Thursday, 3 February 2011
It was my pleasure to be back on the rock last Thursday after a refreshing vacation --- but I was extremely disappointed with the obvious lack of rainfall over the three weeks of my absence. Especially in the context of the high levels of precipitation (albeit in the form of snow) in many parts of the United States from whence I journeyed. Yet in the midst of my disappointment I remained confident in our island’s historic resilience even after longer periods of drought. I took notice, however, that there was no drought affecting the seeds of discussion on the issue of Independence around the island.
I was also saddened by the passing of a regional colleague and friend, the late Dr. The Honourable John Alfred Osborne, former Chief Minister of Montserrat who was foremost among the many Montserratian leaders who supported a timetable for an Independent Montserrat --- just a few years before the eruption of the deadly Soufriere Volcano. Those leaders had the majority support of their citizens in pursuing that timetable. And that timetable for Independence would have already been achieved were it not for that natural disaster. Today perhaps the one missing element for achieving such constitutional advance, besides the lurking threat of another eruption, is the absence of a viable economy including of course the importance of a critical population mass.
The historic and societal links of Montserrat with the other independent states of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the strength of its economy in the late seventies and the eighties was obviously central to that island’s strong desire to become fully integrated as an independent nation into the sub-regional and wider Caricom communities. Their history was not one of struggle with another state within an administrative union --- in fact their relationship with Antigua and Barbuda with whom they were once associated, remains one of mutual respect and fraternal affection. Furthermore, in terms of regional trade, being an economy with some agricultural production capacity, their commonality of interests with the other OECS independent member states was also at the time a motivating factor for seeking Independence.
I have made the foregoing illustration of Montserrat to establish five points of departure for my contribution to the discussion on an Independent Anguilla. First of all, every state that seeks to pursue the status of independence does so for different reasons. Secondly, the viability and the sustainability of the economy in preparation for independence is an important consideration. Thirdly, for small states it may be of critical importance for survival to become involved in formal regional or sub-regional relationships. Fourthly, disasters, whether natural, human or financial, can impact a timetable for Independence. And finally, it is important to have the nationwide support of the people in an atmosphere of social, political and economic stability.
Having said all of that let me say that the issue of an Independent Anguilla is nothing new. In fact, Anguilla had two plebiscites or referenda on the issue of secession and independence in the late sixties. Both were won unanimously. The first on July 11th, 1967 recorded a count of 1813 in favour, 5 against. The second on February 6th, 1969 recorded a similar overwhelming count of 1739 in favour, 4 against and on this occasion Anguilla was declared an Independent Republic. Two weeks later the Honourable James Ronald Webster was elected President of the Republic. I will not comment on any procedural aspects of the referenda except to say that it is quite obvious that these were called because of serious frustrations on the part of Anguillians as to the manner in which they had been treated. In that sense these actions were almost impulsive without any significant forward planning. In fact, the Constitutions that were presented to ensure proper governance did not receive the benefit of any process of wide public consultation.
So while the issue of Independence for Anguilla was more advanced than a casual discussion long before the Parliament Secretary was born. And while it actually received popular approval via a democratic process it did not survive the test of the political circumstances on the ground. What it did do was bring attention to the determination of Anguillians to readily sink or swim alone --- rather than to be forced return to an “unholy union” with the Bradshaw regime. Whether this was a deliberate strategy or a bullish response --- our worst fears as a nation were not realized. The interesting difference between that period and the present is that Anguilla would have been the first state in the OECS to enter into independence. Those were woefully uncharted waters for a small island of just over five thousand inhabitants and an economy lacking any ready sources of sustainability.
A further difference during that period and the present is that unlike that earlier Revolutionary period no military revolt or civil disobedience is necessary to achieve independence from Britain. There is a clear path to that status outlined in our partnership agreement and subsequent policy papers from the Ministry for the Overseas Territories. In fact, not even a war of words and insolent exchanges is necessary or even helpful. As the former Speaker of the House of Assembly Mr. David Carty put it: “You can almost get independence by email!” Of course, once it is the expressed will of the people of Anguilla!
So what then is the “big fuss” on the island? There seems to be an obvious attempt by some “gung-ho” supporters of the Anguilla United Movement to quiet any opposing views or even cautious and studied approaches coming from other persons in the community on the issue of Independence. I was happy to hear that yet another conveniently “put together” “Concerned Citizens Group” was embarking on an education process which so many of us have been recommending. In my article of January 14, 2011 I said: “People need to know what going into Independence will mean for the average Anguillian. What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? Therefore in essence what the Chief Minister and his team should be doing is educating Anguillians rather than leading them into a fight literally blindfolded. Not knowing who they are fighting or what they are fighting for.”
I was however most disappointed that this “concerned citizens group” brought in a speaker not to discuss or educate us about Independence but obviously only to relate and defend his own personal experiences with the British and to speak about the situation surrounding the suspension of the Constitution in the Turks and Caicos Islands. In effect to reinforce the Chief Minister and the AUM’s reasoning that rather than dialoguing with the British and making a reasoned case for dealing with our financial and economic plight --- we should move headlong into political independence without adequate education and preparation for what may lie ahead.
Despite the fact that it is my view that the facilitator, Mr. Robert Hall, was not the ideal choice for a discussion on the topic of independence --- I believe that he did an excellent job in pointing out the differences in the situation in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) as opposed to Anguilla. To my mind it showed clearly that it is an insult to Anguillians to compare the historic record of governance between our two territories especially if what he reported and the Commission of Inquiry alleged bears any semblance of truth. Anyone who reads the TCI Commission of Inquiry 2009 as well as the earlier Inquiry of 1986, that in fact mentions Mr. Hall, would not be happy to draw any comparisons with Anguilla’s record of governance. Let me therefore conclude that the presence of the former Deputy Chief Minister of TCI among us was not to educate the citizenry but rather to maneuver them along a particular line of reasoning that fits with the AUM agenda. Which seems to be political independence now!
Let us then look at what I consider a fairly accurate definition of political independence: “A politically independent country is one where laws and policies are formulated by the people of that country without undue external influence by a dominant other country or power external to that country.” Independent countries are seen more in the context of England, the United States of America, Russia and Canada. Regionally we think of Jamaica, Guyana, St Kitts and Antigua. One of the world’s smallest independent states is Vatican City comprising 0.2 sq miles and a population of 770 persons. Nauru with 8.5 sq miles and 12,000 people is the smallest independent country in the world. Yet they all carry the label of political independence --- which would suggest that the general application of the label can only be relative.
The question that may come to mind after examining the various definitions is whether any country is truly independent. Organizations and agencies like the European Union, Caricom, OECD, OECS, WTO, CFATF and the United Nations among others, impact as well as regulate the decision making of many established and mature sovereign or independent states. If Anguilla became independent it would be the smallest independent country in the Caribbean. But let us look at the situation of Anguilla’s sister British Overseas Territories in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Bermuda has the highest GDP per capita in the world while that of the Cayman Islands and BVI is significantly higher than many European Union countries. Most of this is based on a strong financial services sector. Even though it is not clear why the relationship with the UK has such an impact on this industry, there appears to be a strong causal relationship. To the extent that it has even been suggested that Anguilla would do much better in the Financial Services Sector if it were referred to as British Anguilla.
But despite all the positives associated with maintaining the status quo, that have been catalogued and presented elsewhere, Anguillians must not fall into an attitude of complacency with our relationship with the British Government. None of the benefits that the Overseas Territories have received over the last ten years since the Partnership for Progress and Prosperity arrangement have come without a struggle. Every British Government --- like the Anguilla Government has its own agenda as well as its own constituency. Any progress on the realization of our goals and objectives will not be achieved without due regard for theirs. It must therefore always be a dialogue on all issues so as to acquire a better understanding of the considerations involved.
The Anguilla United Front Government during its tenure faced the same frustrations of dealing with officials of the FCO as the present Government complains about today. And in the course of the debate we used frank and direct language to put forward our arguments --- but we never expected that a solution could ever be found in a protracted war of insults and threats of radical conduct. We never dismissed the inevitability of independence as a future status and we always recognized that it required education, planning and preparation. In fact, on page 41 of our 2010 Manifesto we stated clearly that our long-term vision is “that Anguilla will be a constitutionally independent nation enjoying democracy and the rule of law”. And we outlined as our principle strategic objectives: full internal self-government; constitutional, electoral and democratic reform, and; increased public consultations and participation by the public in the democratic process. Indeed every single public consultative process since 1998 came out in support of that principle of full internal self-government. In other words, there was no consensus for leaving the umbrella of the British Government --- but there certainly is a strong desire to achieve more local autonomy.
There is real concern that the Chief Minister and the present AUM party have not imbued any confidence in their ability to understand the process of good governance and observe proper procedures set out in established policies and the legislation. This has been evident in their approach to Social Security, ANGLEC, the indigenous banking sector, due diligence on international borrowing, dealing with developers, blatant disregard for the separation of powers, dealing with the public service and so on. Can they likewise be expected to adopt similar styles should they succeed in manipulating Anguillians into rushing headlong in to independence?
A number of duplicitous attitudes concern me as the Chief Minister continues to suggest that he is being forced to take the independence route because of the British behaviour as follows.
• On the one hand the CM accuses the Governor of not intervening in the decision making of the previous AUF Government. --- now he accuses the same Governor and the British for being too “interfering” in his Government.
• On the one hand he invites the FCO to send technical officers to assist in the budgetary process --- now he complains that they are sending technical officers to tell him how to deal with his budget.
• On the one hand he accuses the British Government of standing idly by and allowing the past government to increase our debt burden --- now he is complaining that he is going independent because the British Government is restricting his borrowing.
It is this lack of consistency in leadership that is exacerbating the concerns of ordinary Anguillians as we listen to the “trumpeters” of the call for independence. It is the lack of civility in the attitude to views and opinions that do not reflect the AUM party line that threaten freedom of expression in the consultative process. And it is the apparent reactionary approach without regard for sustainable planning that creates uncertainty about the motives of the AUF Government.
Sir John Swan a former Premier of Bermuda from 1982 to 1995 wagered his political fortunes on taking his country into independence in a national referendum. Sir John was a successful businessman in addition to being an astute politician, and by the way, just to be precise, like most Anguillians was of African descent. We have already commented that Bermuda as an Overseas Territory has the highest per capita income in the world. Yet the people of Bermuda opted to remain an Overseas Territory, albeit with a more advanced constitution than most other Overseas Territories.
As I said earlier every country must make its own constitutional choices; for its own reasons; with due regard to its own circumstances; within its own time; and with the support of its own people. The AUM would be well advised to reflect on these truths. As Mr. Bradley suggested in his article “Independence is not an Ego Trip”: “Let’s Hasten Slowly!”
Victor F. Banks
February 1, 2011
Posted by Realist Spikenice at 18:54