Books about Anguilla


Thursday, 2 December 2010


I have been listening with interest to the various discussions on our financial and economic situation especially at this time when Government of Anguilla is preparing to present its annual budget for 2011. As the immediate past Minister of Finance I can empathize with the stress that the present Minister and his colleagues are going through --- even though they have not been particularly kind to me during the past twelve months. All of a sudden the Chief Minister and his son the Parliamentary Secretary have discovered that there is a worldwide recession that is impacting Anguilla --- a realization that has come about only after they took over the reins of government. There can be only two plausible reasons for this late and rude awakening --- either that they were totally ignorant of the situation in Anguilla or that they were deliberately trying to mislead Anguillians during the election campaign. I overheard one of the victims of this deception the other day lamenting that the leadership of the AUM government, based on the statements made during the election campaign, are “either dunces or liars! Take your pick!”

It is my understanding that public consultations are being planned for the budgetary process. This can be a very helpful exercise if conducted in an environment conducive to objective and respectful exchanges. To put it simply --- an environment that mimics a classroom experience rather than a “staged-managed” AUM circus event. I would also hope that appropriate use is made of the technocrats in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development whose expertise in this area has been “well-honed” over years of working on annual budgets. This would effectively remove political posturing from of the exercise. The government will have to take a number of tough decisions that have become tougher because of the promises they made during the last twelve months. They will no longer be able to blame the past Government for their problems because they indicated during their campaign that they could fix the economy in six weeks.

I was also amused with the release from the Office of the Chief Minister regarding his recent visit to the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC) when he said: “I have not issued a published statement prior to today, because I am hoping to obtain from Mr. Bellingham (The FCO Minister) a written statement from him confirming my understanding of the meeting so that whatever I put forward to you fellow Anguillians cannot be contradicted.” This is a historic statement from the Chief Minister because it is the first time that he has ever gone to London in any capacity and has not run to the BBC to deliver some statement about his talks at the FCO. And he has never come back to Anguilla without immediately getting on the airwaves or ensuring that he got interviewed on the morning programs. There were a number of AUM supporters who were at a high level of expectancy that “Hubert will handle the British” --- a statement that over his years as a politician he has been unable to translate into positive results for Anguilla. In fact, the only outcome of his approach to the British has been an unstable political situation for Anguilla and in most cases his own demise.

I do not wish to speculate on the reasons for the Chief Minister’s circumspection in issuing an early statement on his meeting with the FCO Minister on this occasion --- neither would I hesitate to give credit to his “handlers” if they were indeed responsible for this laudable demonstration of restraint. But I must say that I do believe that his strategy for seeking the assistance of the British Government to be “flawed”. For example:-

• He states that: “our economic situation was a direct result of mismanagement which happened while there was a Governor overseeing the work of the Territories and as a result of a lack of effective oversight”. In other words the economic situation is the Governor and the FCO’s fault!

• He states that: “the portfolio of the Civil Service is that of the Governor’s under whose oversight the problem of the ballooning of the civil service went unchecked”. In other words the Governor and the FCO is responsible for the size of the civil service!

• He states that: “we are disappointed that following our discussions on issues pertaining to corruption that there has been no response from FCO on these matters”. In other words the Governor and the FCO have some complicity in what he perceives to be corruption on the basis of unfounded speculation because they have not responded to his request to launch an investigation!

• He states that: “the Governor chose to execute a memorandum of Agreement pertaining to Cap Juluca for 125 years and a further automatic approval on Election Day when he knew or ought to have known of our platform utterances and our specific intention to challenge those agreements.” In other words the Governor conspired with either the past Government or the Developer or both to commit what he opines to be an improper action!

• He states that: “a prestigious London law firm of attorneys that represents a developer, informed the developer that their contacts in the FCO were telling them that the developer should not invest in Anguilla because the Government will not last”. In other words the FCO is sabotaging the efforts of this Government to attract development!

• He states that: “there are a number of constitutional issues which currently are being created at the hands of the Governor.” In other words the Governor is acting unconstitutionally!

• He states that: “the Governor has asked for his resignation on the basis that I took out a EC$200 million dollar loan ….. my position is that at no time was I transacting or had anything to do with this loan.” In other words the Governor is trying to force his resignation on spurious evidence!

I am not suggesting that the Chief Minister should not have the right to raise questions with the FCO on issues relating to our partnership arrangements --- but to do so in the context of addressing the most critical issues affecting Anguilla, namely, the economy and the fiscal situation, may be considered a farcical strategy indeed. The fact is, only two of the fourteen questions purported to having been raised with the FCO Minister had anything to do with discussions necessary for dealing with our fiscal and economic woes and one of those questions sought to lay blame directly on the Governor.

As I have said time and time again this Government continues to believe that the only way to achieve its objectives is by adopting an attack mode. To date this approach has only resulted in a protracted battle with the Governor and the FCO and has distracted focus from the important requirements for dealing with the business of the country. If you read the Chief Minister’s statement he spends most of his time with issues related to his power struggle with the Governor. And the rest of the time he is trying to lock somebody up for the 1998 Transshipment matter and the 2005 Airport Expansion Project --- by requesting forensic accountants and the expansion of the Financial Investigations Unit. Hubert be careful what you wish for!

Hubert! If your plan to have someone locked up either fails or succeeds how will this help the many Anguillians who you proudly claim to represent deal with the challenges at hand? How will this attract new investment to the country? How will this create new jobs? How will this prevent bank foreclosures? How will this increase revenue performance and improve the delivery of essential services? Or even how will this help you to stop telling so many lies?

I mentioned that there were only two questions raised with the FCO Minister that had anything to do with our fiscal and economic woes and as such I will expand on these questions briefly to illustrate the inconsistencies of the Chief Minister’s statements over several months. The two questions have to do with borrowing and the civil service. With regards the civil service, in putting forward the argument not to cut salaries or downsize the level of the establishment he blames the Governor for the problem. In doing so he does not make a plausible case for maintaining the size of the service that includes the requirements for increased manpower coming out of the international regulations on safety and security at the airport and seaports. While there are other sound arguments that could be employed he loses the opportunity to make a positive point which does not accuse the Governor of being reckless in expanding the service but rather of being cautious in providing for the safety and security of persons using our ports. In other words putting a positive spin on settling this issue rather playing the blame game.

With regards the borrowing issue? After having lambasted the British Government for allowing the past government to accumulate what he described as unsustainable and lavish debt he now finds himself in a situation where he has to undertake a level of borrowing which will far exceed the amounts borrowed in five years of the past administration --- in less than a year. Whereas the past Government undertook this borrowing in prosperous times to advance infrastructure development the Chief Minister is now being forced to justify borrowing in a period of challenge when he does not have a clear plan to explain how he will meet these obligations. In fact the British Government is now using his own arguments against him because he must now explain to them how he will be able to manage a significant increase on what he himself described as burdensome debt levels. In other words he cannot readily make a case for critical borrowing without flying in the face of his own forceful declarations against borrowing by the previous administration.

I have not attended nor will I attend any of the public consultations being conducted on the budgetary exercise because I have been told and accept that my very presence would be counter-productive. But I am concerned that for almost ten months the preoccupation of this Government has been with posturing; casting blame; complaining about the Governor and the British Government; trying to lock up members of the former government and their supporters; changing MOA’s into MOU’s for no sensible reason; victimizing public servants and non-supporters, and; talking about independence. These preoccupations have caused them to neglect the most important aspect of their responsibility, that is, to deal with the challenges of the present economic situation. As a result they have waited until this eleventh hour to address these issues and now have not been successful in making the important case that increased taxation and cuts in salaries are not conducive to economic recovery in a small open economy like Anguilla.

The past Government also went to London in July 2009 but that visit focused on the critical issues affecting our island. There were no issues of personal power or relationships. Following that visit, in a letter to the then FCO Minister Chris Bryant, the Chief Minister at the time the Hon. Osbourne B. Fleming wrote as follows: “The Government of Anguilla came to London because we believe in the Partnership for Progress and Prosperity and the mutual responsibilities and the underlying respect contained therein. We also expected that our discussions would be conducted in the context of our historical relationship and our record of responsible governance as a territory which has been mature and exemplary in the conduct of its affairs.” With this approach the previous Government while being polite and courteous proceeded to make the strong case that resulted in a viable response.

I am hoping that the Chief Minister will get a viable response to his requests in time to put together a viable budget that does not place excessive burdens on our people. He will certainly be required to do a number of things that he scoffed at twelve months ago. He will certainly have to sell his budget to the people based on the premise that we are in a worldwide recession --- and it is not only Anguilla which is affected as he and his colleagues have been suggesting for the past twelve months. He will have to tell us how he will work cooperatively with the same developers he openly despised just a few months ago to turn things around. And that disappointed AUM supporter whose lament still rings in my ears will finally come to some conclusion as to whether the leaders of his party are “dunces or liars”.

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate
November 30, 2010

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