Speaking Out on Independence

Printed in The Observer, September 15, 1996

o help stimulate discussion and thinking on the issue of Independence, The Observer interviewed a number of people on St. Kitts who we thought would provide interesting perspectives. We sought to choose people who represent different segments of the community. Peoples' titles are used only to identify them, each of them speaks only for her or himself. The main question we asked was "after 13 years of Independence, what are the next steps needed for Independence to have meaning in the lives of all the people of St. Kitts-Nevis?" Below are excerpts from those interviews.

Trevor Phipps
Computer Programmer for CaribF/X

When I was a boy we sang patriotic songs, but I don't hear young people singing those songs now. I hear people from Cuba singing patriotic songs, from Venezuela and other countries. Patriotic songs should be taught to young people to build a stronger sense of patriotism.

It's difficult for people to start businesses. I know that Development Bank has tried to help, but more needs to be done to help farmers and other people start small businesses.

I believe people want unity to happen in the Caribbean, but people get caught up in their national issues. The other question is how much the politicians want it to happen. Some of the politicians would see themselves falling [with Caribbean unification], and don't see the big picture. A large portion of it depends on how much people see themselves as West Indians versus Kittians or Nevisians. There have always been tensions between the big islands and the small islands, for example between St. Kitts and Nevis. Freedom of movement could be a step towards this. That could be done overnight, but it depends on the will of the politicians. We have given the politicians in the Caribbean a lot of power. People tend to look more towards the politicians as national heroes. People tend to expect politicians to be able to solve all their problems. This isn't good for the people or the politicians.

It should really be as our motto says, "Country above self." We need to make that slogan seriously. If we did, partisan politics wouldn't get in the way so much. Some people don't want to voice opinions on certain issues because then people will say, "Oh that person's in Labour," or "that person's in PAM." People should be able to speak out whether it's for their party or not.

Marlene Liburd
Executive Director of the St. Kitts Family Planning Association

Independence has meant trying to hold our own with the outside world. I'm not sure what difference it has made other than our ability to relate to international bodies such as the UN. We can now look at our country and decide what's good for us, rather than appeal to someone else.

We have to look at becoming a lot more self-sufficient, more self-sustaining, then we wouldn't have to be looking outside for support so much. We have to take a serious look at that. The days of free giving are over, so we need to create more jobs, grow more food, etc.

Caribbean unity should be the way to go. We need to work together and pool our resources to work together. We need to get Caribbean leaders to work together and not think so much of self. I'm not seeing the kind of movement in that direction which is needed to go along with the talk. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis needs to work together whether in the same union or not.

Fidel O'Flaherty
Acting General Secretary of the St. Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union

The Constitution is about people. It governs your entire life. And therefore, all the people must be able to sit down and discuss their dislikes and propose improvement of the existing Constitution. We need dialogue, not confrontation. It needs to be rewritten in straightforward language and there should be no exclusion clause, the way Chapter 10 excludes St. Kitts. Section 27, the "Bryant Clause," is the most antiquated legislation in the entire Commonwealth. (It says that to be eligible for the National Assembly "he or one of his parents" must have been born in St. Kitts-Nevis.)

The former government had no linkage between the technical college and different industries. The present government has to undertake a study of the labour market to make sure that both employment and income is appropriate to its society so that people will feel free to work in any industry that exists in the society.

It is also my view that prisoners should be given the option to work in the sugar industry and earn the same income as existing workers. Such money should be put in an account and for those who have children one third of that money should be paid to their children and the remainder given to them when they're releasd. This will minimize the number of people who leave jail without money and have to steal to survive because society has rejected them and they return to jail in a month. This is not forced labour. The prisoner must sign to say that he or she wants to do it.

Kaye Menon
President of the PAM National Women's Group

We have got the infrastructure now, but it must continuously be upgraded to keep pace with changing demands. There's no point in having an infrastructure if other things aren't in place. We have got to look at the bread and butter issues, they've got to be addressed. Such as social and economic factors. We've got to have justice, fairness and equality for all persons in the Federation. By that I mean whether you're PAM, you're Labour, you're Kittitian, you're Nevisian.

I know that this was on the manifesto of the present government and I'm very disappointed that this hasn't taken place. I feel that our present government, and any future government, must operate according to the law. For example, the pensions must be paid to previous ministers. I feel that we've got to have plans and programs which are not politically motivated. They must be in the best interests of the people of the country. Our human resources must be fully utilized regardless of political persuasion.

I hope that there will be a speedy conclusion to the extradition hearing so that we can have peace and harmony on the island. I feel that this ought to be an example to our youngsters to discourage them from getting involved in drugs. I also think that there should be an independent legal system.

The women in the Federation must drop our labels whether they be political, religious, class or whatever and work together. We have got to train women, educate women and promote the development of women. The fastest way that we can increase employment is to help them become self-employed, which fosters self-esteem and independence. We've got to reinstitute a strong Ministry of Women's Affairs here. Too many men in the Caribbean feel that women have never had it so good. The women are really working hard behind the scenes. We've been setting the table for many years, it's time for us to sit down at the table and decide where we're going.

Rev. Charles Seaton
Superintendent Methodist Minister for St. Kitts Methodist Church

In addition to all the work which has been put in, and all the efforts which are being made to heighten a sense of independence, we need to focus more on what independence is. In schools and at the workplace our people should begin to focus more on independence. It must become an ethos for our people, a way forward. Where we go, what we become as an independent nation depends on every single citizen. We need a re-orientation of our thinking. There needs to be a definite mindset in terms of where we are going and how we will get there. Efforts for independence can't come just from the government.

There needs to be a sense of greater national pride. We need to say not only that we are Kittitians and Nevisians, but put our money into our devotion to our country. To accept what is ours, to build upon it and extend it. There is a dire need for us to be more appreciative of that which is local. As much as we appreciate the input that foreigners are making to our economy and society, we must not see our future as being only connected to what is outside.

We must embrace a proper sense of moral, ethical and social values. These values ought to inform our behavior. The church does try, but needs the support of other social institutions in the community. Schools, churches, government, the private sector and other institutions which influence peoples' value systems must work together. Institutions must awaken the consciousness of people so that independence isn't just about material progress but about integrity. A person who is not wealthy ought not to feel less than anybody else.

Once God has given us hope, hope always opens the door to a future. We must have some faith in ourselves as people who were created by God, who are guided by God.