SAINT KITTS & NEVIS (COMMENTARY – By Joel B. Liburd) - Team Unity's Minister of Infrastructure (among other things) thinks he's going to get another five years to wreak havoc on poor people, the treasury and good governance; and in no particular order to boot.
It's curious that the Number One constituency seems to always breed an Infrastructure Minister; previously it was the arrogant and soulless Earl Asim Martin, and if the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party has its way, the torch will next be held by the NextGen newcomer, Dr Geoffrey Hanley. This should surely spell a permanent departure of Patches from the political landscape.
Patches may have been around since Moses was a boy, it seems, but after 18 years of wheeling and dealing his way through the private sector, he decided to go after the public purse instead. His departure from private industry meant that even though he had already made himself a wealthy man, he too was intent on departure from a life of spiritual and moral values, under which his childhood was formed.
Patches saw the departure of Labour, and of his nemesis Martin, and then a departure of law and order in his own consistency, many parts of which are breeding grounds for killers, drug dealers, bandits and rapists. Sadly, it's been almost 21 months since his son, Mickail "Mitch" Liburd, departed this life in a hail of gunfire, in the Pine Gardens area.
Family sources have whispered that it was the third or fourth time that Patches and/or his son were in the way of bullets. The incident, they say, was not an accident, or a misunderstanding. But this time it went too far. Prime Minister Timothy Harris, in offering solace, gave a cryptic quote: "As a trusted colleague and confidant, Patches and I are bound by a special friendship that goes back many years. Our bond is built on our shared patriotism and love of politics, as well as mutual admiration, respect and understanding."
Harris went on to say that his Cabinet "will use every resource at our country's disposal to ensure that the peace, stability and prosperity that our people deserve are always available".
What was even more puzzling was that the murder of the well-known young man pushed our tiny nation's homicide figures into being the fifth deadliest place on earth, per capita. So, in an immediate response, the Prime Minister decided to simply pay killers to not kill. They could keep their arsenal of weapons, but no more spilling of blood. Prime Minister Harris has made a mockery of the Nation's security – short-term solution for political gain.
Is that the best approach he and his and his National Security Adviser can come up with? This is what happens when you have an accountant and an ex-military fire cracker making national security decisions. The result of this disastrous policy is glaring: while murders dropped, rape, robbery, assault and petty crimes went up. No one seemed concerned. They only cared that the government looked good. Together, Patches and Harris engineered the departure of violent crime from the front pages.
After having so much experience with departures, it's possible that Patches felt emboldened enough to add another "departure" to his bucket list... the Departure Gates at the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport (RLBIA). And so, not one or two, but SIX times, Patches breached airport security at the Departure gates, frequently flying past bewildered Customs and Immigration officials.
He has refused to be searched and was always carrying a package in his hand, which he never returned with. Sometimes he used the mundane and petulant excuse that he had to return some cheap item to a passenger, but other times, he simply barrelled his way through, like a raging bull, in the quintessential display of "I is de Minister of de airport, and I does sign de paycheck and I own here!" Flabbergasted, officials turned a blind eye, mostly in fear for their jobs. Were it another passenger, he would be a guest of Her Majesty's Prison, listening daily for the chimes of the nearby church clock. But it was Patches, the high and mighty one.
Even his excuse was patchy. After trying to deny the incident ever happened, his lies were eventually revealed by his own Cabinet colleague, Mark Brantley. In October 2019, Brantley revealed that an investigation into several similar breaches by the Minister – in particular, one in April 2019 - had gone to Prime Minister Harris. I'm told the report is now in Harris' bottom desk drawer, and Patches was never reprimanded for his illegal actions, disrespectful behaviour and poor conduct.
How did Patches celebrate getting one up on the Big Man from Nevis? Well, on October 15, 2019 - just a week after Brantley spoke - Patches pushed his way through airport security yet again, entering a restricted area. This time, there was no lying for Liburd, and he was caught on camera.
It is reported that the April security breach led to the downgrading of the Robert L Bradshaw Airport by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO). The October fiasco resulted in the RLBIA being downgraded by the FAA to a Category Two. Category Two puts our international airport almost on the same level as the taxi stand in Basseterre – minimum security, and you could only ply existing routes, nothing new.
The World Trade Center attack is approaching its 20th anniversary. It was an event that changed the dynamics of air travel permanently. Then Richard "Shoebomber" Reid ensure that we sampled each airport's cold floors with bare feet and sagging pants, as shoes and belts now had to be screened.
Airports are arguably the first and last defence for a country's border security. Any mischief or subversive actions in a country are usually tied to its border control. Terrorists want in, drugs want in, arms and ammunition want in; and it is the humble souls in uniform that thwart the unthinkable, sometimes before it is thought up.
But Patches obviously has other thoughts and he has singlehandedly embarrassed and compromised not only the Federation, but also the entire bloc of the Eastern Caribbean States. Think about the possible implications of his thoughtless, selfish and arrogant behaviour. But more importantly, think of the cavalier manner that his Prime Minister has adopted in dealing with this matter.
Harris' flim-flam attitude reflects an abdication of prime ministerial responsibility and in doing so, he has placed our country in a bad light. The buck stops with Harris. Thus he is ultimately responsible for the action taken against SKN. It means that no new airline would be allowed to fly into SKN, resulting in a loss of revenue for the country. It also mean that our airports would be under constant surveillance by the TSA. Air travel would also become more of a hassle and a burden. Does Harris even care about this? Apparently not. Patches is his friend and can do no wrong just as Harris can do no wrong with his far-reaching nepotism and wheeling and dealing.
Harris loves to invoke "democracy" whenever he wants to impress the international community. But saying it and practising it are two different things. He is no democrat; he is the new breed of authoritarian dictators like Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump in the US, and Duterte in the Philippines. Is this what we voted for in 2015? And do we want more of the same? The people of SKN are smarter than that. Of that, I am sure.
What we need is a departure of these ills from our country's leadership. Patches and his buddy Harris should get on with their political departure; we cannot wait to see their backs at the gate.
Joel B. Liburd
Communications Consultant, Basseterre/Quebec