Books about Anguilla


Friday, 1 April 2011


I had the rare opportunity to visit the Magistrate Court yesterday, March 28, 2011 to listen to a sitting on the longstanding matter with Mr. Kenswick Richardson, the Anguilla United Front (AUF) candidate in the last election for the seat in West End. Mr. Richardson had been charged with a total of thirteen offences related to the voter registration process and contrary to section 258 of the Criminal Code. This matter began with Mr. Richardson’s arrest without warrant on Wednesday, June 30th 2010. The matter caused much alarm among supporters of the AUF. And given the current practice of voter registration caused some fears among Anguilla United Movement (AUM) candidates and supporters as well.

In a Press Release of the same date the AUF, among other things, made the following statement: “Our colleague has been operating within the accepted practice of a process that provides a period for contesting any registration that does not meet the prescribed criteria for qualification. Every candidate, indeed, every citizen has the right to object to any name on the list. We believe that this procedure governs the eligibility of any citizen to vote in a general election. The present actions can have the effect of criminalizing the process.”

There was much discussion on the various talk shows among a number of pundits, many who seemed happy to savour in the misfortune of a political opponent. Yet there were those whose own practices during the registration process may have caused them to shudder quietly in hidden corners. Such that in my article of July 9, 2010 “Our Brother’s Beard is Burning” I focused on a talk show host who “waxed biblical” with reference to the matter --- using sound bites from our press release to which he interjected sarcastic and deprecating comments from time to time. And I further commented that: “among the callers were the typical ‘Pharisees’ who readily cast judgment on anyone and everyone to advance their own self-righteousness.”

I did experience a sense of vindication for the foregoing comments as I listened to the matter yesterday, literally nine months later. After having been advised by the Attorney General’s Chambers that it would not be offering any evidence in relation to the charges brought against Mr. Richardson, the Magistrate, with an overwhelming presence, advised Mr. Richardson that all thirteen charges against him were withdrawn. I must admit that as unaccustomed as I am to all levels of the Court System I found the proceedings and the matters surrounding them very intriguing indeed. I was also impressed with the “no nonsense” approach to the management of the Court and the respect it evoked from all present in the gallery; the witness stand and the bar. I therefore was forced to allow smile, as I reflected on vast the difference next door in “the highest court of the land” where the very laws governing this court were made.

Next door in the House of Assembly less than a week earlier, the Leader of Government business was presenting a most historic bill for an Act to provide for an Interim Stabilisation Levy (“the Levy”). While the Deputy Speaker was in excellent form in management of the Assembly --- one got the distinct impression that the gravity of the Bill before the House was not evident in the demeanour of the members on the Government side. First of all, the Leader of Government Business as Minister of Finance did not present any explanatory comments --- despite the fact that there was an extensive “objects and reasons” section attached to the Bill. It was clear that Chief Minister was prepared for a counter attack rather than a discussion on the merits of the bill. In fact his introduction of the Bill was simply words to the effect that the Bill was self-explanatory and that he would reserve any comments until his right of response. Those of us who are acquainted with the “modus operandi” of the Chief Minister over the years would readily come to the conclusion that he did not read the Bill. This fact became even more obvious in his response during which he did spent little time dealing with the substance of the important legislation he was expected to steer through the various readings and committee stages of the Assembly.

On the other hand the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Evans McNiel Rogers and his colleague the Hon. Othlyn Vanterpool sought to put the critical issues of the Bill in clear perspective. Their presentations reiterated the key issues which the AUF have been articulating on various fora and media over the past three weeks, namely, equity and fairness; efficient implementation; methodology for assessment of the self-employed; monitoring and compliances systems; service charge; the life cycle of the Act; public consultations, and so on. The issues that were raised by the Opposition pointed clearly to the lack of preparedness of Government to successfully implement the Levy even in the medium term. But they also brought into question the wisdom of using the particular tax measure at all.

The debate that followed the presentations by the Opposition from the Government side was defensive rather than responsive. They all with the exception of the Minister of Social Development, Hon. Edison Baird, used as their defense a line of attack on the past Government as rationale for the implementation of the tax. They claimed that the Levy was already put in place by the AUF Government before the elections; they claimed that were the AUF elected the taxes would be even higher; they claimed that they were forced to implement the Levy because the AUF had left the Treasury empty, and; the Chief Minister declared that it was forced upon him by the British Government and he sought to soften the impact by requiring a co-payments by the employers. No one responded to the questions raised by the Opposition regarding key issues associated with the implementation of the Levy.

What seems to have completely escaped this Government is that the issues raised by the Opposition are real. It is unfortunate that they are being raised by the Opposition and not by their own advisors. But that should not reduce their significance to determining the best solution for fulfilling the objective of returning to a balanced budget in three years. And the basic elements of an effective tax measure will not change no matter who is to be blamed for causing it to be required. It has become increasingly apparent that the Government is continuing to stumble along from one crisis to another with band-aid solutions to festering issues.

The continuing saga of multi-faceted conflicts between the Chief Minister and every single division of Government was again manifested by his invitation to a self-proclaimed constitutional expert and legal draftsperson to participate in the committee stage of the House. This action showed a blatant lack of respect for the expertise of the drafting division of the AG’s Chambers as well as the input of staff in the Ministry of Finance as well. The Acting Speaker sought to accommodate the Leader of Government Business to the extent that rules of procedure would allow --- but the aggressive nature of the invitee threatened to destroy the ancient landmarks of parliamentary procedure quite unlike the orderliness I had witnessed in the Magistrate’s court next door. And it was most interesting to observe that the Chief Minister who extended the invitation --- was not as supportive of the conduct of his guest as one would have expected. In the final analysis the Bill passed the House and through a clever move by the Leader of the Opposition to call for a division of the vote, it was revealed that a member on the Government side did not support the Bill. A process of elimination and deduction point squarely to the Parliamentary Secretary who has over the past weeks been trying to absolve himself from any political fallout associated with the Levy.

A well-place reporter posited an interesting twist on the implementation of the Levy during the AUF Press Conference yesterday (Monday). He suggested that the Government had absolutely no intentions of putting the Levy in place, once the Governor is authorized to assent to the budget. If there is any truth to this new twist the AUF and many Anguillians would be happy that the Levy is not implemented --- but as responsible citizens we would still need to question how the revenue shortfall anticipated by the need to implement the levy will be set aside. It makes absolutely no sense for the Government to be disingenuous in dealing with deficit reduction when such action could have an even more negative impact on the strategy for fiscal stability and economic recovery.

And now the latest report is that the Levy has been further reviewed in Executive Council and will come back to the House this week for additional amendments. If the scheduled implementation date of April 1st is still in effect, this could suggest an emergency meeting of the House by Thursday March 31st. Clearly, if the legislation is still being fine-tuned this must have serious implications for the efficacy of the other aspects of the implementation process. And the complex issues that were raised over the past two weeks in the House and on other fora still remain unanswered --- not the least among which is how can we achieve implementation across the entire spectrum of taxpayers? Do Ministers really understand what is required to optimize revenue yields and achieve a fair and equitable application of this Levy? This is not apparent in their behaviour. On the other hand, in all honesty, I do not believe that the UK Consultants who came to Anguilla truly appreciate the limited capability of this community to administer this form of direct taxation.

The Hon. Leader of the Opposition made this emphatic statement in the House of Assembly: “Let’s face it this is income tax! It is not a Levy targeted to provide for a particular social service! The money collected will go directly into the consolidated fund!” The Government has stated that at the end of the twenty-one months it has estimated for its life cycle the Levy will then become a Levy for the National Health Fund. While such statements may bring comfort they do not necessarily coincide with real life experiences on taxation. As a proponent of the importance of “paying our own way” I am very supportive of an equitable tax regime. The underlying premise of that theme in my several speeches and addresses as Minister of Finance was that everyone should pay their fair share of the tax burden. And it was also an appeal to the independent spirit and pride of Anguillians that we should not allow ourselves to be dependent on handouts from donor countries, organizations and charitable groups and individuals to meet our basic needs --- we should participate in a tax regime that can do that. Such an attitude would be preparation for economic self-sufficiency --- a natural precursor to more political autonomy or independence. But in the context of the question of “how interim is the interim” Levy? I must refer to a quote from “The Fair Tax Book” as follows: “There is absolutely no limit to Government’s desire for your money. When it comes to politicians’ power of taxation, the only limit they recognize is the people’s willingness to tolerate the confiscation of their wealth. The amount of earnings that the government is willing to leave in your pocket is only the amount it cannot seize without promoting an outright rebellion.”

While this quotation may sound extreme it is during times of challenge when citizens are at their “wits end” to come up solutions to pervasive national issues like war, disease pandemics, recession, energy crises etc., that the most injurious measures are accepted without strong opposition. The citizenry are generally amenable to such measures when they believe that they are in the national interest. Just the other day obvious supporters of the Government cheered and applauded when the consultants indicated that increased tax measures must be put in place as an aspect of approving the budget. That audience was so frustrated by the propaganda spread by the Chief Minister and his cohorts about a British conspiracy --- not only to disallow the budget but also to sabotage development that they saw the approval of the budget as a victory and the increase tax measures as their patriotic responsibility. Many of them also unaware that one of those measures, like the Levy, would be unfairly skewed to the lower income earners. The inequitable burden of the recession on lower wage earners in this period of challenge gives real credence to Curtis Richardson’s lamentation that “the poor can’t take no more!” But perhaps even more ironic is the dismissive manner in which Chief Minister and his colleagues in the AUM Party, who profess their empathy for the working class people of this community, have been speeding the Levy, like a “runaway freight train” through the House of Assembly.

Like our party chairman, Mr. Fritz Smith, many persons have now adopted the term “destabilization levy” to describe this proposed legislation from a genuine concern that it would have that effect. And the AUM continues along in their politically motivated strategy of “hood winking” the so-called “working poor” and lower middle class workers appealing to their frustrations by abusing and punishing employers. Not realizing that incentives to employers secure jobs. And punitive tax measures can drive investors both local and expatriate out of the job creation market place. The point I am making is that in every aspect of implementing this levy “the lower wage earners” will suffer most. They will lose direct income from the levy and they can conceivably lose jobs if employers are forced to make cut backs in their operations. Is this the protection that the supporters of the AUM voted for? Or was it for a “no tax” government led by a modern day “Rumpelstiltskin” in the person of Hubert Benjamin Hughes who promised the working man that he would turn “straw into gold”.

According to Curtis Richardson the “poor certainly cannot take any more” of these empty promises and false hopes. They voted for change but to paraphrase the writer of the famous hymn “Abide with me!”: there is “Change and decay” all around to be seen! Indeed the only help we can depend on in this period must come from him “who changeth not!”

Victor F. Banks
Sachassess Estate
March 29, 2011

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