Past and recent history, however, bears out that the Chief Minister neither encouraged nor supported Anguilla’s revolutionary movement. But rather than make that admission and indicate that he has had a change of heart he continues to try to rewrite history. In his campaign pamphlet, “My Long Crusade” he states: “When the true story of Anguilla is written it may well be proved that my entry into politics sparked the revolution.” Nevertheless as a “master of inconsistencies” --- on every occasion that he has spoken on Anguilla Day, this year included, he continues to undermine the significance of the Revolution to our national development as well as the contributions of our national heroes and heroines.
The reason I have listed these seemingly unrelated points is to determine the Chief Minister’s motives. He postures himself as the champion of unity; he compares himself to Nelson Mandela; he defines himself as a nationalist; he tries to write himself into the Anguilla Revolution; he undermines the significance of the Anguilla Revolution, and; he claims that the Holy Spirit intervened to make him Chief Minister. Can it be that the Chief Minister is trying to establish himself as the father of Anguilla’s Independence?
For some time now, I have been considering addressing the topic of “independence”. However, during a conversation with a supporter on the way to St Martin earlier this week, he said to me that the Government and some of its supporters are constantly talking about independence, but none of them are explaining to the people what they should expect in an independent Anguilla. While I recognized the validity of his comment it further “dawned on me” that many of us who have the experience and influence are not doing so either. And I am aware of the fact that there is a perception among many persons, especially in this period of challenge, that independence may be the panacea for all our ills.
As a member of the past Government which was involved in a Constitutional and Electoral Reform exercise for many years, I am very much aware of the misconceptions and misunderstandings related to the issue of constitutional advancement, including political independence. And I must admit that there were areas of discussion where we all required expert interpretation and advice. In the end we were firmly convinced that what we should be seeking is full internal self-government. Our views on this were crystallized for the most part by Dame Bernice Lake whose experience on the subject is both extensive and legendary.
Using Dame Lake’s definition in part: “Full Internal Self-Government simply means the right to govern ourselves in relation to all matters that are internal to our community; to shape policy and pass laws which are integral to our unique culture, identity, traditions and institutions; to secure respect to our spiritual relationship to our land and our resources. It means “internal social control” by an elected representative system of government exercised in a manner acceptable to the people of Anguilla and which has built in checks and balances vested in a number of commissions, agencies and institutions which would ensure that public officials whether elected or non-elected exercise their powers in a fair, just and accountable way.” The only difference between this arrangement and independence as a sovereign nation would be that our administering power the British Government would retain powers related to sovereignty and citizenship as well as those relating to defense and external affairs.
While this is the arrangement we sought, we realized that since the Rifkin Letter and the Partnership for Progress and Prosperity Agreement the British Government has maintained that it did not vote in favour of the United Nations (UN) Resolution 1541 (XV) and therefore does not regard itself as being bound by it. That UN Resolution declared that colonialism should be brought to an end by 2010 giving the people three options from which to choose: (a) Independence; (b) free association with an independent state (which in our case would include the United Kingdom), and; (c) Integration with an independent state. Option (b) “free association” is in effect what Anguilla was seeking but it is also the precise option that the UK Government in light of the responsibilities it is expected to retain, does not accept. The UK’s stated position is that it is not prepared to follow the prescription of Resolution 1541(XV) for the exercise of full internal self-government, however, it is prepared to “search for alternative means of expression of self-determination in the context of modern constitutional structures.”
In essence what the British is saying is that we can remain as we are; we can become integrated into another state/country; we can opt for independence, but; once we wish to remain a colony of the UK, it will need to retain a sufficient level of powers to discharge its responsibilities effectively. Our choice of this option is because it falls just short of political independence yet affords Anguillians the opportunity to manage their own internal affairs. The challenge therefore is to find a way in which there is mutual agreement between Anguilla and the British Government that the inalienable right of self-determination can be exercised without the constraints of Orders in Council and other such provisions implanted in our constitution. Such an agreement can only be achieved in an atmosphere of mutual respect that would allow Anguilla to present its case strongly. Such a presentation while it is to be grounded on the solid foundation of Article 1 (1) of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, should also demonstrate “Anguilla’s competence to assume full responsibility for its internal affairs in keeping with the natural aspirations of mankind.”
I have quoted extensively from the position paper by Dame Bernice Lake because I believe her work includes the most comprehensive and erudite presentation of the case for full internal self-government for Anguilla that exists. It includes a list of the international obligations of the British Government as it relates to its colonies; the history of our colonial relationship with the UK for over forty years, and; the relevant statutes passed in the UK parliament governing that relationship. My preoccupation with this discussion is the fact that all the public consultations on constitutional advancement particularly since the Rifkin Letter in 1997 overwhelming supported a higher degree of internal-self government in an arrangement with the British Government. The present cry for political independence does not reflect the widely held position that we should continue to argue for greater autonomy in an atmosphere of mutual respect, but on the contrary the atmosphere that now exists is characterized by rowdiness, disrespect and incivility that does not allow for fair debate and discussion of this very important issue. One gets the distinct impression that someone or some group wants to ram this idea of “independence now” down our throats.
It seems that this government has moved away from what has been the long standing idea of “full internal self-government” as an interim status --- for the simple reason that they believe that the British Government is impeding their administration’s agenda. They have therefore abandoned pursuit of the case for full internal self-government and do not intend to “pass go!” --- but move directly to independence. It seems to most of us that the Chief Minister does not understand that good governance in an independent Anguilla will still require checks and balances in the form of institutions, boards, agencies and commissions provided for in the constitution and in accordance with the rule of law. So that while he may not be answerable to a British Governor in an independent Anguilla, his shameless abuse of the public service; his wanton disregard for procedures and protocols, and; his apparent ignorance of the concept of separation of powers will have to be overlooked by these independent commissions and agencies which will themselves be ultimately subject to review by the court.
While there are those who believe that if Anguilla goes into independence we will be swamped with financial assistance from a number of international agencies others have pointed to cases from Haiti, the first nation in our region to go into independence as far back as January 1, 1804 to the last St. Kitts-Nevis which went into independence on September 19, 1983. Many of these countries do not qualify for concessionary aid, which because of its scarcity is now directed to the poorest of the poor nations of the world. In other cases, the structural adjustment programs required as preconditions for some international aid far exceeds the harsh experience of higher supervision that many non-independent territories have to endure. Here as some examples of questions I have been asked by a number of discerning Anguillians about going into independence:-
• Who will now be responsible for our defense and external affairs?
• Will this change impact our main industries, namely, Tourism and Financial Services that rely heavily on foreign investors and customers who are sensitive to changes in political arrangements?
• What will be our relationship with regional organizations like OECS and CARICOM?
• What will be the additional costs for regulatory commissions and agencies requisite for ensuring their independence from political control and interest group influence?
• Who will assist us in protecting our vast marine resources and territorial waters?
But perhaps the attitude of the present Government and its supporters is the issue which casts the greatest doubts on persons who would otherwise be inclined to give serious consideration to discussions about independence at this time. After all it is practically inevitable that the people of Anguilla will wish to aspire to such a status at some point in the future. Fortunately for us, Independence for Anguilla does not require a violent national revolution against our Administering Power. The path to independence is clearly set out in our relationship agreements with the British Government. Civil disobedience is not required only civil negotiations. In his speech on 24th April 2006 British Minister for the Overseas Territories made it clear: “the United Kingdom will always be ready to help any territory become independent where this is an option, and is the clear and settled will of the people. The United Kingdom has no desire for any territory to remain British against its people’s wishes. We have no continuing colonial objectives.”
Why then do we get the distinct impression from the Chief Minister’s behaviour and that of his supporters that the independence they seek requires a public uprising? Why is it that some callers and even the hosts of many Radio Talk Shows lose their voices and wax emotional, with tears, against an “oppressor” who has already unshackled the “chains of captivity” just for the asking? Why is it that a radio talk show host should invoke biblical imagery to justify the actions of a Chief Minister who believes that the rules apply to everyone else but him? When will this Government settle down and do the people’s business in accordance with good governance and the rule of law? When will the lies cease?
There are those who believe that because of party loyalty they should be sympathetic to the Government’s call for independence. They have bought in to the conspiracy theories that the AUM propaganda machine is spreading that there is a plan by the AUF and the FCO to destroy Anguilla. As ridiculous as this may sound to reasonable people they are those who genuinely believe that in such a scenario independence is the desired solution --- and that the Chief Minster, described as the “Anguilla’s Moses” and “the Father of Independent Anguilla” will take us all safely to the biblical promised land. A Radio Talk Show Host was praying fervently on Monday for such deliverance. And while his prayer reverberated over the airwaves, a friend of mine, less ostentatiously, remarked: “Be careful what you wish for!”
Victor F. Banks
October 26, 2010