Books about Anguilla


Thursday, 17 February 2011

“We ain’t mad at ya!”

I was unable to listen to or attend the opening of the Chamber of Commerce Fair on Saturday, February 5, 2011 because of other events, not the least among which, was the celebration of the lives of some cherished Anguillian women. We are blessed as a people to have such a heritage of strong women who have maintained our communities over the years in countless and differing ways. In fact, Anguillian women have shone at every critical juncture of our history and they continue to be central to the furtherance of our national development in all its aspects and at all levels. May we ever be the beneficiaries of the stability and cohesion that they have brought to the building of our nation! May their souls rest in peace!

But it appears that aforementioned stability is at threat from the “thoughtless” and “inaccurate” rants of the Chief Minister at most the inopportune times and at events intended to promote Anguilla as an ideal environment for both visitors and investors. There were two statements in particular that I must comment on one was “thoughtless” and the other totally “inaccurate”. Though both of these statements were reported in The Anguillian and replayed over various broadcast media, I hesitated as to whether or not I should comment on them in my column. On the one hand I did not wish to contribute to the further circulation of these statements regionally or internationally, on the other hand I felt strongly that since they were already circulated I should ensure that what he said would not be construed by anyone as reflecting the views of all Anguillians.

My decision to comment was further reinforced by the fact that I met a “first time visitor” to Anguilla that evening. He is a major investor in one of the neighbouring islands. And he was invited by a significant local investor to explore Anguilla. The idea was to encourage him to invest in a major joint venture project being conceived for the island. That visitor was attracted by the banners and other displays of the Chamber of Commerce Fair and positioned himself upfront and in the midst of the opening ceremony. Those of you who attended the event, heard the broadcast or read the article would have been aware that the Chief Minister was making the point that he defended the interests of a young woman who had reportedly taken ill because of pressures in the work place. The Chief Minister must be commended for his concern for workers interests. Indeed, all of the people’s representatives must take on that responsibility in an equitable manner. However, his comments were inappropriately general in an industry that is the locomotive of Anguilla’s economy. He said: “The tourism industry makes us poor --- creates slavery. I had to go down to Viceroy two days ago to defend a young woman who was working there, who was destroyed because she immediately collapsed, and had a stroke, because there is a slave colony. Yes they bring in guests but why can’t black people be seen everywhere in high positions? Why bring in straight hair and fair skins from Mexico from East Asia, from around the world, all because their hair is straight and their colour is fairer than yours?”

The visitor and potential investor was standing right within the line of sight of the Chief Minister and had the uncanny and disturbing feeling that the CM was talking directly to him --- because of his straight hair and his fair complexion. He asked me whether the Chief Minister was opposed to Tourism and to foreign investment. And he further inquired, given the recent elections, whether this was the mandate upon which he was elected. His most telling statement, however, was when he said that: “he had heard a lot of positive things about Anguilla but this was the first time he had heard such overt expressions of “racism” from a head of state in the region.” I tried to explain but he told me it was not necessary because he had met a number of persons subsequently and realized that this was not a widespread view among Anguillians. Whether he was being be polite or diplomatic --- our local investor will discover the true situation in the months ahead.

I must proffer my best wishes for a speedy recovery to the young woman who the Chief Minister purports to have defended. Obviously, she must have been under considerable stress. But whatever the circumstances, is it a fair conclusion coming out of that incident for the Chief Minister of Anguilla to declare over public media that Viceroy is a slave colony and the tourism our main industry makes us poor and creates slavery? In the first instance, his Parliamentary Secretary who he made responsible for Tourism has boasted that he has straightened out the labour situation at Viceroy. And the CM, himself, along with the same Parliamentary Secretary have been boasting about that their newly negotiated MOU has brought positive changes to Viceroy. In fact, Hon. Jerome Roberts in his Anniversary Address states: “I also had the opportunity to work with my colleagues on the Viceroy MOU which today has brought the Treasury EC$9 million and we are expecting in the near future to receive another EC$39 million. Viceroy as we are all aware is doing well and has proven itself to be the popular hotel for many visiting celebrities during the course of the Christmas season.”

Is the Chief Minister out of touch with the views of his own Government? Indeed, at some times he seems to be out of touch with his own views --- having just recently boasted to British Officials that Viceroy is an important part of “his recovery plan.” And in fact, he further makes an even more negative prediction in the same speech about his own tenure when he said: “Anguilla is sad, sad. It is really a sad country because in five years from now there will be no Albert Lakes, no Ashleys, No Proctors and that culture of owning business would have disappeared. We are sad.”

Did the Chief Minister in making this “thoughtless” statement not stop to recognize that he is expected to be the one at the helm of the Anguilla Government for at least four of those five years? Is he saying that his land policies, his business licence policies and the labour and immigration policies of his now harried Minister of Home Affairs will contribute to the sad situation he so vividly and passionately describes? Does he not travel overseas regularly on the guise of attracting foreign investment from countries and climes where investors with straight hair and fair skins abound? Are there not born and bred Anguillians who fit these physical descriptions that he seems to detest? Is the Hon. Edison Baird correct in his assertion that the Chief Minister is not in charge? You be the judge!

But that was the “thoughtless” statement let us now talk about the “inaccurate” one. The Chief Minister said: “If you go to Dominica there is not one foreign owned hotel. Everything in Dominica is owned by Dominicans! That is development! Dominica is a rich country whether we say it or not, because they own it!” It seems that the Chief Minister takes great pleasure in belittling Anguilians in the public media. And it is unclear what his motive can be. The whole Caribbean is aware of the pride of ownership which history has afforded Anguillians as well as the enterprising spirit that has sustained us over the years. With all due respects to the people of Dominica, Anguillians own more than eighty five percent of our island’s land resources and we are well represented in every sphere of business activity. That statistic is a matter of the public record locally, regionally and internationally.

My purpose of highlighting this “inaccuracy” is because it is typical of the kind of generalizations and “broad brush statements” that the Chief Minister and his colleagues used successfully in the recent election campaign. And while I generously label this statement an “inaccuracy” it may well be considered a deliberate and outright lie to advance some political deception. Last week I mentioned the scourge of “serial lying”. This statement may be further evidence of such lying and it is my intention to expose such lies whenever and wherever they raise “their ugly heads”. Let me present the facts!

As Dominica now moved more deliberately into the Tourist industry, like Anguilla many years ago, there are a number of traditionally locally owned properties. But as Dominica seeks to diversify its economy the Government is actively encouraging and receiving foreign participation in the tourism sector. The agricultural sector and the manufacturing sector already have a strong foreign investment presence such that the major names you hear in those areas are well known multi-national corporations. Dominica may indeed be considered a rich country for a number of reasons --- but no Dominican can tell you truthfully that: “everything in Dominica is owned by Dominicans!”

Speaking about an agreement with the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco to build a thirteen million US dollar hotel in Dominica, the Prime Minister of Dominica, the Honorable Roosevelt Skerrit, had this to say in the Government’s February 15, 2011 GIS. “ When people talk about the Government of Dominica is not doing things to create jobs --- these are the things we are seeking to do to create jobs. We believe that by the construction of a fifty-room hotel in Dominica, because the challenge we have sometimes in Dominica is that we cannot host international and regional events because of the inadequacy of standard rooms. Even for cricket there are many people who want to come for International Cricket and the World Creole Music Festival but there are so few rooms in Dominica. When you have the largest hotel being seventy-five rooms, it tells you that we have to do much better than that. ….. We need to address this and that is why the Government has taken this bold initiative that in situations where the private sector may not be prepared to venture in a faster manner then the Government itself would play an active role in fetching those kinds of investments. It is not our interest to manage these hotels at all. Our interest is to create economic activity in the country, create construction jobs and also sustainable jobs in the long run. One can appreciate the kind of impact it will have on agriculture and the other services: taxi operators, tour guiding and the likes”.

I thought that it would be important to include this statement in its entirety to show where the Chief Minister has given a flawed representation of the Dominica situation. It is obvious that the Prime Minister of Dominica recognizes the importance of investment both foreign and local as well as his responsibility to create economic activity in cooperation with the private sector as a whole. It also shows that it is scandalous for our Chief Minister to give the false impression that there can be any feasible comparison between Dominica’s tourism sector and that of our island.

But let me go a step further with his “inaccuracy” about “Dominicans owning everything.” If you go on the Government of Dominica website you will see a section entitled: “How do I apply for economic citizenship of the Commonwealth of Dominica?” The preamble to that section reads, in part, as follows: “Government [of Dominica] views the economic citizenship programme as one component of its national capital mobilization portfolio towards its ultimate goal of national development and as such intends to channel capital from the economic citizenship programme towards public and private sector projects where a need is identified.”

This grant of economic citizenship is contingent upon the payment of US$100,000 for an investor, his spouse and two children under eighteen years old. An additional US$15,000 is required for children over eighteen but less than twenty-one years old. A single investor without children or spouse must pay US$75,000. To facilitate this grant of economic citizenship as far back as 1993 the residency requirement under the naturalization and citizenship act was waived. In fact, you can actually and legally apply for economic citizenship without ever setting foot on Dominica.

It is neither my intention nor my right to question the wisdom of the Government of Dominica in using citizenship as a means of attracting investment in this column. That is for the people of Dominica to decide. I am merely pointing out that while the Chief Minister spins a yarn about Dominicans owning everything in their country --- any qualified investor with US$75,000 can become a Dominican citizen. And if you add US$25,000 more to that amount you can include your spouse and two children under eighteen. To put it in more intelligible terms, for less that the cost of a one- bedroom house on a quarter-acre lot in Anguilla, you can become a Dominican citizen. Is the Chief Minister trying to tell us something about his future immigration policies over the next four years? Or is he thinking about inviting experts from Dominica to help us with our immigration and land policies as he did with the ECCB, the OECS and Caricom on the Budget? Please do not rule anything out!

Last weekend, I was amused with the reaction of the AUM radio “talking heads” to the first public meeting of the Anguilla United Front since February 23, 2010. Again I heard the usual ludicrous refrain that the Opposition is not allowing the Government to do its work. The fact is, that in most democratic countries those Governments would be happy to have an Opposition as passive as the Anguilla United Front has been over the last twelve months. I have even heard some AUM pundits declare that the AUF did not even give them three years to get the country going. It is clear to me that this Government and its “loud mouths” believe that the fundamental right of “freedom of expression” in democratic society should not be extended to the Anguilla United Front. While in truth and in fact, the only party that has been campaigning since the election is the AUM.

Should the Anguilla United Front sit idly by and allow the Government to stumble from blunder to blunder and destroy Anguilla while the civil and proper exercise of democracy enjoys a honeymoon? I think not! Should I put down my pen while the serial liars of the AUM continue to mislead, confuse and exploit the trusting people of Anguilla? I think not? There are many members of this community who now assert they made an error at the polls --- there is no need to be embarrassed to admit this! It is a part of the learning process in a democratic system that from time to time the electorate will make mistakes! It is human to err! “We ain’t mad at ya!” We love ya! It’s Valentine’s!

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate
February 14, 2011

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