The Chief Minister said:
“Madam Speaker, the first and understandably, the most important departure from the past is that we immediately recognize the startling truth that the AUM Government has inherited a distressed economy, obviously brought about by the reckless conduct of the outgoing leadership. It is certainly not the truth that all of Anguilla’s economic woes can be blamed on the World economic downturn but rather, factors such as: 1) alleged corruption dating back to the early 1990’s, 2) economic mismanagement, and 3) poor governance.
It is my opinion that these factors may have resulted in a culture of a total lack of transparency, a lack of accountability and the failure to ensure good governance thus consolidating the dire economic and financial conditions facing Anguilla today --- but while it is true that the elected representative of the people of a British Overseas Territory such as Anguilla have a moral and sacred responsibility to the people who entrust them by their votes, it is also true that as the administering power, HMG through its officials in the FCO in accordance with the assurances given that the conduct of our local administration will be closely monitored and the stipulations set out in the UN Charter for colonies be upheld, I cannot avoid apportioning some blame for the virtual collapse of Anguilla’s economy on elements within the FCO.”
The Chief Minister goes on in his “Operation Recovery” budget address to paint a picture of “alleged corruption”, economic mismanagement and poor governance by the former AUF Administration and includes the British Government as “aiding and abetting” this conduct. He then incites the emotions of the general population by using terms like “Anguillians first”, “fronting”, “overtaxing the poor” and, “wealthy aliens going free” to create the image of an uncaring government which did not attend to the interests of its electorate. He illustrates this fact by making a blatantly unfair statement in reference to the Flags Luxury, Cap Juluca and Viceroy as follows: “All these developments were done to ensure that there was no trickle down effect to the local economy by using slave labor from China, India and Mexico housing these workers on the projects.” Of course this a most ridiculous statement intended to imply that an elected Government in a democratic system would be so daft as to conspire to fashion developments deliberately in a way that no benefits would accrue to the people from whom its seeks to solicit support. In fact, it may be considered an insult to the intelligence of the audiences he addressed that they could be expected to believe such utter nonsense.
While the past Government may be accused of underestimating the impact of their investment incentive program --- they can never be accused of creating an environment where there was a shortage of jobs and business opportunities for Anguillians in that period of prosperity. Even in the height of the drive to secure labour to build out these projects no Anguillian desirous of having a job in the construction sector was without choices for obtaining one. Those projects pumped considerable revenue into the Consolidated Fund in the form of customs duties and other taxes which ensured that Government had the wherewithal to meet the costs of essential services, pay public servants and accumulate reserves. During that period the main criticism from the opposition was that there was over development --- the core of that criticism being the existence of two major projects.
The past Government was fully aware of the overwhelming success of its investment incentive program and quickly put on the brakes through a moratorium on large tourism accommodation projects. That Government, however, always believed in the wisdom of having more than one major investor. In fact, the Viceroy Resort is a testimony to the importance of that wisdom such that at present it is the salvation of our economy and for this AUM Government in light of the need for new jobs and business opportunities while we await some resolution to the challenges of the Flags Project. At the end of the day the success of this Government is closely tied to the success of these two projects as well as Cap Juluca, all of which the past Government worked assiduously to secure. The Government’s hope for windfall revenues from Viceroy sales and the probability of a new investor for the Flags Project rest on the existence of those projects in the first place. And our anxiety to see them brought back on stream reinforces the need for them to have been completed at this time.
The economic mismanagement and poor governance in the Chief Minister’s “Operation Recovery” budget address is in keeping with his recurring chant during the campaign and over the last ten months that the “wicked AUF Government” gave away available revenue from investors. And in his address he pleads to the British Government, completely ignoring and perhaps insulting his staff in the Ministry of Finance, to provide a team of forensic accountants to find the sources of these revenue “leaks”. One gets the distinct impression that he has recently discovered the field and concept of “forensic accounting” and now wishes to impress his audiences with his grasp of the subject.
He fails to explain, now that he has had the “rude awakening of being elected”, that he now understands that the only way to attract investment especially in the lean times as existed in 2002 and as exist today is by incentivizing investors both foreign and local. Rather, he now tries to mask that reality by continuing to perpetrate that deception by giving the impression that there is a difference between an MOA and an MOU all the while giving up more concessions in the process of renegotiating already carefully negotiated agreements with developers. In support of this position it is an established fact that the Cap Juluca MOA has resulted in considerable losses of both short term and long term benefits to the people of Anguilla. It has resulted in a significant reduction in the level of national empowerment in the project. In short “Operation Recovery” in this “renegotiated” agreement has resulted in a loss or a worsening of the arrangements.
It is interesting to hear some lingering AUM supporters who are too embarrassed to admit to this travesty of national justice suggest that: “Haydn and Jerome had to give all that up to save the workers service charge”. What utter nonsense --- a clear example of the AUM Government’s disrespect for the intelligence of their supporters! Service charge to workers is provided for by law and is administered and monitored by employees as well as employers. There is no need for additional provisions for service charge in any MOA or MOU. Any statement to the contrary is deliberately false and malicious.
I have intentionally left the first factor mentioned in the “Operation Recovery” budget address for the last. And I will quote the factor as it is stated, namely, “alleged corruption” dating back to the early 1990’s”. First of all how can something that is “alleged” be a factor in anything unless it is psychological? For corruption to be a factor in our “economic woes” it must exist --- it cannot merely be alleged. In addition this “alleged corruption” to which the Chief Minister refers does not only include the period immediately preceding his ascension to power but also during the period when he was in power 1994- 2000. Should anyone take responsibility for corruption in that period, technically, it must be the Chief Minister at the time, less you forget, the Honourable Hubert Benjamin Hughes.
If the Chief Minister wishes to make a charge of corruption for any period preceding “Operation Recovery” he must present the evidence to substantiate his claim rather than shelter under legal terminology to protect his baseless conclusions or his willful and malicious inferences. Chief Minister!!! It is time to stand by the strength of your convictions and make a formal charge of corruption against all who you blame for your present inability to execute your “well-touted” plan to rescue Anguilla. After all you must be hailed as a “master of illusion” having won an election on the basis of a yet “invisible plan”!
I believe that I have successfully demonstrated the total preoccupation of “Operation Recovery” with carrying on a strategy lacking the necessary focus for dealing with the pressing issues impacting Anguilla in this period. As I said last week the Chief Minister and his colleagues seem to believe that “locking someone up” for his unfounded allegations of corruption is the solution for our economic woes. I would go a step further and suggest that in this challenging period when cooperation is vital to achieving consensus on tough decisions and sacrifices, nationally --- the divisive and accusatory tactics of the Chief Minister are non-starters. Coming out of a particularly bitter general election where his party was victorious. And at a time when it was well known that the global situation would present tremendous hardships for Anguilla. It behooved the incoming Government to be gracious in victory and concentrate on healing “the wounds” rather than applying salt and peppery condiments to them. The focus of “Operation Recovery” based on statements that have yet to be clothed in evidence and factuality --- did nothing but build up resentment among AUF supporters who though already admonished to accept defeat with dignity could not withstand the relentless attacks on the integrity of their leadership. To put it simply, “Operation Recovery” lacks that redeeming element of astute leadership that understands the need to create an environment of détente in order to achieve lofty national objectives that transcend petty political posturing.
As an example of that kind of approach to national leadership I will quote a portion of my concluding remarks to my 2009 budget address under the theme: “Strengthening the Collective … We are the Solution”. This budget address was at given a time when we were coming to grips with the global recession that had begun to impact every single investor on Anguilla. At that time the Government still had more than EC$65 million available in reserves and was predicting a low single-digit growth.
“Mr. Speaker, I opened my remarks by saying that I would not wish to dwell on the global financial crisis and its impacts on Anguilla. That was intentional. I wanted to get your minds off of those issues for a while --- and focus on the strategic path for Anguilla’s development that will continue to experience success if we stay on course and on message. I also wanted to explain that strengthening the collective is about all of us pulling together --- rather than blaming everyone and each other for our plight. That is the kind of optimism I hope will characterize our approach to the challenges of this period --- and as I said earlier it is a winning approach all the way.
Mr. Speaker, against this backdrop of optimism let me speak about what lies ahead with the confidence that I have already established the point that we are the solution. As I said earlier this is the time to be proactive rather than reactive. We have to carefully assess the situation and put a well thought-out plan in place --- a plan that employs all the appropriate resources of the collective. It was the same plan that was employed in 2002 when the Honourable Chief Minister used the exhortation: “there is light at the end of the tunnel”. It was the same plan that the Ministry of Finance adopted in its “road map”: “Measures to Restore Fiscal Stability 2002 – 2004”. It is the same plan that must be used today to mitigate the impacts of the global recession.
Mr. Speaker, unusual times call for unusual methods. In this context, the Government of Anguilla must employ bold and unusual strategies to address the unusual circumstances in the world economy unequalled in over seventy years. We cannot wait until the situation worsens --- we must act now. To make a medical analogy ---we cannot wait until the virus reaches our shores to begin to build up our immune system --- or get the appropriate vaccination. Nor should we make a false diagnosis and prescribe the wrong medicine. And worse yet we should not allow the environment, physical or psychological, which is conducive to the patient’s healing process to deteriorate.”
I have included this quote from my 2009 Budget Address, at the risk of seeming immodest or even arrogant, to demonstrate the responsibilities of leadership in rallying discordant factions and parties together in challenging times. The medical analogy is to demonstrate the importance of the proper environment and treatment for a patient’s recovery --- as well as the danger of a false diagnosis and the wrong medicine.
At the time of writing I happened to see a most convoluted, disjointed and confusing motion submitted by the Chief Minister to the House of Assembly. I am sure that it will substantiate my conclusions that he is totally out of touch with the present reality and is resorting to his usual “smoke and mirrors” approach to dealing with the issues. In discussing my medical analogy of our situation with my colleagues in the context of Hubert’s “Operation Recovery” strategy --- the general consensus was that it is conceivable that by the time this patient is referred for proper treatment the pronouncement could be “dead on arrival”.
Victor F. Banks
December 7, 2010