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Dissident ministers dispute prime minister's statement

Published:Thursday | December 13, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Two dissident government ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor, have described as "disappointing" the statement by Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas that he was postponing the presentation of the 2012-13 national budget because two members of Cabinet failed to attend meetings at which the fiscal package had been discussed.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday night, Condor and Foreign Minister Dr Timothy Harris said it was wrong and unfair that Prime Minister Douglas had tried to blame their absence from recent Cabinet meetings for the postponement.

"We condemn all efforts to scandalise us," they said in the joint statement.

The two ministers said that contrary to the suggestion that they had missed the Cabinet meeting of December 5, they waited for more than an hour for it to start before leaving.

Further, they contended that the agenda for the December 10 Cabinet meeting contained five submissions and three memos, none of which mentioned the budget or pre-budget consultations.

In nationwide radio and television broadcast on Monday night, Douglas assured citizens that despite the postponement of the budget presentation, his administration would present a "completely tax-free" package.

He said that in preparation for the budget, Cabinet met on Monday in order to "affirm and solidify our support" for the fiscal package.

unusual decision

"However, there are two members who never arrived at this morning's Cabinet meeting. Nor did they attend at an earlier December 5, 2012 Cabinet meeting at which the budget was also discussed," the prime minister said.

Douglas said that all other Cabinet members had been present at the meetings.

But the two senior ministers, in dismissing the statement, noted that in the past the prime minister has never allowed the absence of ministers from Cabinet to stop him proceeding with the agenda.

They also listed examples of the prime minister pursuing matters despite their objections, adding that "the public may well judge whether our presence at Cabinet ... would have changed anything in the proposed Budget for 2013".

They said that the budget estimates had already been discussed and approved at a committee meeting of the Cabinet chaired by Douglas, and from which another government minister was absent.

"The public perception that we were in fact hindering the presentation of the budget, and in the context of the wide dissemination of that address and the concern which it raised, we felt it was important that we clear the air and set the record straight," the ministers said in the joint statement.

Opposition Leader Mark Brantley has already called on Douglas to resign following his announcement of the budget delay.

"It must be clear to all at home and abroad that Prime Minister Denzil Douglas no longer commands the confidence of the parliament of St Kitts and Nevis," said Brantley, who has tabled a motion of no confidence in the head of government.

Leader of the main opposition People's Action Movement, Shawn Richards, said he believes that the postponement is as a result of Douglas trying to avoid the debate on a motion of no confidence filed by the Opposition last week.