My sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the late St. Claire Weekes, affectionately known as “Spirit”, whose untimely passing was the fatal casualty indirectly associated with the Summer Festival. May his soul rest in peace!
Congratulations are in order to the winners and sincere appreciation should be extended to the other participants who caused the competitions to be fierce, yet exciting and entertaining. While I do not wish to single out any particular event (and I did not attend all of them) I cannot help but extend kudos to the organizers of the Leeward Islands Calypso Monarch Competition for an exceptional, indeed almost perfect, event.
You may believe it or not! But in the midst of the merriment some individuals obviously sympathetic to the ruling party suggested that I should discontinue my writings after the Summer Festival break. To which I politely responded: “Well if they don’t want me to write, then they should not give me anything to write about! Its that simple!”
But here I am again this week with so much to write about that I might have to do so in parts. I have chosen this week however, to speak briefly on the current issues that have slipped us over the holidays, namely, ANGLEC and Cap Juluca. I believe that each of these issues can take up several articles, but if I do not touch them now they may get lost in the “pile-up”. I should at least bring a few points to your attention and reflection.
What about ANGLEC? The planned hostile takeover of ANGLEC led by the Chairman of Social Security and the Minister of Utilities floundered miserably on Friday, July 30th the day after the opening of the Summer Festival. A number of minority shareholders were unsuccessful in getting a court injunction to prevent the meeting from taking place but received a reprieve when the next day the “co-architects” of the takeover were unable to put together the required votes to achieve their objective. The reason for this was that one of the “co-architects”, the Minister of Utilities, apparently neither sought nor received the required approval from Executive Council to sign letters or cast votes on behalf of the Government of Anguilla. In the face of this, one must question the advice that he may have received from his co-architect who is in fact a lawyer.
The pandemonium which was reported at the shareholders meeting again highlights the lack of regard for good governance and the level of arrogance which characterizes the many actions this administration has taken to date. For example:
• Members of the Government who were not shareholders, notably among them was the Parliamentary Secretary, had to be asked to leave the meeting.
• It is reported that the Minister of Utilities insisted on casting his vote on behalf of the Government without having the requisite authority from Executive Council to do so.
• The Chairman of Social Security for his part went so far as to move a motion on the floor to have the Chairman of ANGLEC removed and it was seconded by his Deputy Chairman, Mr. Alkins Rogers --- but the same ANGLEC Chairman had to point out to him that the by-laws did not allow such a motion to be moved from the floor.
• The Deputy Chairman of Social Security took on a legal role by advising the Chairman of the meeting that he could be sued.
• And it is reported that the local banks that are major shareholders received veiled threats at the meeting regarding Social Security deposits being held in their banks.
For a Government that purports to stands for good governance and for the interests of the ordinary Anguillians their conduct at the meeting showed disdain for all these lofty principles. In fact, one is forced to question their motives in so aggressively seeking to politicize the ANGLEC Board. If the Minister of Utilities is prepared to flout Executive Council authority by voting on behalf of Government without its approval he is either extremely arrogant or is receiving bad advice from his “handlers”. And the question again arises: What is the ultimate objective of all of this?
But having lost the battle at that meeting and having witnessed the desperate tactics being employed one must assume that the battle to takeover ANGLEC is not over. It is in this connection that I must expose what I have heard. I will not take the chance to dismiss it as a mere rumor. I feel duty bound to expose it given the credibility of my sources. It has been reported to me that the Chairman of the Social Security Board has written to the Government offering to buy all of its shares in ANGLEC. Furthermore I have been told that the price offered is less than the original selling price for ANGLEC shares. Again the question arises: What is the ultimate objective of all of this?
I feel secure in the knowledge that based on the current Financial and Accounting Regulations of the Social Security Act such an action may not take place. Those Regulations provide clear guidelines as to the amount of Social Security Funds that can be invested in shares in a single entity of this kind. I also believe that the actuarial review would advise strongly against such an action. However, given the level of arrogance that has been exhibited in recent times we must remain watchful for any attempt to amend the regulations in the future. One gets the distinct impression that Social Security Funds are getting a lot of attention in recent times. The risks are worrisome.
What about Cap Juluca? Many of us have been literally sitting on pins and needles awaiting the outcome of the latest showdown between the principal owner of Cap Juluca and the Chief Minister. It was alarming that the Chief Minister would seek to portray Mr. Aron as a villain whose objective is to destroy Anguilla. Successive Governments have worked along with this property given its value to our tourism industry in particular and our economy as a whole. And in doing so they have always sought to ensure that the interests of the employees were uppermost very often at the expense of Government direct revenues. After all it has been the flagship of our tourist industry.
One would have thought that the posturing of the Chief Minister and his colleagues during the election campaign would have been simply that --- posturing. However, one would also have assumed that after they had taken the time to investigate the circumstances of the project they would have understood that the negotiations with the past government and the agreements arrived at were in the context of the severe challenges the property is facing. Today the situation is even further exacerbated by the latest Appellate Court Settlement that increased anticipated costs on the property by more than one hundred million US Dollars.
There must always be a sense of balance in governance and time and time again this administration has shown its lack of understanding of the appropriate strategies to be employed to achieve its objectives. The tendency to use the “bully pulpit” to impress their supporters that they are serving their interests will ultimately result in this Government destroying the gains that Anguilla has made as a sound jurisdiction for investment. Already, the CEO, Mr. Aron has shown in a letter dated July 31st 2010 to the Chief Minister that his (the CM’s) recent comments has caused Cap Juluca to lose some US$ 6.4 million in available funding.
It would be instructive if everyone were to read a copy of the letter from Mr. Aron to the Chief Minister. Every employee at Cap Juluca has one --- so it is now a public document. As in the past, I will again go on record and say that the principal owner of Cap Juluca, Mr. Aron is one of the most courageous men I have met. In addition, to that courage he has been a man of his word throughout the entire past two and a half years of negotiations. He has delivered on every promise he has made. He took on the challenges of Cap Juluca on faith and has not flinched even in the face of recent setbacks with the Court settlement. In fact, were it not for the uncertainty caused by Government’s posturing, the present challenges would have been dealt with the creativity and innovation that has characterized his approach to finding appropriate solutions.
But I must make the point that after all this “bluster and whoopla” the reality of the situation struck home. Not only did the Chief Minister face strong opposition from the loyal staff at Cap Juluca but came to the rude awakening that the project could collapse and with it quite possibly Anguilla. The problem with the timing of this reversal is that considerable negotiating advantage was lost --- and in an effort to justify the period of posturing I daresay that Anguilla has given some of its long-term benefits.
The Honourable Evans McNiel Rogers, Leader of the Opposition singled out a number of the apparent losses to Anguilla in the new agreement reportedly negotiated without important technical support. Let me quote from the Leader of the Oppositions release:
• The new agreement appears to reduce the size of the National Park from 84 acres comprising 72 acres of pond lands and 12 acres of beachfront land, to 5 acres of beach land only.
• The new agreement does not include a requirement for Cap Juluca to clean up the pond.
• The new agreement includes villas to the eastern end of the Cove beach effectively sandwiching the national park between the present Cap Juluca buildings and the proposed National Park Villas at the eastern end of Cove Bay and allowing Cap Juluca to build on the best part of the beach frontage.
• The new agreement does not include the option for the Government of Anguilla or Anguillian groups to purchase a 20% interest in the project.
These are some of the concessions that this Government has given up in negotiating its revised MOU. The Government would claim that it has been able to extract certain improved benefits --- but in assessing them they exist in words rather than in substance. For instance the agreement is now called an MOU rather than an MOA which is another one of the “smoke and mirrors” illusions used by the Chief Minister. An MOA and an MOU is the same legally binding document --- it is disingenuous to suggest that there is a difference. In plain words a deliberate and shameless attempt to mislead.
I am happy that Cap Juluca has been able to achieve its objectives despite those concessions that I consider not to our advantage. But it only goes to show that in critical negotiations the less said the better. Someone said that the Chief Minister needs to take the admonition in one of the road march chants of Better Band in the Summer Festival Jam and I quote: “Hush Ya Mouth!”
Victor F. Banks
August 11th, 2010