Nevis: Secession - The Way Forward For Nevis & St. Kitts

Last Updated: 8 July 1999
Nevis, with its diminutive population of 10,000 souls is set to finish what Anguilla started back in 1967. The United Kingdom under pressure to dismantle its Empire parceled certain islands in the Caribbean together. One of these parcels was St Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla notwithstanding that Anguilla is over sixty miles away. The population density was such that a significant majority of the population resided in St. Kitts. After Antigua voted and declared independence the Labour Government under Bradshaw put the same vote to the people of Anguilla, Nevis and St. Kitts, which was passed as prescribed. The three territories passed out of being British dependent territories and became a Federation with the Government seat in St. Kitts.

Unfortunately the Islands of Anguilla and Nevis had not wanted to become independent and wished to remain a dependent territory of Britain. Matters came to a head and Anguilla revolted in 1967. The British sent in the troops on board a C130 which landed on the rough strip with bush flying in the air and barely enough room to stop. The troops were a bit bemused to find the locals waiting for them with Union Jacks flying and cases of ice cold beer!

Anguilla thus obtained its re-dependence on Britain. Nevis at this time also demanded the same treatment. The Foreign Commonwealth Office however declined on the basis that a two and a half-mile channel only separated St. Kitts and Nevis. The only full size airport and deep-water port were also in St. Kitts. In Later years as an appeasement to Nevis a section was added to the Independence Constitution called Section 113-(2) (c).

Section 113 is quite extraordinary as it provides a constitutional avenue for Nevis to gain its independence from the Federation of Saint Christopher & Nevis, but does not endow St. Kitts with the same privilege. Further the Island of Nevis was also granted the right to administer itself.

Since the twin islands independence in 1983, Nevis has prospered with an upscale tourist market and a quietly growing offshore industry. Government statistics last year indicate that in US dollar terms Nevis's 460 beds generated revenues of 2.3 million whilst St. Kitts 1,000 beds generated about $1.5 million. The offshore industry that is still in its infancy has just over ten thousand companies and trusts registered. These generate a further US$200 per entity per year, totaling $2.0 million in additional government fees. The island pays for all its own service except for the police, judiciary and overseas representation. The Administration maintains that a considerable amount of the imports into the Federation are for the account of Nevis, but because the duties are paid in St. Kitts the funds are lost to the general fund maintained by St. Kitts.

The Government of the Federation in St. Kitts maintains that Nevis does not pay for its share with respect to international costs and that on a per capita basis the funds are being spent appropriately. St Kitts has not been sitting on its laurels either. The Financial Services Department has enacted some very progressive legislation. For instance in the corporate arena they have not followed the trend of copying other jurisdictions IBC legislation but have generated a corporation that can be all things to all people. The Company under the Companies Act may be a company limited by shares or a company Limited by guarantee. It may be a public company (over 51 shareholders) or a private company (under 51 shareholders). Companies are exempt from all taxes as long as they conduct their business with persons who are not residents of the Federation. Private exempt companies share registers are only available to shareholders and officers of the company. Thus while Nevis has developed its offshore business on traditional lines St Kitts has also being gearing up for this business and has already an impressive portfolio of exempt companies who are providing a myriad of offshore internet services.

In 1971 tragedy struck the island of Nevis with the sinking of the ferry MV Christina between St. Kitts and Nevis. There was not one family on the Island that did not have a member of their family on the vessel. The incident stripped the Island of many of its elders and young men impacting their hopes for nearly a generation. Many of the Islanders (rightly or wrongly) blamed the then Labour Government in power for using an inappropriate ferry and because they had closed the sugar industry in Nevis forcing the workers to commute by ferry every day to St. Kitts.

The feeling that the people of Nevis had been forced into independence, the lack of willingness to spend funds from the general fund on Nevis and the emotion linked to the ferry deaths, have culminated in a situation where it is all but impossible for the Labour Party to win seats in Nevis, since Nevis has five out of fourteen seats in the Federation. It has taken the Labour Party nearly fourteen years to achieve a clean sweep in St. Kitts to overcome the Nevis stranglehold and get a proper working majority.

Since Labour came to power to form the Federation Government in St. Kitts there has been a feeling of political unease between the two islands. It did not take long to reach the surface. The Federal Government and Nevis Island Administration have had a series of skirmishes with respect to the interpretation of the Constitution and the extent to which Nevis was able to act independently. Against this background the Nevis Island Government decided to pursue independence by invoking Section 113. Its first attempt to pass the Bill failed because the opposition members refused to show up at the Nevis House of Assembly. They were not prepared to say they were opposed to independence and invoke the voter's wrath, and they felt that their the party should take the Island independent as this was their original platform. After six months the opposition having publicly stated they were in favour of independence finally voted alongside the Nevis Island Government to pass the Bill by a unanimous vote on the 31st October 1997.

Having overcome this hurdle, the Nevis Government then had to produce a proposed future constitution that was printed on the 13th November 1997 and distributed to the population prior to a vote at the end of this year. The vote must be passed by a two thirds majority vote.

So what is the prognosis for this event?

If you ask Kittitians and Nevisians who have been living in St. Kitts. for some time, they all state unequivocally that the two thirds majority vote will never happen. The Chamber of Commerce is split. The St. Kitts Chamber is against secession whilst the Nevis Chamber states that it supports independence. The majority of the industry leaders in Nevis believe that we must vote for independence. Some of the blue collar workers are concerned they may get discriminated against if they wish to be employed in St. Kitts. Fishermen are worried they may not be able to fish in their accustomed waters.

The Federal Government has refused to discuss post independence issues having taken the stance that it is inappropriate to have discussions unless the vote is passed. They have to their credit stated that they will not interfere with the process. Thus many issues that are important to the man on the street, such as freedom of movement, cooperative ventures etc. are unable to be addressed.

A prominent St. Kitts law firm has proposed the amendment of the current constitution to address some current issues as well as those that effect Nevis. They recommend a constitutional arrangement whereby each island has the capacity to contract both domestically and internationally with each maintaining its own Consolidated Fund. They claim that the social and economic relationship between the two islands are more interwoven than between any other Commonwealth Caribbean Islands and separation of the Islands may fracture and disenfranchise the rights of the citizens.

It is doubtful that Nevis and St. Kitts can agree politically; this is backed up by many years of perceived and documented events. There is a mutual fear of political interference. The chances that this disparate group could agree on a revised constitution are most unlikely. The power brokers behind the Labour Party know that Nevis has thwarted their ambitions for years and secretly would be quite happy for the Island to "go away."

Typically the people of Nevis will conduct the referendum in an orderly manner. The local people will decide the outcome, not the leaders of industry and commerce. Unless something happens to create a massive swing in the mood of the electorate you will see the creation of probably the smallest nation in the world by the New Year.

Interestingly this may well be exactly what the two Islands need. The people are friendly and have extremely strong familial ties on both Islands. Further whilst most of the people will allow politicians their excesses in rhetoric they will not allow them to overly impact their daily life. Once the stigmata of being down trodden is removed from Nevis it is possible we shall see the islands working together in a much more coordinated and positive manner.

The Offshore arena is even more exciting as they should complement each other. Most offshore practitioners recognize the benefit of developing offshore structures using multi-jurisdictions. In the event that independence for Nevis becomes a reality the offshore professional will be able to offer two separate jurisdiction operating under the same base legal system within five miles of each other. A six-minute ride in a plane or a pleasant forty minutes on a boat.

Let us hope this will be a new beginning for all the citizens of St Kitts & Nevis.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advicemshould be sought about your specific circumstances.

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