Thursday, 21 April 2011
One of the statements often heard from the Chief Minister, other members of the present Government and their supporters while in Opposition was that the British Government was going to place Anguilla under higher supervision because of the conduct of the “United Front Boys”. Which is a phrase that Hubert irreverently used to describe the past Government. He also spoke about the need to have a commission of inquiry into the conduct of those Ministers. And “to crown it all off” one of his own Ministers, during his inaugural speech in the House of Assembly, spoke about a stench emanating from the very head of Anguilla United Front organization. A stench he likened to that of a rotten egg.
Just a few months after this Government’s first anniversary in Office it would appear as if higher supervision has come to Anguilla. In a Press Statement, His Excellency the Governor revealed that he had “reluctantly” decided to exercise his residual powers under the Constitution and, in the interest of national security, intervened into the conduct of the Minister of Home Affairs in the issuance of visa waivers to persons requiring such for travel to Anguilla. Ironically, the Minister in question is the same Minister who, in that show of piety and self-righteousness, had intimated that the past Government was rotten to the core. Even worse is the fact that the majority of his colleague Ministers did not accept the Governor’s strong and “evidenced-based” recommendations that the practice by the Minister should be suspended.
As a former Minister myself and as an Anguillian I am not happy for the Governor to reach a point where in his own discretion he feels he has no choice but to use his residual powers. But I must reluctantly submit that he gave the Chief Minister and his Minister several opportunities to deal with the matter discretely. The Governor’s concern with the Minister’s conduct was documented since the visit of the Minister for the Overseas Territories to Anguilla. And the Chief Minister openly refused to have any discussions with the Governor on these matters and on one occasion created a “smoke screen” by alleging that the Governor asked him to dissolve the House. Readers will also recall that the same “smoke screen” also served to incite talk about Revolution; Independence and uprisings in H. M. Prison.
The question must arise as to members of this Government’s understanding of their role as Ministers. In several pieces in my weekly columns, I have pointed out that the Chief Minister is leading by bad example. And that as a consequence there is a general lack of awareness by his Ministers as to what constitutes good governance; proper procedures and strict adherence to our laws and regulations. For the Chief Minister’s part it has become increasingly obvious that he believes that the rules apply to everyone but himself. This attitude now seems to characterize the behaviour of many of his Ministers. What is equally worrisome is that many of the Government’s supporters seem to be adopting a similar approach. In fact, if you were to listen to some of the talk show hosts sympathetic to the Government on this matter you would get the distinct impression that there is a serious injustice being perpetrated on an innocent Minister who in the words of his first cousin, the Chief Minister, is a decent individual.
It is not my intention, in this column, to stand in judgment of the Minister’s conduct. Neither is it my intention to question the Governor’s actions --- he has already made his position clear under the present Constitution. But I do feel duty bound to raise a few simple questions that may be instructive. First of all, did the visa processing arrangements for applicants from the jurisdictions in question break down to the extent that the Minister found it necessary to issue over three hundred visa waivers in less than twelve months? If that were the case why did the Minister not initiate discussions with the British Embassy in those jurisdictions to improve the arrangements?
Secondly, since travelers from most Caribbean countries are typically not tourists but rather persons looking for employment --- what jobs were these persons seeking in this depressed economy? On the other hand if the visa waivers were granted to genuine visitors how did the ratio of visitors from those jurisdictions increase so drastically since this Government came to Office?
Thirdly, if the Minister was made aware of the potential risks and the fact that a number of his waivers ended up in the hands of known criminals and persons with possible criminal intent --- why did he persist in this practice even after he was warned and after a number of his supporters including “men of the cloth” demonstrated to defend his innocence to charges of abuse of office levelled against him?
Fourthly, How does the Minister justify the issuance of five visa waivers to five young women between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two years of age to visit a single farmer living alone? Four of those visas were issued on the same day and one just a few weeks later! Were these five young women related to the farmer? Or were they just pen pals? It should be noted that the Minister issued these visa waivers even after he was informed that his conduct was under investigation.
And finally, does the proliferation of visa waivers granted to persons from a particular Caribbean Country have any relationship to well-known campaign promises made to nationals from that same country that were eligible to vote?
The point of my observations is that on the basis of well-documented facts a reasonable conclusion can be drawn that the Minister was either deliberate or misguided in his actions. Like the Minister of Works he seems to be unaware of the limits of his authority and to be of the belief that he is not required to seek the advice of his technicians or follow proper procedures --- but feels that it is his role to dispense directives based on political motives and expediency. And what is even more surprising is that persons with legal training would try to defend the Minister’s misconduct by speaking about selective interventions suggesting that the past Government indulged in similar practices and the Governor did not adopt a similar response. The record would show, however, that the past Government during its entire tenure of Office did not grant a fraction of the amount of visa waivers under the signature of the Minister of Immigration. In fact, indigenous Anguillians and other belongers of Anguilla have been expressing grave concerns about the laxity of immigration practices during the last twelve months.
There are many persons who applaud the Governor’s handling of this matter because they regard the Minister’s actions as indefensible. There are also others who feel that the Governor did not go far enough mainly because they are not happy with the performance of the Government generally and see this as an opportunity to hasten its demise. And of course there are those who because of their affiliation with the Government have been led to believe that this is a part of another grand conspiracy by the Governor to destabilize their Government. One thing is certain, even strong supporters of the Government attest to the fact that there is no doubt that the Minister was not acting in accordance with the relevant Immigration and Passport Act and that his actions could have threatened our social stability.
I felt that I had to touch on the potential impact of the Minister’s conduct on social stability even in a period when our focus has been on economic and financial stability. The members of the Anguilla United Front have not been speaking out about the matter because we feel no reason to gloat on the Governor’s exercise of his residual powers. We feel that it is in fact a shame that an elected Minister of Government should need to be disciplined in this way because of conduct that shows irresponsible leadership and which betrays the loyalty that his supporters demonstrated even at the heavily guarded gates of the Governor’s Office. Furthermore, were I not to make some mention of this issue in my column I may also give the impression that our party does not acknowledge the relevance of such conduct to the constant decline in the state of our nation, socially and economically, since this Government has ascended to office.
Since I mentioned “economically”, let me of necessity return to the Interim Stabilization Levy Act (the Levy) that we have been discussing ad nauseam for the past six weeks or so. Our efforts on the various media, platforms and in the House of Assembly have not met with any success in getting the Government to rethink its position on the Levy even at this eleventh hour. In fact the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Evans McNiel Rogers, in a final parliamentary move “wrote to the Clerk to the House of Assembly on Friday April 15th, requesting the Speaker to convene an urgent meeting of the House of Assembly to repeal the Interim Stabilization Levy Act recently passed in the House on March 24, 2011”. Such a meeting is to be held by Friday, April 29, 2011.
The views of the Leader of the Opposition in his letter to the Clerk were very clear: “it is impossible to implement the Levy in a manner that would be fair to all concerned --- efforts by the Government to discuss the implementation of the Levy have met with a great deal of public outcry because of real issues of inequity, fairness and compliance”. Both the Leader of the Opposition and his colleague, the Hon. Othlyn O. Vanterpool were strong opponents to the enactment of the Bill during the debates because they felt that “there was not sufficient public consultation and that generally the Levy was more burdensome on the lower and middle income earners. They also raised issues related to the compliance process and particularly as these relate to the self-employed”.
The motion for repeal of the Levy is very thorough in its presentation and reflects many of the issues that our party has raised over the past six weeks. It is our hope that the Leader of Government Business, the Hon. Chief Minister, will advise the Speaker to allow this urgent meeting to be held for the repeal of this Bill. In that eventuality, we would have used up the procedural options available to us for preventing the implementation of a Levy that is not fair to the most vulnerable of the taxpaying community. We sense, based on the fact that at least one of the members of Government did not vote on the Bill, that there is room for further consideration.
I chose to attend the last of the several public consultations on the implementation of the Levy that took place at the St. Gerard’s Conference Center, on Friday April 15th, 2011. I selected that particular session because being “self-employed” this was one of the categories assigned to us and also because I strongly believe that this category had the most issues with compliance. I was not wrong. However, I also witnessed another side of unfairness, when I realized that after all the rhetoric and political bravado in the House of Assembly, the Comptroller of Inland Revenue was left “standing alone” for four days to defend the Levy to the entire community of the self-employed and employers. There was no Minister of Finance, no Permanent Secretary, Finance, no representative from the Attorney General’s Chambers, and no other Minister at the session to assist the Comptroller with the consultations. The Advisor to the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Jerome Roberts was in the audience during the period of my presence but did nothing more than assist in the conveyance of the microphone to persons making interventions --- and that he did only for a short time.
The unfairness of that consultation struck me as I recalled that during my tenure as Minister of Finance I sat in on every single consultation of my Ministry as well as other Ministries. In fact, I am now forced to remember those public consultations when, though I was not the Minister of Lands or Physical Planning, I had to bear the brunt of the attack by forces in the community opposed to the Physical Planning Bill. I was attacked to the extent that there was a petition for my recall as an elected representative as well as a march to the Governor’s Office to present it. In the face of overwhelming criticism --- where were those Ministers who voted for the Levy when the Comptroller needed their support?
Where are those demonstrators and petitioners who saw injustice in the creation of a national plan to protect the individual rights of all landowners within the context of the common good? Are they still around? Is the moral activism that attended the outrage expressed for the Indians now poised to protest the unfairness inherent in this destabilizing Levy? Should the motion by the Leader of the Opposition to repeal the Levy fail to be passed in the House of Assembly --- will those forces be prepared to demonstrate against the injustice against lower and middle income workers, the employers and the self employed from their own communities? All of the above lead to that frequently asked question around Anguilla today: “Who’s gonna pay for it?”
Victor F. Banks
April 19, 2011
Posted by Realist Spikenice at 22:35