Books about Anguilla


Friday, 15 October 2010

“By the way! - Who asked you anyway?”

This week Anguilla is beset by rumours that Anguilla is a “failed state” and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) intends to suspend the Constitution by Order in Council and put Anguilla under higher supervision. Simply put, to take over the country and run it as now obtains in the Turks and Caicos Islands. A senior “reporter/journalist” from one of the leading Radio Stations on the island has been credited with releasing a statement to that effect which was picked up by one of the many “AUM sympathetic” talk shows and was spread around the island like wild fire. The big talk was that Anguilla was a “failed state” and in their usual style the host on this occasion tried to spin this particular term to suggest that all this was the past government’s fault. All of a sudden a host of economists sprang up speaking about “failed states”. It was reminiscent of the large number of “overnight” airport engineers who started to speak about “the PCN” during the extension of the Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport.

Having been approached by a number of supporters who were stunned by this release --- particularly the suggestion that the British were planning to suspend the constitution because Anguilla was a “failed state”--- I decided to do some research. First, I checked the international media to find out the source of these statements and found none. I then checked whether any such information was broadcast from the Radio Anguilla, our national radio station --- it was certainly not in their local news segment. And by the time I picked up the phone to check the newspaper, radio and television reporters --- they were in fact calling me for a comment. By that time some of them had gone on to check the Governor’s Office --- where they were also unable to get any verification of such a news item.

It then occurred to me that last Thursday, October 7th, on the Axareality Blog there was a clearly bogus posting entitled “Breaking News”. The posting was headed: “London: October 5th, 2010 is a date that will go down in the annals of Anguillian history as the British Government mobilizes their forces at the tiny island of Anguilla.” The author of the posting was someone calling himself/herself “I.D.M.” Based on the obvious lack of professional journalistic skills and the ruthless disregard for syntax, spelling and grammar --- I read the sarcastic comments of the other bloggers with amusement and immediately dismissed the posting as another “circus master hoax”. Being myself the target of similar postings during the election campaign I quickly recognized the AUM propaganda machine at work. Could it be that the news item was based on this nonsensical “breaking news” item from the blog? Well let’s check it out!

The subject of the talk show on Monday night was based on the same conspiracy theory that the Chief Minister has been propagating since he has been unable to successful apply his “Chavez style” governance over the last seven months. The fact is that whenever he cannot get his way to victimize persons who he believes did not support his government; whenever he is caught circumventing good governance procedures; whenever he cannot bully the public service; whenever he cannot find a proper response to questions raised about his misconduct in office; whenever he has a difficulty finding a way to deal with the affairs of his office --- he shouts like the American patriot Paul Revere: “The British are coming! The British are coming!”

In keeping with this the same posting from which the release seems to have been sourced states: “ the Constitution that was used in 1976 provided the people with immense powers but over the years and subsequent constitutional reforms, all those powers were “divulged” from the people to the Secretary of State, who is represented on the island by the Governor”. Again the implication being that the Chief Minister cannot do his job because the British Government has taken away his powers. The same point the AUM politicos are making: “We are unable to get the country going because of the Constitution!” And their answer is: “We need to go into independent!”

The second part of the theory is a direct attack on the present Governor in particular. Besides claiming the Governor “left the island last week to make his case to the FCO on Anguilla” --- the bogus press release states: “it was with keen curiosity when long time MI6 agent, with a history of diplomatic service and one who has been suspected with destabilizing governments in Africa, Mr. William A. Harrison was appointed Governor of Anguilla. This served to put the island on notice.” And then the bogus release goes on to say: “In 2009, Sir Michael Foot produced a report on the island, calling it and Montserrat, potential failed states.” Here is the source of the “failed state” comment referred to in the rumours. The significant difference here is that they neglected to include the qualifying word “potential” leaving Anguillians to assume that their island has been in fact characterized as a “failed state” --- whatever that means only “Alan “Alkins” Greenspan can tell us! So what does this mean: “If the Hubert fails it was always in the plan! The British sent a Governor with a view to destabilizing Anguilla”.

And the final segment of the conspiracy is in the penultimate paragraph of the bogus press release and I quote: “It is now coming to a head and the FCO is sending a joint delegation of FCO and DFID technocrats to deal with budgets for 2011 and increase and broaden the tax base of Anguilla. A source in the FCO has said that they intend to suspend the constitution by order in Council and put Anguilla under higher supervision. While there will be no elected government, reports claim that elections in Anguilla can be held as soon as 2012 and far away as 2014.” These are the same kind of “lies and fabrications” which catapulted the AUM to Office and they now believe that in this difficult period when they just can’t seem to get anything right --- they must now revert to their usual ways. You must not forget, however, that it was the Chief Minister himself who requested technocrats from the FCO and further he thanked the Minister for the Overseas Territories profusely when he made the announcement that the technocrats were coming in time for the budget. However, this bogus press release is making sure it is the FCO technocrats who will be “increasing and broadening the tax base of Anguilla and put Anguilla under higher supervision not --- not Hubert!

It is important to highlight these three parts of the “bogus press release” because it shows that all that was said on the talk show and all that was contained in the news item initiated by that senior journalist/reporter appear to be identical. Three probable theories have been advanced to explain this similarity as follows: a) The senior journalist/reporter received the bogus release from a third party who he assumed was creditable. b) The senior journalist/reporter assumed that the author I.D.M was indeed former Justice Ian Donaldson Mitchell, Q. C. c) The senior journalist/reporter is part of the AUM propaganda machine. I have no position on either of these theories except to make the point that there is need to raise the level of professionalism and responsibility in the quality of journalism on Anguilla. The content of the news item created a state of frustration and panic around Anguilla and it was further exacerbated by the talk show host who appeared to have a clear agenda to cast aspersions on the past Government as having full responsibility for creating a failed state and triggering higher supervision. There is no plausible excuse for the deliberate manipulation of the public through the fabrication of false information and sources. I believe that one of the bloggers who responded to the posting of the bogus news release had it right when he/she wrote: “I. D. M is (stands for) Idiot Doing Mischief!”

There are two diametrically opposed groups of responses to the unfounded rumours that the British are coming in to impose higher supervision. One group comprises some supporters of the Government who feel they are being defrauded and the other comprises some supporters of the Opposition who feel that there are being vindicated. I have made the point to many persons in the latter grouping (supporters of the Opposition) that were it the case that the FCO did in deed suspend the Constitution it would not be power being taken away from the AUM --- it would be power taken away from Anguilla. On the other side (supporters of the Government) I have said to them that were it the case that the FCO took action --- it would not be on account of the conduct of the past Government but of the present Government’s performance and approach to governance. This Government needs to settle down and operate within the boundaries of a constitutional arrangement that has not yet been amended --- and while they progress steadily towards achieving that objective they cannot expect to operate like an independent country --- having not yet achieved such status.

So the Chief Minister and his supporters can continue to shout out “the British are coming” time and time again whenever they are under pressure. But they must face the cold hard facts the British are not coming they are in fact already here! They have always been here! Every single Government has had to deal with that presence by operating within the guidelines set out in our constitution and in keeping with the parameters of our partnership agreement. Independence cannot be a viable option if we do not first educate our people to the importance of respect for laws by which we are governed and the procedures we are obliged to follow to advance the cause of good governance. The past government insisted on constitutional reform within the context of full internal self-government --- so in essence your aspirations and those of the past government are the same. The difference is that the past government recognized that coming from a colonial arrangement this can only be achieved in an atmosphere of mutual respect --- at least one in which civility prevails. No military revolt is necessary to achieve independence if that is what the people want --- our relationship with the British Government has given us a clear path in that regard. Where negotiations are necessary is when we seek devolution of powers. We all know that there will always be points of difference that demand objective discussion. We need experienced and qualified constitutional advisors to help us to navigate these unfamiliar and even unchartered waters --- not a war of words and insolent exchanges.

My position is clear --- I have only criticized the Government for the wrong things they have done over the last seven months. A honeymoon period does not give the groom or the bride license to begin a relationship without regard for the rules that must govern the marriage thereafter. Likewise this period should not allow the Government to neglect its responsibility to deliver good governance without facing criticism. I continue to hear from supporters of the Government that my comments are dividing the country --- I was most surprised, however, to read in the “letter to the editor” section of the Anguillian Newspaper last week a letter from an expatriate Anguillian homeowner criticizing my views in one of my articles. His name is Mr. Suresh Bhalla. I have never met the gentleman but based on my limited research I understand that he was granted an Alien Landholding Licence some four years ago and now owns a home on the north coast of Anguilla in the Black Garden/Brimegin area. I do appreciate the fact that he has taken the time to read my articles.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Suresh Bhalla for his interest in Anguilla and the fact he has made a considerable investment here. He has certainly contributed to the employment and business opportunities for a number of Anguillians. The comments he made however, on the basis of his limited stay on our island over the last four years seem to be somewhat presumptuous given the fact that such a short sojourn among us does not qualify him to understand the intricacies of politics in Anguilla and the frame of reference for my criticism of the Chief Minister and his son. And furthermore by his own admission he expressed ignorance of a number of issues on which he based his comments. Mr. Bhalla’s opinion on my article quite frankly is of no importance to me --- he never was a part of my audience. It only shows that Haydn found a fan, because the entire letter is in his defense and the defense of the Chief Minister in a way that seems somewhat contrived. In fact if I were a gambling man I would wager that he (Haydn) at least edited it.

A number of expatriates have made considerable investments in this country --- many of them have moved on to acquire Anguillian status but until that time I have never met one of them who have found it necessary to involve themselves in Anguillian politics in this way. I know that Mr Bhalla was born in India the largest democracy on earth and that he acquired Canadian citizenship one of the most modern democracies on earth --- so I would have expected that he understood the dynamics of the democratic process as it pertains to non-nationals. I hope that I will soon meet Mr Bhalla and have the chance to be frank and say: “By the way! Who asked you anyway?”

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate
October 12, 2010

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“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” – MLK.