The spending of millions of dollars in a relentless strategic propaganda campaign aimed at misleading the people of St. Kitts and Nevis has been highlighted by former government minister Dwyer Astaphan.
“What about the government media? How much is being spent on propaganda in the media?” Astaphan asked during his weekly radio programme, “the operating room.”
Astaphan, a former government minister raised the issue on Tuesday and highlighted the Timothy Harris administration’s control of several media houses in St. Kitts and Nevis.
“How many (radio) stations do the incumbents want to control in this country? How many news and media agencies?” asked Astaphan, a lawyer.
Since taking office in February 2015, Harris has total control of ZIZ Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) – the state-owned radio and television station and is known to have total control of several media houses including St. Kitts-Nevis Times, Times Caribbean, owned by his PLP, and Sugar City FM, which are heavily financed by the government and some state-owned corporations.
The government is also known to wield significant influence in some radio stations, newspapers and online media systems.
The government also pumps hundreds of thousands of dollars in several newspapers and online media outlets overseas which are paid to disseminate releases from the Office of the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Harris is on record of attacking journalists and telling his supporters not to listen to radio stations that balance their programming with information from the opposition or persons who give constructive criticism.
The United States Department of State Human Rights Report on St. Kitts and Nevis for 2017 stated that “NGO’s and media reported that the media climate was sensitive and media outlets reported self-censoring to avoid problems with the government.”
Another international report by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders concluded that the media in St. Kitts and Nevis “are under tight surveillance.”
Former St. Kitts and Nevis government minister and lawyer Dwyer Astaphan is labelling reports of reduced payments for St. Kitts and Nevis passports as “an affront to public conscience” and a “blatant and brazen breach of the law.”
“Most of the money goes to the developer and the agent and we as a country are left with nothing,” Astaphan is quoted in the feature as saying.
Astaphan’s comments come in apparent relation to a feature authored by Jen Schulz.
“St Kitts and Nevis under pressure as CEO of unit Les Khan fails to effectively discipline offending agents,” the author noted that last month, scandal hit St. Kitts and Nevis, several International Marketing Agents, sub-agents, and developers were found to have been promoting economic citizenship of the Federation for prices far below those required by law.
Given the magnitude of this breach of trust, and of the law, on the part of agents and developers, one might expect a robust response on the part of the Government and Citizenship by Investment Unit.
Another local lawyer Charles Wilkin QC, proposed a more forceful response: “After due investigation, the government should withdraw the (citizenship by investment designation and all fiscal incentives granted to any developer who is found to have abused the programme.”
Mark Brown, a former Nevis school teacher, ascribes the recent scandal, and the Government’s failure to take adequate action, to a lack of strong leadership. “Mr Khan became the Head of our Unit after his previous employer, IPSA International, was hired to review and improve the Programme. He had no previous experience managing a Government institution – and certainly not one as important to a country as the Unit is to our own,” he said.
“All that an economic citizenship programme requires is good governance. In Dominica, over the past three years, the Government has used revenue from the Programme to rebuild homes and infrastructure, and it is now doing so in line with a vision for future sustainability and climate resilience. Skerrit’s Dominica is one that has seen improvement in real estate and in housing for the vulnerable – in ways that St Kitts and Nevis has not,” Brown opined.
Prime Minister Dr. The Hon. Timothy Harris has proposed an estimated $784 million dollar budget for 2019 as the Budget hearing began in Parliament began in Parliament yesterday, December 12.
The Prime Minister also stated that an overall surplus of $41 is being projected.
Taxes on income, property, domestic goods and consumption, international trade and transactions, non tax revenue generators such as the Citizenship by Investment Programme and capital and budgetary grants are to yield the projected total revenue of $784 million, according to Dr. Harris.
The Bill, entitled the Appropriation (Bill) 2019, features a 31% increase, over 2018, in allocations, for the Prime Minister’s office. An estimated $44.5 has been allocated for 2019.
The opposition leader, Dr. Denzil Douglas, is expected to respond this morning, December 13, to the Bill.