The idea of the now opposition unifying as they had the majority of elected members in the National Assembly and forming one political movement, had been accepted by the three parties who sat on those benches.

It came to fruition on September 26 when the Team Unity concept was officially launched at a massive rally at Green Lands Pasture.

The parties were the People’s Action Movement (PAM), led by Shawn Richards; the People’s Labour Party (PLP), led by Dr Timothy Harris; and the Concerned Citizens’ Movement (CCM), led by then Premier of Nevis, Vance Amory.

Dr Timothy Harris was that night announced as the leader of Team Unity and Shawn Richards and Mark Brantley was announced as Deputy Leaders of a three-party coalition.

“St. Kitts and Nevis will never be the same again. To God be the glory, great things He has done and great things we will do. What they said was impossible to happen…it has happened before your very eyes.”

The arrangement was also announced that no leader would serve for more than two terms.

December 2013

Dr Harris gave the response to the 2014 Budget address by PM Douglas that is traditionally done by the Leader of the Opposition who was at that time, Mark Brantley. He challenged the then administration to have the MoNC tabled after it had not been heard for more than a year.

June 2014

Team Unity opened its Campaign Headquarters on Wednesday, June 25th in front of thousands of supporters.

Located at the corner of Fort and Cayon Streets in the heart of Basseterre, the Campaign Headquarters would become “the centralized point for all Team Unity-related information and activities.”

December 2014

In December 2017 members of PAM, PLP and CCM signed an agreement dubbed the “Charlestown Accord”.

The ‘Charlestown Accord’ was presented by the members of the alliance as the formalizing of several agreements and commitments that Team Unity promised to the people of Nevis by the Team Unity Government if the candidates of the tri-party were to be successful in the upcoming general election to form the next Federal Government.

Some of the agreements that the Accord promised included:

  1. Nevis shall receive its fair and equitable share of natural resources based on the pro rata population basis to ensure that Nevisians too will benefit fairly from the returns of national investments;
  2. Revenue from passport processing, and fees under the Citizenship by Investment Programme shall be shared equitably with the Nevis Island Administration, based on a pro-rata population basis;
  3. Revenue from the Sugar Investment Diversification Fund (SIDF) or its successor agency shall be shared equitably with the Nevis Island Administration on a pro-rata population basis.

January 2015

During an emergency sitting of the National Assembly on January 16th, 2015, the then-Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas read a draft proclamation outlining the revised constituency boundaries that were to come into force for the next general elections.

During the sitting, Dr Douglas said the reason for being there was for the draft proclamation to be laid and debated in the National Assembly, after which it was to be approved by resolution of the House.

Shortly after the resolution was passed in the National Assembly on the evening of January 16th, 2015, the then-Governor-General made the proclamation at 6:20 pm. At about 6:30 pm, the then-Prime Minister announced on the steps of Government Headquarters that he had advised the Governor-General to dissolve the Parliament with immediate effect.

He announced February 16 as Election Day, with Nomination Day being February 6.

At 7:38 pm, an injunction was granted to the then-Opposition Team Unity alliance and served on the then-Attorney-General at approximately 8:20pm.

Thousands of supporters of Team Unity and the SKNLP stood outside Government Headquarters as the matter proceeded inside the Parliamentary Chambers.

As the election approached, however, both political sides were tied up in a legal battle as to which boundaries would be used in the election.

February 2015

Questions remained as to what boundaries would be used during the election.  Team Unity were dealt blows at the High Court and Appellate Court in their attempts to stop the implementation of the new boundaries, and took to the matter to the Privy Council.

On Nomination Day, a total of 22 candidates contested the 2015 general election. The ruling St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) fielded eight candidates to the People’s Action Movement’s (PAM) six, while the People’s Labour Party (PLP) nominated two. On the island of Nevis, the Concerned Citizens’ Movement (CCM) and the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) each put three candidates forward.

On February 12, the entire nation looked on as the matter came before the Privy Council.

The Privy Council’s ruling declared: “It is determined and ordered that the list to be used in the election is and shall be that existing prior to the proclamation purportedly issued and published by the Governor-General. Any effect which the said proclamation would continue otherwise to have, whether in relation to any other election or otherwise, is hereby suspended until further order.”

Election Day

Kittitians and Nevisians turned out on Election Day – Monday, 16 February, 2015 – to vote for a new government. A total of 30,455 votes were cast.

The then-Supervisor of Elections Wingrove George at around 3:00 am on February 17 indicated that the announcement of the results would be halted and no further voting numbers would be declared.

Lindsay Grant and Ian ‘Patches’ Liburd Team Unity Candidates for Constituency Four and One respectively announced over the radio that they had narrowly won their seats by 26 and four votes respectively meaning Team Unity had won the election.

On 18 February, Dr. Harris was sworn in as new Prime Minister, becoming only the third person to assume the post since independence, while his Cabinet was sworn in five days later.

May 2018

After more than three years of governance, Senior Minister in the Team Unity government, Vance Amory declared the relationship between Nevis and St. Kitts had been at its best ever since the advent of the Team Unity government, and he directly credited Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris for that accomplishment.

July 2019

Mark Brantley was asked to publicly declare that there was no rift between himself and Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris over comments the Prime Minister made.

“I am not aware that there is any rift.”

The Prime Minister was accused of breaching protocol and snubbing the Premier when he visited Nevis to meet with fire officers without informing the Premier.

Brantley said the misunderstanding that had occurred between them had been discussed and settled.

November 2019

Prime Minister Harris and Premier of Nevis Mark Brantley who is also the federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, amid rumours of a strained relationship between members of Team Unity stated the Federal Government of St. Kitts and Nevis and the Nevis Island Administration (NIA), continue to enjoy a close working relationship and a strong partnership.

Dr Harris says that since the coming into being of Team Unity, the relationship between St. Kitts and Nevis, as a federal entity, and the Nevis Island Administration, has been at its best ever

Brantley agrees, noting that in the 36 years that as an independent nation, this has been the best relationship that St. Kitts and Nevis has had.

February 2020

Prime Minister Harris and Brantley held a press conference, where Brantley supported the ideologies and work composition strengthened by the PM as the leader of the government.

He said before Team Unity took office, Nevisians were never given more distinguished rank opportunities notwithstanding their qualifications.

Brantley added that St Kitts and Nevis had never developed together, specifically on the political aspect.

Deputy Prime Minister and leader of People’s Action Movement Shawn Richards said his entire party would support to Dr Timothy Harris in upcoming general elections.

May 2020

PM Harris on May 18 announced that St. Kitts and Nevis would head to the polls on June  5th to elect a government for the next five years in the midst of a pandemic.

The announcement came less than a week after the dissolution of parliament.

He said Nomination Day would be on May 27 2020.

June 2020

The elections of June 5 2020 saw Team Unity return to office with a stronger mandate, with their candidates winning nine of the 11 federal seats.

A week after the general election was won in a landslide by the parties that make up Team Unity, the Cabinet was not sworn-in, leaving many to speculate the reason behind the delay.

Speculation about the delay varied from disagreements on the makeup of the Cabinet to some members maybe seeking opportunities.

The cabinet after a fair degree of speculation was sworn in on June 16.

August 2020

Brantley announced that he would be meeting with the Prime Minister Harris on August 28 to have further discussion on the “Fair share” of the Citizenship By Investment (CBI) funds.

Brantley said that he would continue to speak about Nevis’s fair portion of the CBI proceeds.

October 2020

Brantley said that he was having nightmares about Nevis’ treasury.

“We have struggled, but through the grace of God and through our bankers who have been very lenient and cooperative with us, we have kept the lights on and we have continued to pay our staff.”

When questioned about Nevis getting its “fair share” of the Citizenship by Investment monies to help the economy, Brantley said that there have been ongoing conversations.

“The approach that we have taken with the Federal Government is the approach of dialogue and continued discussions with them.

March 2021

The guest speaker at the PLP’s convention Dr Sharon McNicol-Gopaul lauded Prime Minister Harris for the work he had done over the years. She spoke of his character and tenacity and urged the people of St. Kitts and Nevis to give him a third term as Prime Minister of the Federation.

“PM Dr Hon. Timothy Harris has been a leader who has not only saved lives and livelihoods in St. Kitts and Nevis but in the Caribbean. His leadership has been exemplary and the standard throughout the Caribbean. His consideration of the third term as a leader must not be about him and his principled stance, but it must be about what the nation and the people want and need!” Dr. McNicol-Gopaul stated.

Prime Minister Harris continued to state locally and regionally that his intention was only to serve two terms.

“I only intend to serve two terms in the office of Prime Minister,” he added, reiterating his promise from his 2015 campaign. “We shall make the modern history for St Kitts and Nevis by making it the best-managed island country.”

October 2021

Six years after the Unity government won the Federal Election, Brantley asserted that Nevis was still not receiving its “fair share” of the Citizenship By Investment proceeds.

“Until we have a resolution on the issue between the Federal government and the NIA about the issue of shared CBI receipts, that is the reality of the situation. I have said time and time again that there has to be a sit down with the Federal government and the NIA, and work out a formula for sharing what is a joint asset,” he said.

Brantley claimed that the CBI has funded a large number of opportunities on the sister island of St. Kitts, while Nevis has not been treated the same.

“CBI has been by and by large the only game in town. Let’s be blunt about it. CBI has fueled tremendous opportunity on the island of St. Kitts,” he said.

A Ministry of Finance official speaking with The Observer said Brantley’s comments on CBI receipts were “…quite perplexing. Confusing may be the better expression.”

“Let it not go unnoticed that so far under Team Unity, a record transfer of over 250 million dollars has been provided by the Federal Government to the Nevis Island Administration (NIA).”

“The curious thing about this situation is that the Premier and two others in Nevis’ cabinet are in the federal cabinet. They are at the table. What are they doing to address matters when there? Premier Brantley should say exactly how he has approached the issue with his federal cabinet colleagues,” the official said.

December 2021

Prime Minister Harris announces an extra month’s salary for civil servants coming out of the pandemic during his Budget address.

Later, The Observer learned while Prime Minister Harris championed the need to pay government workers a double salary for Christmas, to cushion households from the effect of Covid-19 and to stimulate the economy, a senior government minister was riled up by the decision during the last Cabinet meeting, according to persons familiar with the matter.

A source told The Observer that as soon as Prime Minister Harris was finished placing the double salary issue on the table, the minister came out swinging.

“There is no need for this. How are we going to explain it?” The source paraphrased the Minister as expressing in his disagreement with the move.

The source said that Harris countered the pessimism by detailing that the country experienced a surplus on current accounts, and “we must pass some of the surplus on to people”.

The minister subsequently praised the double salary announcement on his Facebook page shortly after the Prime Minister delivered his budget address.

He also supported the $952.2 million Budget presented for the 2022 financial year, as outlined in The Appropriation (2022) Bill, 2021.

January 2022

Minister Lindsay Grant was accused of beating a Police Officer at a bar in Bird Rock and the police report from the incident that included the name of Deputy Prime Minister Shawn Richards, snowballed into events that led to him refusing to attend Cabinet meetings.

March 2022

The Peoples Action Movement held its annual convention on March 13 where its Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Shawn Richards and Brantley both slammed Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris who was present in the audience.

Richards said  “I say to you quite clearly and without any reservations that the concept of Unity is under attack by selfishness and greed, in an environment where political cooperation is quickly being replaced by the politics of personal destruction.”

Days after, Dr Harris responded by stating he has provided proven leadership for the country.  He added that his party remains a committed partner in Team Unity despite talks of disgruntlement among the three parties in the coalition.

Dr Harris, responding to a question posed by this publication at a People’s Labour Party press conference, also revealed that no one had ever brought to the cabinet the issue of fair share.

“There is no cabinet submission; no cabinet memo in relation to that. There have been public expressions of it, but it has never come into the cabinet over which I preside up to this particular moment.”

He also expressed the desire to seek a permanent solution so that Nevis could get its deserved cut.

Later that day, Brantley claimed that there are currently “ongoing internal issues” within the Team Unity Government.

“The truth is that we have been having some ongoing internal issues as far as Team Unity is concerned. I and many others for quite some time now quietly tried to deal with these issues. Meetings, letters, discussions, and some of these issues have simply not been addressed. Why? That will be for the public to determine,” he said.

During the convention of PLP, Dr Harris warned that the people will have the final say and there could be a price to be paid if members of his coalition aim to destroy the unity the people twice voted for.

Dr Harris said his party was born in an era when the country wanted and needed unity

He said some people had “no respect for others”, noting that “some only want to see you at election time, but for the PLP it is the daily interaction with the people”.

“We must continue to set aside political differences to deliver for the people of this country. For us, unlike for some people, unity is imperative for our country. unity is not a choice it is what we have to do.”

He warned that the people will not go back to a time of tribalism.

April 2022

Brantley demanded in a press conference that the “fair share” monies be sent to the NIA, as soon as possible.

“I am done with private discussions and negotiations and the talks. No! Send the money. Give us our share.”

Dr Harris had reiterated days before that while he agreed with giving Nevis a greater share in principle, there ought to be a fair percentage of agreement that will be more beneficial in the long term.

Later in the month, the leaders of the three political parties that made up Team Unity had agreed to meet on April 6th to try and sort disagreements. It was reported that they all participated and exchanged their views on the current state of the coalition and recommendations for the way forward.

“The meeting was frank, but quite cordial, and has set the framework for further discussions which are to take place next week Thursday, April 14, 2022.”

In a statement after the meeting, Dr. Harris said he was pleased to have met with the leaders.

“Delighted to spend time today with my Team Unity colleagues exploring the next steps as we craft the future for our beloved nation. This is part of an iterative process as move toward a stronger, safer future.”

A follow-up meeting was planned for the following week.

The results of that meeting escalated, as Brantley and Richards remained disillusioned with the Prime Minister’s compromise.

While the nation observed 10 days of mourning following the death of the Former Premier of Nevis HE Vance Amory, Premier Brantley and Deputy Prime Minister Richards essentially ignored Amory’s wishes of silent diplomacy, and ramped up political pressure on Prime Minister Harris.

Dr Harris was served a no-win ultimatum, demanding that he hand over the Ministries of Finance and Sustainable Development, and step down as Prime Minister within a year.

Brantley disclosed on a rare Easter Sunday broadcast, that the People’s Action Movement Leader Shawn Richards and himself had written to the prime minister giving him a Wednesday, April 20th deadline to respond.

Dr Harris eventually responded to the letter refusing to bow down to the demands of Richards and Brantley.

On April 21st Brantley announced that six elected members of the cabinet had written to the Governor-General, noting that they had lost support in the leadership of Dr Timothy Harris.

Brantley and Richards sought to have the Governor-General strip Dr. Harris of the Prime Ministership.

Dr Harris responded later that day calling for restraint during the 10 days of national mourning.

On April 25, Richards filed a Motion of No Confidence in the government and cabinet of which they were a part.

May 2022

In a letter dated May 3, 2022, Governor-General Sir Tapley Seaton said he had no authority to fulfil the request of the initial letter to remove PM Harris and appoint Shawn Richards as Prime Minister.

“I have reviewed your communication requesting the Governor-General to remove the Prime Minister and to appoint another Minister in his stead. I wish to advise that under our Constitution no such power resides in the Governor-General, and I am therefore unable to accede to your request.”

On May 10, Dr. Harris sacked six cabinet members and asked Governor-General Sir Tapley Seaton QC to dissolve the parliament in preparation for fresh elections.

In a National Address, disclosed that Deputy Prime Minister Richards has not attended cabinet for 91 days, while none of the CCM representatives and only one of the PAM representatives had attended any meeting of the cabinet in recent weeks.

The federation now waits for a date for new elections and the political organisation that will manage the affairs for the next five years.

 

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