Books about Anguilla


Thursday, 26 May 2011


Last week I was unable to write my column due to tight travel schedules and other commitments, but I am grateful to Mr. Ashton Bradley for “pinch hitting” in my space with his article: “The honeymoon is over!” In his usual direct style, Mr. Bradley spoke to the need to “hold the Government to account” and to ask specific questions about its campaign promises and its capacity to fulfill them. I was particularly moved by his comment: “Today in Anguilla there is real cause for all of us to ponder our destiny. People are no longer asking the question: ‘How the country running boy?’ Instead they are asking: ‘Boy who running the country?” Of course the issue of who is running the country became very central as we heard and read “Eddie Baird’s Confessions” in his radio and television address in February of this year which he titled: “Who runs Anguilla?” And I must remind you exactly what Mr. Baird said with this direct quote from his speech as follows: “It is clear that these unelected persons are exercising considerable influence over Governmental affairs. The Chief Minister has little or no say in the actual running of the island. Their only need for him, it appears, is to give formality and legitimacy to their conduct. They are seeking an all out confrontation with the British Government on the issues of independence, the budget and related matters of good governance. The interests of these unelected people do not, in any way, coincide with the interests of the Anguillan people.”

Since that revealing address by the Minister of Social Development many Anguillians have become very confused about the functioning of the Government. In fact, there are those who are expressing shock that Mr. Baird still actually sits in Executive Council and holds on to his entire portfolio. That shock is further exacerbated by the fact that the Chief Minister and other Members of the Government continue to denigrate Mr. Baird on both private and public media and forums. It is therefore no less than amazing that the government seems to be acting as if all is well. To have such a situation existing at a time when there is need for unity of purpose both within and outside of Government would suggest that we are either operating on autopilot or that at some point mutiny will cast the “ship of state” on the rocks of political and economical disaster. Little wonder then that we now have a Government of reaction rather than action!

For a very short time during March and April the Chief Minister was, to use his own words, “uncharacteristically silent”. In fact a number of his colleagues were quiet as well. But he came back with what he threatened would be the beginning of a series of lectures, with a long tirade about the Opposition’s campaign for the repeal of the Interim Stabilization Levy using the same “worn out” excuse of blaming the past Administration for our economic woes. His junior Ministers and Advisors have likewise adopted his approach and are in fact taking it a step further by condemning the Opposition’s right to express its views and to seek “first hand” information on matters affecting the workers of this country. It does not augur well for the future of the AUM that there appears to be a feeling among the “young upstarts” of the party that no one has the right to oppose the actions of the Government. One member on a recent talk show went so far as to imply that because I did not regain a seat in the House I do not have the right to speak on “the Levy” --- that is, the “bad tax” that we insist must be repealed. Again I will quote Mr. Bradley in the same article when he commented: “First and most sincerely it is necessary to say that any one of us who lives here and cares about the running of Anguilla have an inherent right to stand up and speak out at anytime. We do not have to wait until election time to cry for our beloved country or be ‘cowed’ by those who are afraid to act their conscience and who remain mute thereby betraying our country’s best interest.

A fundamental principle of a democracy is freedom of speech and the right to exercise it. That is why the AUF has a right to have public meetings stating its own policies as well as attacking the Government and pointing out the folly of its ways. Government is not just about blaming the party you defeated. It is about what principles and policies you are promoting now that you are in power. And it is in the interest of everyone to examine the Government for what it is worth.” It is that process of examination that is taking place in very discrete corners of this island where people gather, much concerned about the challenges that both individuals and companies have to manage, in a very unkind financial and economic environment.

Cable and Wireless will probably be smiling this month as they calculate the roaming charges that I incurred in response to the many persons calling me overseas last week regarding the closure of the Malliouhana Hotel and the Brown Hill Communications Centre last week. In one fell swoop over two hundred workers were made redundant because of business decisions these companies made in response to their financial situation. Obviously, these closures were as a result of several factors and so any attempt to pin them down to any particular one would be subjective and perhaps even malicious. While one may conclude that there is always that one additional straw that may break the “camel’s back” --- one should not place the blame for the “camel’s” dilemma on a particular straw. It is the entire burden that caused the “camel’s” demise not any particular item in the load. However, the person or persons loading the “camel” must have a sense of its carrying capacity. It is this very narrow distinction that becomes the focus of controversy when affected persons seek to find answers to their plight and naturally look to their political leaders, particularly those in Government, for some expression of hope or understanding in the face of an uncertain future. It therefore becomes leaders to be responsible, objective and fair in their handling of such matters or run the risk of worsening an environment already charged with frustration and despair. The Parliamentary Secretary’s unwarranted and overly defensive response to a posting on “Facebook” by the Chairman of the Anguilla United Front (AUF) is a good example of how young politicians may react when faced with the pressures of this period.

While it is not my intention to diminish the impact of any of the closures, I must single out the case of the Malliouhana Hotel. Unlike the Brown Hill Communication Centre that has been operating for less than three years, Malliouhana has been a feature of the Anguillian economy for almost thirty years, from construction to operation. That period represents an entire generation such that there are workers who would have had children and grandchildren over the period of their employment at the Hotel. It was one of the largest private sector foreign investment projects during the early 1980’s and became the signature property for the “low volume high value” product that defined Anguilla’s Tourism brand during that period. The owner Mr. Leon Roydon is considered the “granddaddy” of the Anguilla Hotel & Tourism Association and holds the respect of all management and staff; his suppliers and business associates; his colleagues in the industry and his returning guests. His contribution to Anguilla’s development extends beyond the wages paid to his employees and the services he purchases from the business community --- it includes his philanthropy to the wider community over the years as well. It is in this total context, that the closure of the Malliouhana Hotel must be regarded. It is indeed the end of an era of the personal style of management that he brought to the industry and the fatherly approach that he adopted towards Anguilla’s tourism sector as a whole.

While Mr. Roydon, the father, is no longer actively involved in the management of the Hotel it was firstly out of respect for his service to Anguilla that the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Evans McNiel Rogers; the Elected Representative for Island Harbour, Hon. Othlyn Vanterpool and myself visited the property on Thursday, May 19 to speak with Mr. Roydon, the son, about the situation. And secondly, we needed to get a first hand report of the circumstances from the proverbial “horses mouth” so as to make objective responses to the several workers who sought our advice and counsel. Our meeting was intended to be cordial and so it was. But the travails of Malliouhana over the past two years, in particular, weigh heavily on the ownership and the future success of the property. It was in this context that the decision was made to secure new ownership for the future and to “stop the bleeding” of continued losses in the short term. It was simply left for us to confirm that Mr. Roydon treated the workers in compliance with the law and to determine whether we could persuade any further generosity from him on behalf of employees, many who served Malliouhana faithfully for over twenty years.

Our visit to Malliouhana evoked the Government’s displeasure. Based on the comments of the Ministers and Advisors both on a talk show that same night and when they met with the workers last Saturday, they seemed anxious to convey the message that our visit was malicious and that we did not have the right to meet with the owners and workers because we were responsible for the circumstances leading up to the closure in the first place. But the truth of the matter is that workers at Malliouhana Hotel must be commended for their dedication and loyalty to the property over the years. They remained at their jobs even in the face of more lucrative offers. And the exceptional service culture has positively impacted the ratio of repeat guests and customers.

It was no surprise therefore when we discovered that owners of Malliouhana followed the letter of the law in terms of redundancy. Section 11 of the Fair Labour Standards Act speaks to the issue of pay in lieu of notice as follows: (a) an employee paid at intervals of less than 1 month who has --- (i) less than 1 year’s service, 1 week, (ii) 1 year or over and less that 5 years’ service, 2 weeks, and (iii) 5 years’ service and over, 4 weeks; (b) an employee paid at monthly intervals who has --- (i) less than one year’s service, 1 month, (ii) 1 year or over and under 5 years’ service, 2 months, and (iii) 5 years’ service and over, 3 months; but, where the employee concerned is at the professional, higher technical or managerial level the period of service shall not be less than 3 months irrespective of length of service. In terms of the letter of the law there seems to be an obvious inequitable situation between monthly employers and those long-term weekly employees who have been in steady employment for over five years. For example, someone paid weekly who has been working for as many as 20 years is entitled to 4 weeks’ salary upon redundancy while someone paid monthly who has been working for 5 years is entitled to 3 months (i.e. 12 weeks) salary. This is one of the situations that the past Government was seeking to correct through the Labour Code Bill (2005). The strong public opposition during those consultations resulted in the withdrawal of both the Labour Code Bill and the Physical Planning Bill. My recollection is particularly lucid because my efforts to progress these consultations, even though I was neither Minister of Labour nor Physical Planning, resulted in a vicious campaign for my recall as the Elected Member for Valley South. Part 7 of the proposed Bill introduced for the first time a section on “severance pay” that provided a formula for the calculation of compensation when ones employment is terminated. This meant that long serving employees would be entitled to prescribed levels of compensation upon termination that are equitable. It should be noted that “severance pay” is not synonymous with “pay in lieu of notice” it is in addition to, however, an adjustment was proposed to regularize this situation.

The proposed Labour Code Bill still remains a draft today. And there is enough blame to go around. The representatives of the Government used their visit on Saturday to suggest to the workers that their inability to respond to their specific questions was due to the fact that the past Government did nothing about enacting the Labour Code during their ten years in Office. I do not believe that the workers at Malliouhana who are out of work with bills to pay have the tolerance for a “he said she said” “back and forth” argument about whose fault it is. They want solutions that can be implemented now. However, what the past Government can speak about is its record in dealing with such issues over the years without the Labour Code. For example; negotiating compensation for workers during the sale of Sonesta; compensation for workers during the sale and refurbishment of Cap Juluca; compensation for workers during the construction phase at Tenemos; compensation for airport workers during the Airport Expansion; and so on. We had built a solid partnership with investors that we could call upon in critical times. It is in this vein I would hope that rather than the junior Ministers and Advisors of the Government looking for scapegoats they should spend more time looking for creative solutions. They should be firming up the promises made by management regarding what will happen to workers in the event of a sale; who will be retained; who will receive bonus; how can we negotiation an extra month or an additional payment for weekly workers --- there is real work to be done. And certainly --- what can be so difficult about arranging a waiver of the Levy for redundancy payments.

Speaking about the Levy, I was approached by a self-employed worker the other day much disturbed about the fact that he was having difficulty in determining what band he should place himself for payment of the tax. He then turned to me in frustration and said: “Tell me something! Hubert Hughes pay he house tax yet?” I told him that I had no idea. He then retorted: “Well how come he ain’t pay during the past Government and he want we to pay under he Government?” Unable to answer his question I fell back into my Sunday School training and said to him: “Show me a penny!” He looked at me quizzically --- and just when I thought I had lost him he made an excellent comeback --- he said: “Hubert face aint on dat!”

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate
May 24, 2011

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