Last week in my final article for 2010 entitled: "We'll take a cup of kindness yet!" I raised a number of concerns coming out of the Budget debates. In particular, I pointed out that the Chief Minister and some of his colleagues in Government chose defiance as opposed to dialogue and posturing rather than reasoning to gain the approval from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the 2011 Budget passed in the Anguilla House of Assembly on December 23, 2010. Let me quote the exact section in my article: "The Chief Minister must settle down and explain the differences in the Anguilla situation and outline to the British Government the negative impacts of its recommendation on a small and extremely vulnerable state like Anguilla. But most importantly he must also be able to present a sound proposal as to how he intends to retire the deficit and restore fiscal and economic stability over the next three years. Such a proposal may even suggest that four rather than three years would be more feasible for returning to a balanced budget position. There needs to be dialogue rather than defiance --- reasoning rather than posturing. And while it may be late I strongly suggest that a defensible case can still be made." I was simply saying that the relationship between the Chief Minister and the British Government did not need to be antagonistic.
I also need to quote the section that followed as it almost predicts the course of action that I believed the Chief Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary would pursue in the event they felt strongly that the British Government would not authorize the budget. I said: "Many persons have asked me whether I believe that the British Government will authorize the budget." My response has been that "I would hope so!" And my main reason for expressing such a hope is that if that does not happen I fear that the Chief Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will once again return to their comfort zone by attacking the British and calling for Independence. I also need to make the point that if the FCO does not authorize the budget promptly the Government can still proceed for another four months without having passed one for 2011. This allows us a further opportunity for dialogue and reasoning. Will the Chief Minister seize this opportunity or will he once again provoke panic, alarm, subversion and diversion on the streets and in the prison cells of Anguilla?
My predictions were not to be taken lightly. I was horrified by the Chief Minister's interview with Ras Bee of Upbeat Radio on New Year's Eve when he proceeded to rant and rave about a British conspiracy "to takeover Anguilla for its own benefit" and that we must "bind ourselves together to fight off this British challenge." But perhaps the most alarming of his many comments during that interview was his suggestion that a clear message needs to be sent to the British Government as was sent by the prisoners on September 23, 2010 when they were prepared to burn the prison down after being told by the Chief Minister and his colleagues that the Governor asked for his resignation. Hubert stated clearly in the interview that "the rest of the Anguillians need to follow from where the prisoners left off!" The only probable interpretation of this reckless statement is that law-abiding Anguillians should now follow the example of persons being rehabilitated in Her Majesty's Prison to force the British Government to authorize the budget by violent measures. Is this the kind of leadership that we need in Anguilla at this time? How will inciting the population to violence help Anguilla's case --- or make the case for the British Government to authorize the budget? How will the creation of such instability bring any sense of security to both local and foreign investors? How will this help to attract visitors/tourists to our island? How can you turn an economy around in such an atmosphere of turmoil?
The Chief Minister arrives at the conclusion that there is need to start another Revolution from a spurious premise that the British Government wants to destabilize Anguilla for reasons that hold absolutely no water: (A) He expresses the view that the British Government never accepted the results of the last General Election. (B) He accuses the British Government in collusion with the past government of squandering our resources so as to bring Anguilla to a level of indebtedness that would break our resolve for self-determination. (C) He states that the British wants to impose drastic measures that will create a situation that would cause every staff association in the public service to strike and thereby bring down the Government. (D) He wraps up the entire conspiracy with the closing argument that the British Government gave the Governor an additional year so that he can effectively destroy Anguilla because they like what he is doing. I will deal with his reasons in order.
(A) For those of you who have been paying attention you would have noticed that the Governor immediately swore in the new government after the last general election without any hesitation. All the challenges that the Government has been experiencing to keep itself together have come from within that party itself. It was not the Governor who suggested a reshuffling of the Cabinet --- it was the CM because of disagreements within his own party. Rightly or wrongly the Governor has in fact been trying to ensure that the Government stays together in keeping with the outcome of the election. The people did not elect --- nor did the Governor appoint Jerome Roberts to create discord within the AUM --- they elected four AUM candidates to form the Government and the Governor dutifully swore them in as the Government. The Governor did not trigger the internal wrangling in the House of Assembly between the Hon. Edison Baird and the Hon. Jerome Roberts both members of the present Government. Neither did the Governor contribute to the discontent associated with the Parliamentary Secretary impersonating an elected member and then presumptuously carrying out the function of de facto Deputy Chief Minister and in some cases de facto Chief Minister. Where is the evidence that the Governor does not accept the results of the past election --- it is the Chief Minister and his colleagues who do not wish to conform to appropriate conduct as set out within the Anguilla Constitution. The Governor must accept the will of the people as made clear in their choice of a Government but that Government once elected must act responsibly and in keeping with proper procedures.
(B) The record shows that the British Government gave the past Government as much of a difficult a time when we sought to finance our budget as the present Government now faces. The past Government stood its ground on the importance of its request and made the case. We presented proposals for retiring the deficit given the known circumstances at the time --- proposals which included negotiations with investors, austerity measures, revenue measures and the reduction of debt repayment obligations through the Policy Based Loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). We did not get an easy reception from the FCO Minister and his advisors when we went to London but neither did we threaten to resort to violent measures to achieve our objectives --- we used reasoned proposals. For the Chief Minister to suggest that there was collusion between the British Government and the AUF Government to pile up debt and thereby suppress the will of Anguillians for self-determination flies in the face of the facts. It is my view that this is a part of Hubert's ongoing plan to create instability on Anguilla so that he can emerge as a hero of a new revolution having not earned a historic place in the last one. As someone said: "Hubert wants to start his own Revolution so he can replace the Honourable James Ronald Webster as 'father of the nation'". As I said in one of my earlier pieces and I quote: "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 ….. We need experienced and qualified constitutional advisors to help us navigate these unfamiliar and even unchartered waters --- not a war of words and insolent exchanges." It is time that Hubert stops fooling the people that violence is the answer to our challenges.
(C) The Staff Associations in Anguilla have traditionally been very vocal when issues of salary are being discussed. In fact the much talked about salary increases by the past Government was an effort to mitigate the inflationary effect of the period of prosperity which we experienced in Anguilla between 2004 to 2008. Gas prices were on the rise and as a consequence the price of all goods and services; rents were increasing; wages in the private sector were increasing, and; public servants as a consequence of all of these were crying out for more pay. In fact during that period the Government lost a number of its public servants to the private sector. Because the consolidated fund is the source of payment for all public servants when that fund is depleted the public service is affected. The public service has been considerably understanding in this period of challenge and many consider themselves fortunate to have had salaries sufficient to withstand cuts. Civil servants in the higher echelons of Government have worked with this Government and the past Government to come up with reasonable proposals to respond to the reality of the global recession --- but the politicians must follow through, to quote the Hon. Evans McNiel Rogers, with the appropriate style, approach and attitude. Hubert need not suggest that the British Government is forcing public service associations to strike and bring down the Government --- what he should be doing is using their expertise to make the case in a rational and factual way.
(D) To say that the British Government gave the Governor an additional year because he is doing a good job in destroying Anguilla does not merit any substantive response. Really! What would a mighty nation like the United Kingdom have to gain by employing Senior Officials in the FCO a high level department which deals with Britain's international foreign policy initiatives to destroy Anguilla? The FCO’s budget for administering Anguilla is minuscule compared to its obligations worldwide. Hubert is either delusional or willfully misleading Anguillians for his own ends. It is also insulting to continue to compare the situation in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) with Anguilla. The level of maladministration that triggered Britain's presence in TCI is well documented --- "not alleged". The effort that Hubert is putting into destroying our country's good name could be better spent settling down and fixing Anguilla's economy. It should not matter who he deems responsible based on his illogical conspiracy theories.
The President of the Public Service Association made a speech that to my mind reverberated many of the conspiracy theories that the Chief Minister has been promulgating. And while I must congratulate Pastor Gumbs for the dramatic improvement in his speech writing and his most impressive delivery --- it seemed to me just another political speech that begs the question: "Who is Pastor Gumbs representing in the Anguilla Public Service?" Does he represent the views of the majority of the public service? When last did the Public Service Association have a proper election? It also was an attack on Her Majesty's Government charging them with destabilizing tactics. And forced me to ask the question whether or not he was still a member of the civil service.
The new General Orders issued by the Governor's Office on December 1, 2010 in Section 3.20 states as follows: "Save in the course of their official duties, officers may not, without permission, speak in public or publish in any manner or broadcast on radio or television anything which may reasonably be regarded as being political in nature. Officers may, however, publish in their own name matters relating to subjects of general interest or give broadcast talks on the radio or television on such matters. In cases of doubt prior reference should be made to the Governor." I am sure that Pastor Gumbs had the benefit of legal advice particularly in his slanted accusations about HMG using desperate efforts to cripple our standards of living. It seems that Hubert's reckless approach to inciting hate-filled remarks is taking root with other political personalities because I also noted the same reasoning, language and words recurring in the New Year's Address by the elected representative for East End. How can we encourage our up and coming politicians to raise their standards and refrain from the irresponsible politics of fear and mudslnging.
Having said all that I have said so far let make the point clearly that I have made in my October 15, 2010 column: "Were it the case that the FCO did indeed suspend the Constitution it would not be power being taken away from the AUM --- it would be power taken away from Anguilla!" No sensible Anguillian would want the British Government to intervene politically and administratively into Anguilla’s affairs. However, if we continue to incite violence as a tool of governance --- a radical response may become the only option. And the truth of the matter is, as occurred in 1969, many Anguillians may even welcome it.
The Chief Minister's talk of bloodshed and a willingness to die for what remains a spurious threat by the British Government (for which he is still to produce documentary evidence) sounds like the ranting of a desperate despot. And his suggestion that we take example of the prisoners and stand prepared to burn something down in support of his Government’s style, approach and attitude is to say the least irresponsible.
While the Governor and British Government are not perfect or without an agenda of their own --- they are at least professional. Anguillians must not be led to believe that the Chief Minister's approach will make a positive difference in our present plight --- in fact it will erode any gains we have made by creating an unstable environment in which no one will want to invest and to which no one will come. The clear message that needs to be sent to the Chief Minister is that he is in charge and it is time to settle down and do what he was elected to do. Govern! Not to lead a group of "ton ton macoutes" as in the days of Pappa Doc Duvalier's Haiti or a "mongoose gang" as in Sir Eric Gairy's Grenada. Like the old fisherman said to his colleague: "You are here to produce --- either fish or cut bait!"
Victor F. Banks
January 4, 2011