Caribbean Islands Table of Contents
St. Kitts and Nevis is a federal state that adheres to the forms of the British Westminster-style parliamentary system of government. The uniqueness of its 1983 Constitution derives from the provisions for the autonomy of the island of Nevis with regard to certain "specified matters" and the establishment of the separate Nevis Island Assembly (legislature) to address these local concerns.
As a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth of Nations (see Appendix B), St. Kitts and Nevis recognizes Queen Elizabeth II or her successor as the titular head of government. The British monarch is represented by a governor general, who resides in Basseterre. Although legally responsible for the government of both islands, the governor general appoints a deputy to represent him or her on Nevis. As the highest executive authority on the islands, the governor general appoints the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, other ministers of the government, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, and members of the Public Service Commission and Police Service Commission. He may prorogue or dissolve Parliament at any time. In the judicial sphere, he has the power of pardon, "respite" (stay of execution of sentence), and remittance of all or part of the sentence of convicted criminals. As in most Commonwealth countries, however, the apparently sweeping nature of the governor general's powers is restricted by the requirement that the governor general act only in accordance with the advice of the prime minister. In St. Kitts and Nevis, the governor general is permitted to act without consultation only when the prime minister cannot be contacted because of absence or illness.
The federal government of St. Kitts and Nevis is directed by a unicameral parliament known as the National Assembly, established by the 1983 Constitution to replace the House of Assembly. After the 1984 elections, the assembly was composed of eleven elected members, or representatives, and three appointed members, or senators. Two of the senators are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. The other is named on the advice of the leader of the opposition. Both representatives and senators serve five-year terms.
The focus of effective power in the federal government is the Cabinet of Ministers, which consists of the prime minister and other ministers drawn from the membership of the assembly (either representatives or senators). The cabinet determines the business and policies of government. According to the Constitution, the cabinet is "collectively responsible to the National Assembly," but because its members are drawn from that body, there is little likelihood of serious disagreement between the two.
Electoral districts, or constituencies, are delimited by the Constituencies Boundaries Commission. A minimum of eight constituencies on St. Kitts and three on Nevis is mandated by the Constitution. Boundaries are not established solely on the basis of population; the commission is charged to consider other factors, such as population density, fair representation for rural areas, communications differences, geographical features, and existing administrative boundaries.
The island of Nevis elects representatives both to the National Assembly and to its own Nevis Island Assembly, a separate eightmember body (five elected, three appointed) charged with regulating local affairs. The Nevis Island Assembly is subordinate to the National Assembly only with regard to external affairs and defense and in cases where similar but not identical legislation is passed by both bodies. The guidelines for legislative autonomy in Nevis are contained in the "specified matters" --areas of local administration for which the Nevisian legislature may amend or revoke provisions passed by the National Assembly. There are twenty-three specified matters, including agricultural regulations, the borrowing of monies or procurement of grants for use on Nevis, water conservation and supply, Nevisian economic planning and development, housing, utilities, and roads and highways. These restrictions on Kittitian control over internal Nevisian concerns appear to have been one of the major concessions (along with a local legislature and the right of secession) made by the PAM to the NRP in order to maintain the two-island union after independence.
Nevisian secession from the federation requires a two-thirds vote in the Nevis Island Assembly and the approval of two-thirds of the voters in a referendum. St. Kitts has no corresponding right of secession, a reminder of the separatist roots of the NRP and the desire of the smaller island to protect itself from possible exploitation by its larger neighbor.
The government of Nevis closely parallels the structure of the federal government and has a premier analogous to the prime minister, an assembly incorporating both elected and appointed members, and a body functioning as a local cabinet, the Nevis Island Administration, which includes the premier plus two or more members of the Nevis Island Assembly. Disputes between the Nevis Island Administration and the federal government must be decided by the High Court.
The High Court, which sits in Basseterre, is the final court of appeal on the islands. Appeals beyond the High Court are heard by the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court. Appeals beyond that level may be taken to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, but only if they conform to certain prescribed conditions, for example, if they are issues that require constitutional interpretation or are decisions of "great general or public importance." Local magistrate's courts provide summary jurisdiction.
Data as of November 1987
Caribbean Islands Table of Contents