Books about Anguilla


Friday, 17 June 2011


This week most employers were probably upset about the four-day weekend and the costs that placed on their already strained budgets. On the other hand, employees may have been disappointed that they could not afford to celebrate the holidays in the lavish manner they were accustomed to over the past years. This four-day weekend for the Welches Community afforded them a day to recuperate after the hard effort they put into the Annual Fest. The venue is just a mere two miles from that of Festival del Mar but whereas the focus there was on food from the sea --- the Welches Fest was about cooking for survival. The focus being on food from whatever source and in whatever manner required to feed a struggling community. With but a few exceptions the Welches Fest captured the essence of that period of our history when “jollification” was the order of the day. And it showed how people got together to help each other meet the harsh requirements for survival in an atmosphere of merriment and contentment.

This year the Fest was by far the biggest ever. Someone commented that perhaps people were looking for ideas on how to survive in these challenging times. Unfortunately, it would also require that we return to subsistence farming, livestock rearing and fishing because all the elements/ingredients for those lovely dishes were probably the most expensive items on the grocery shelves --- and even if one chose to cook on coals that could also work out more expensive than cooking gas in the long run. The good news is that most of the food and the coal does not need to be imported --- it is all available right here should we hit tough times.

A large team of volunteers (young and old) worked with a great sense of pride and an infectious enthusiasm to make the entire event a wholesome family experience. Of course one cannot forget the fun day atmosphere, the impromptu skits and the comical yet sensuous thrusts of the “hokey pokey” dancers. “Miss Maude” was still in good form! And a number of young people of all ages and genders got into the act as naturally as if they had been raised in that era.

Speaking about young people --- this weekend the second “shoot out” of young men was recorded in less than two weeks. Fortunately, none of the victims seem to have suffered any fatal wounds. With our Summer Festival just around the corner I am certain that there is real concern about how such violence might escalate. However, unlike other venues where such senseless acts have taken place, by contrast, it was noticeable that the atmosphere at the Welches Fest did not engender any such concerns. The large crowd of tourists, visitors and residents alike seemed both unworried and unhurried. Such that even the senior citizens from the care facilities looked quite at home and relaxed.

The younger children also had a chance to encourage their parents to purchase a number of traditional toys made in Anguilla. I witnessed a “not too young” lady almost being run over by an excited youngster pushing his newly acquired board wheel roller.  It was an interesting display of toys from the past --- but perhaps a business opportunity for entrepreneurs of the future as well.

The day lingered on into evening without any sign of letting up. In fact, the crowd held steady for the entire day. The music, the food, the drinks, the conversation --- all was reminiscent of the “innocent” days of traditional Anguilla. I am certain that it crossed the mind of a number of persons at the Fest that we have come a long way since the days of the “jollifications”.  While we must remain grateful for the modern amenities and conveniences that make living easier --- the question may arise as to what was lost or sacrificed in process. Having posed that question there are those who would then ask the natural follow-up: “Was it worth it?” But this is what our forebears struggled to achieve!  Not that we should remain in a constant state of hardship but that we should become a prosperous people. It means therefore that we ought not to lose any of what is virtuous and salutary from our past, while we strive for what will make our lives better. And we should always remember that sacrifices must be made for anything that is desirable. As the old adage goes: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!” I proved that when the Johnny Cakes ran out! Correction! Dey didn’t finish bake!

It was quite natural in the midst of the merriment and the music, for topical issues to be raised. Indeed, I am certain that such was also the case in the “jollifications” of yesteryear --- particularly among the men folk after a “swig” or two from the “demijohn”, an item that was conspicuously missing from the festivities this year. Maybe the women folk did not condone its presence, especially after some of the youngsters tried to suggest that participation in the “swigging” was a “rite of passage” to “cultural manhood” --- whatever that means. Needless to say, “Paper’s” Bar was sufficiently stocked and ready to withstand any such embargo.

In those circumstances, however, with glasses fully charged and a toast to the Queen offered by an elderly gentleman from the village brandishing a metal cane --- one of the “usual customers”, upon seeing the Chief Minister entering the grounds shouted “at full voice”: “Banks ti true Hubert en the Cuisinart man buy de Gulf for fifteen million dollars?” Upon recovering from an episode of choking on my drink, some of which found itself on the shirt of a real nice guy standing next to me, I said: “Not Mr. Hughes! Mr. Rizzuto bought the Golf Course Project in a Public Auction!” Who tell me say that? It’s then the jollification start up!  You never hear more!

I will not relate the turnout of that conversation in this column --- but I feel duty bound, because of the level of skepticism and cynicism that seems to attend the last fifteen months of the AUM Government, to make a few comments and raise a few questions about the auction sale of Tenemos Golf Course Project. First of all I believe that it is a good thing that some closure seems in sight for what has been a major financial fiasco ushered in by a number of factors not the least among which is the economic downturn of 2008. Hopefully, it has now come home to members of the Government that the world of big finance operates on a different level to the sale of “oranges and apples” at Lakes Supermarket.  And the quick and ready fixes that they were proposing during the election campaign and the early months of their term were both illegal and naïve. Taking nothing away from the Salamander Group it was obvious that the Government did not understand the arms length relationship that was required to legally execute the compulsory acquisition of the property and continued to be tainted by their open involvement in memoranda of understandings in advance of the legal proceedings. There were indeed heading for a major civil suit that may have conceivably destroyed our economy. Fortunately, at least one Minister of Government withheld his consent long enough for the proper process to take its course.

Matt Norton, a U.S based attorney who has been keeping a watching brief on investments in Anguilla for some time described the situation quite aptly in an article last month when he said: “Before the economic downturn, Anguilla was emerging as the Caribbean’s new rising star with several high profile developments announced and started. The country reached celebrity status with snapshots of Hollywood A-listers on island and Shakira featuring the island in a hit song. Now with Temenos and Viceroy about to be sold at public auction in the next few weeks and with the recent bankruptcy filing by the owners of Viceroy, the island has become a paradise for lawyers too. The world has been watching to see how Anguilla comes out of these financial straits.  And the heavy hitters are poised to strike if an interesting opportunity appears.  It is strictly business!

Let me take the opportunity to congratulate Mr. Rizzuto on winning the bidding at the auction sale. I concur with the Chief Minister that he is a man of substantial means and has always fulfilled his commitments and promises to successive Anguillian Governments. In fact, he has been always in the mix of the several solutions put forward to salvage the project even before the declaration of bankruptcy.  Few will recall the efforts by the past Government to forego such an eventuality even before the owner was forced to declare bankruptcy. While nothing was ever consummated the price now paid for the property as compared to the possibilities contemplated in that earlier period would generate some concern. At the time of our discussions construction on the property had stopped for less than a year. And at that time arrangements were still underway with investors and creditors before the main lender placed its lien. It was therefore a property requiring some injection of capital or deferral of costs --- but it was still a project that could be restarted with reasonable costs.  While Mr. Rizzuto has bought the property at a highly discounted rate two years later --- he has in fact bought himself a veritable “money pit” that will require substantial investment to render it a viable project. However, all charges that are subordinate to the Credit Suisse loan have now been eliminated and he now owns an asset free and clear of encumbrances.

Our Government as we searched for viable solutions had a number of concerns in mind which I outlined in a speech delivered on June 8, 2009, just over two years ago. Some of my concerns were almost prophetic as follows:
  • The Golf Course is a major initiative by GOA to enhance our tourism product and must remain a critical element of our business plan and promotion strategy.
  • We need to protect future jobs and business opportunities.
  • We must defend the interests of local creditors, vendors and contractors who are now owed several million dollars collectively and in some cases separately. Including the GOA.
I lifted these particular concerns from my speech because they point to a number of fair questions that must be raised at this time as follows:
  1. Will the Government in its negotiations ensure that the Golf Course remains a critical aspect of the GOA’s business plan and promotion strategy such that it remains a public facility to be enjoyed by visitors from all properties as well as local Anguillians?
  2. Will the Government ensure that a strict timetable for the completion of the project is in place so that there will be a swift injection of jobs, business opportunities and revenue streams to Government?
  3. Will Government ensure that the interests of local creditors, vendors and contractors are negotiated as an aspect of the granting of the Alien Land Holding Licence?   
The point that must be made is that the sale of the Golf Course Project at any price is just the beginning of the process. The Government must now negotiate a business plan with the developer that is contingent on the appropriate responses to the issues raised above as well as others.  It must be remembered that Mr. Rizzuto has acquired an asset legally free and clear of all encumbrances.  He is not obliged to recognize any of the other creditors. However, Government must use its leverage along with moral suasion to achieve the best outcomes for its people. The Chief Minister must adopt the “wait and see” approach that “the victory is not yet ours!”  He should be careful not to shout: “Mission accomplished!” Let the Salamander experience be his guide.  One of the “usual customers” at the Fest who was involved in the conversation put it this way: “T’aint over till ti done!”  Obviously, a well-known Yogi Berra saying in the Anguillian (maybe Welches) vernacular. 

But by this time I was hungry and we sauntered over, coupons in hand, to the long line at the Food Tent.  After some indecision I ordered for boil fish, peas fungi, breadfruit and green banana which Laurel served me with much care and attention. The correctness of my choice was confirmed when Lawlu, looking over my shoulder --- shouted to Laurel: “Gee me wah de Senator just had! Boy dah look good --- and wid a lotta sauce! 

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate
June14, 2011

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