SAINT KITTS & NEVIS (COMMENTARY – By Joel B. Liburd) - Cynthia Adolores "Vicky" Williams must surely be turning in her grave if she could only see the turmoil she inadvertently unleashed on the people of St Kitts and Nevis. Vicky departed this life on February 28, 2016, after living a simple life in poverty, but making every sacrifice for her four children, leaving behind her daughters Helen, Soroya, and Michelle and son Mark Brantley.
The 73-year-old matriarch possessed "uncommon beauty and grace", "was utterly selfless" and was "slow to anger and often kept her own counsel", according to her children. She cared for her family at their modest home on Hanley's Road, Gingerland, Nevis, in a small wooden structure with a galvanized bath, kitchen, and a toilet erected outdoors. She tried her best to teach her family the morals and values that formed the fabric of our society so many years ago.
Unfortunately, the young Mark Brantley decided to throw it all away and not only became both a lawyer and a politician, but went further to discard and desecrate his mother's God-fearing leanings and lessons. Let's look at some highlights of Mark's transformation.
In 2010, Brantley told Sheena Davis of the St Kitts and Nevis Observer that: "I had a passion for words and for the cut and thrust of debate. I also had a keen sense of right and wrong, and wanted to work hard to help people from a similar background of poverty like myself."
In that same interview, he further noted: "I am proud to hold myself out as an example to all of our youth on the virtues of hard work, honesty, fiscal discipline, and wise choices. What I do have, I believe, is now to be used for the advancement of others..."
When Vance Armory named Brantley as his Tourism Minister, the young lawyer had ideas by the bushel, and his golden tongue caressed the ears of service providers in the industry. But that's all he did, as this first taste of power lay to waste the moral and values his mother taught him. The coral reefs around Nevis started dying. Quarry operations were not being sufficiently regulated. And source water pollutants escaped any type of compliance standards, least of all government.
As far back as 2007, Brantley told Claudia Liburd of SKNVibes.com that he was concerned about price control on his island. He blamed everyone else at the time for the skyrocketing cost of living. Today, Nevisians still pay exorbitant markups for basic staples such as rice, flour, sugar and milk. Some tags in Nevis groceries are two and three times the same item in Basseterre. He went on to advise authorities to provide an opportunistic environment to prevent the creation of "educated beggars"... a scenario that has manifested in our land only in the past five years – under Brantley's Team Unity followership.
How many of our young people today are without jobs? And those who work in underpaid jobs can barely afford to keep Poor Man Hunger from whispering in their ear. But Vicky's son thought it would be best to tax law-abiding workers and give that money to drug dealers, rapists, bandits and murderers.
Brantley's complaint of the Labour Government that "we forget the role of civil society we forget the role of the Church and the Chamber and the Bar Association and all these various associations that make up our country... ...we forget the role of the media", has now become the sentiment of Labour in Opposition. How quickly doth the rich switch!
As Leader of the Opposition in 2012, in trying to push the Integrity in Public Life and Freedom of Information Bills, Brantley bemoaned: "Who can in this day and age, say that they are against integrity in public life?" Back then, Brantley had very public issues with the Social Security Board. He bellowed in the National Assembly and wrote to every media outlet demanding the tabling of the Integrity in Public Life legislation. However, after five years in office and having the ear of the Prime Minister, the boisterous Brantley went darker than the Liamuiga crater at midnight. Lack of integrity, maybe?
On May 13, 2013, Brantley, as Nevis Minister of Health, told nurses at Alexandria Hospital that there was a critical shortage of nurses in the Federation, and that there was even less motivation for young people to enter the field. "I feel that we as a Government need to do more to demonstrate our appreciation and to show to our youngsters that it is a viable profession, that they can be nurses and still be able to own a home, own a car, do the things people want to be able to do and sustain their families," he said at the time. "Whatever service that I can provide; whatever partnership I can provide with the nurses, please, my door is open."
Today, that door remains firmly shut and our healthcare is in shambles. The Hippocratic Oath has been spurned, and the limited healthcare professionals available have been banned from treating their relatives. And, while Team Unity might have done a good job in copying the major CARICOM players in treating with the COVID-19 pandemic, both Eugene Hamilton and Wendy Phipps have been found sorely wanting in exercising the power of a healthcare system. They both are abject failures, and poor leadership and management are to blame.
On the topic of power, Brantley has also stamped his dubious brand on the very troubled experiment with geothermal power.
Writing in Time magazine on February 6, 2012, Joe Jackson investigated allegations of cronyism and mismanagement in plans to build a geothermal power plant. Nevis, which consumes a maximum of 10 megawatts (MW) of energy annually, spends $12 million a year on diesel for its power station. Meanwhile, it emits 44,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the process, according to the website of Renova Capital.
St. Kitts, which lies two miles northwest of Nevis, uses 46 MW at most each year, at more than quadruple that cost. Drilling at three sites on Nevis has indicated that the geothermal reservoir is capable of producing up to 500 MW of constant base-load power year-round. That led St. Kitts and Nevis to envision one day exporting all that surplus energy to neighbouring islands via high-voltage submarine cables.
In Opposition, Brantley had all the answers at the time: don't give the contract to West Indies Power (WIP); he voiced his preference for a new 10 MW facility and having more informed discussions with the IMF. At the time, Brantley went on the record and said: "The issues are myriad, but we as the official opposition in the country support the idea of geothermal development but demand a more sensible approach with a serious and capable developer." So what happened after Brantley was elevated to government? Nothing. He dropped the issue like a hot piece of yam.
Mark Brantley knew it all at one time, and instead of trying to capitalize on clean, cheap energy for our nation and the OECS, he decides he wants to be the most popular government guy on social media.
Brantley regularly takes to Instagram to show off his designer socks and other sartorial accoutrements, as well as post selfies with rockers like Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey. In fact, Brantley is known to head down to the Double Deuce bar at Plymouth Beach just to get pics with the celebrity crowd. But it was the photo with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family that gave rise to reports that Trudeau's visit to St Kitts was not just a family vacation, but a scouting expedition for information on the island's dark financial underworld.
In 2016, Oliver Bullough wrote in The Guardian an investigative piece naming Nevis as the most secretive offshore haven in the world... a paradise for global money launders. He asserts that this island of less than 15,000 people was more financially corrupt than the revelations coming out of SwissLeaks, the HSBC Files, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers. He describes Nevis as being "implicated in some of the most sordid financial scams of modern times, from Britain's biggest-ever tax fraud to the fleecing of 620,000 vulnerable Americans in a $220m payday loan scam... ...a bright light needs to be shone on this cockroach...".
Bullough noted: "For instance, who is behind Shi Li Gao Trustees Ltd, the Nevis-incorporated company that owns 13 Brunswick Gardens, a handsome terrace a short walk from Kensington Palace? Some of them are intriguing: for what reason would a Catholic primary school in Liverpool be held via this little Caribbean volcano? And some are decidedly weird: who on earth decided to structure their ownership of a room in a hotel on Llandudno's North Parade through Caribbean Establishment LLC?"
When contacted for comment, Brantley is quoted as saying: "We feel very strongly that people are entitled to some semblance of financial privacy... why shouldn't you be entitled to a secret?"
Secrets seem to be the commodity of choice for Brantley these days, and he seems to be keeping a lot of them for his huffing and puffing leader. For instance, the true source and agenda for PAP monies. Then there are other trivialities like who are the Barbadians pulling Harris' strings. What about the agenda that puts Harris' hate of Douglas higher than the welfare of Federation citizens. That's something Mark's mother would definitely frown upon. It's probably why Brantley wants to hold on to his dirty banking industry, so that Nevis has an income when he decides to cut his losses and run from Harris.
Former Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas tried to restrict Nevis' sordid financial sector, but as the Labour government attempted to reign in crooked lawyers in 1998, Nevis decided to go to a secession referendum, in which 62% of the population opted to walk away from the Federation. That figure fell just short of the two-thirds majority required to leave the partnership, but it was enough to convince Douglas to back off. Brantley has since used that support to further protect and layer the money laundering operations on his island.
Nevis. Gem of the Caribbean. Playground of Mark Brantley, and according to the US State Department, "a desirable location for criminals to conceal proceeds".
Vicky, I'm sorry, but your son, your only son, did not turn out to be the man you envisioned. He let you down and he has let the good folks of Nevis down.
Joel B. Liburd
Communications Consultant, Basseterre/Quebec