Books about Anguilla


Saturday, 1 October 2011


Nineteen months have elapsed since the Anguilla United Movement ascended to office as the duly elected Government of Anguilla. They were swept into office on a platform of lies; the promise of openness, transparency, good governance, integrity; and the pledge that they could turn around the economy in three months with “an invisible plan”. One week after that election, as party leader of the Anguilla United Front, at our public meeting adjacent to Landsome Bowl Cultural Center, to thank our supporters, I made the following statement: “The people have spoken! We have lost the election but we are not losers! We are disappointed but we are not discouraged! We will give the new Government the opportunity to govern but we will not cease to defend the interests of our supporters and the people of Anguilla as a whole!” In keeping with that pledge our party did not hold a public meeting for an entire year. However, we believe that since February 16, 2010 the situation in Anguilla has deteriorated and despite the “smokescreens” which this AUM Government has set up --- it has not demonstrated its ability to deliver on its promises. And its conduct brings into question its understanding of the principles of openness, transparency, good governance and integrity. And the lies continue!

Exactly two months after the election I was moved to comment on what I generously referred to as a rumour, namely, that the new Anguilla Social Security Board was considering moving Social Security deposits from the two local banks to the international commercial banks on the island. I entitled that article: “Please Say It Isn’t So!” For those comments I received a “tongue lashing” from the new Chairman, Mr. Thomas Astaphan, who used the term “unsolicited advice” and further questioned my standing to make such a statement. My response was in my subsequent article entitled: “Thanks Mr. Chairman!” as follows: “I would like to suggest to Mr. Astaphan that as a representative of the people of Anguilla for almost thirty years --- and might I add through the electoral process, not by appointment --- and by virtue of being a born and bred Anguillian over sixty years of age with considerable experience --- I do not need anyone’s permission, approval or solicitation to comment on whatsoever I believe affects the people of Anguilla. Despite any views to the contrary I have no intention to roll over and play dead simply because I am not a member of the House of Assembly.”

After those first articles in April 2010, I came to the realization that my commentaries in the Anguillian could make a difference in influencing the decision making of the Government and bring public attention to important issues affecting our island. Indeed, as a result of that first article, the new Social Security Board did not pursue that decision. That success strengthened my resolve to use the print media to place on record my views on decisions and actions taken by the Government. I could have chosen other platforms, like the “blogs” and other social media to advance my views --- but I decided that as a matter of principle I would continue to do what I have done in politics all my life: “Speak the truth and be fair in the statements I make!” I would not revert to using the anonymity of social media, which may contain irresponsible statements and lies, which further the interests of cowardly and dishonest contributors. Anything I write in the Anguillian Newspaper, under my own name, I am fully responsible for --- and I am prepared to stand fully behind. And if I misrepresent the truth and anyone --- I also recognize the recourse to legal action available to those affected!

It was also obvious that the “platform of lies” that catapulted the AUM to office was being considered “best practice” by the new Government and in particular the Chief Minister. I was therefore forced to point out a wide range of conflicting and incongruous statements, which he used to consolidate his support even in those early months after his victory at the polls. For example, in my April 29, article I wrote:  
  • "He says that no one can force him to introduce taxation yet he commissions a revenue study the findings of which he claims that he will not implement at this time.
  • He speaks about the AUF giving away revenue to investors by MOA’s but he does not mention the new streams of continuous revenue that were designed to create a robust plan for economic sustainability. 
  • He does not mention that the AUF Government built up total reserves of over $62 million, even while we built some of the best roads and seaport facilities in the region. His government is surviving on these reserves while we speak.
  • He speaks about almost $200 million in debt but does not point out that it is the lowest in the region (of course Montserrat excluded); it was sustainable based on our budget and was not built up by this Government alone. His government is increasing that borrowing as we speak.
  • He criticizes the AUF Government for seeking permission to borrow to meet recurrent requirements --- which is the exact thing that his Government has been doing since it came to office."

I could not allow this ongoing strategy of lies, half-truths and innuendoes to overwhelm the people of Anguilla any longer.  

Since those early times the supporters of the Anguilla United Movement have been trying to silence me. They have been selling the idea that my column is dividing Anguilla; that my column is preventing the Government from doing its work; that I have been silent for sixteen years and all of a sudden I am a journalist; and that I want to bring down the Government. And even in the midst of those arguments there are persons who claim they do not read my column; that my column is too long; that I am not elected so I should not comment; that I am trying to upstage the Leader of the Opposition and so on. While these comments have done nothing more than to convince me that my column is bothering the right people --- my most significant reason for continuing is that I have created a well documented record of my articles on relevant issues of the last nineteen months. And as a result by looking back I can demonstrate that my articles have been factual, analytical and prophetic as the issues unfold. Sadly though, it appears that there is either a genuine lack of understanding of the meaning of “freedom of expression” or a warped belief that “freedom expression” is the unique privilege of diehard AUM supporters.

My weekly commentaries represent a fair record of the Government’s performance over its tenure and show how it has been stumbling from crisis to crisis over that period. Let me remind you of a few such incidents: -
  • The Government tried to orchestrate a “hostile takeover” of ANGLEC with the new Social Security Board by trying to politicize the Board of Directors, apparently, so as to put forward the party agenda without following proper governance procedures.
  • The Government allowed its junior members, namely, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Elected Member for East End, to negotiate a new MOU with Cap Juluca, which had the effect of giving the Developer back pond lands, beachfront resources, and other national assets belonging to the GOA and people of Anguilla.
  • The Chief Minister allowed the Parliamentary Secretary alone to negotiate an MOU with Starwood Capital Group on the purchase of the Viceroy Resort. The Parl. Sec. did so and had the Chief Minister sign it on Starwood stationery without Executive Council authorization.
  • The Chief Minister with the assistance of the Parliamentary Secretary tried to stir up civilian protests by claiming that the Governor had asked him to resign immediately and call fresh elections. He then proceeded to establish the groundwork for a movement for independence.
  • The Chief Minister signed a document authorizing the Social Security Board to borrow US $200 million from a relatively unknown financial institution and secured the loan against present and future Social Security Funds. All of this without Executive Council approval and the required authorization of the House of Assembly. 
  • The Chief Minister’s inability to make the case for more time to balance the budget and come up with sound proposals as to how he intends to retire the deficit and restore fiscal and economic stability, led to an ongoing budgetary dispute. It was this failed approach which led the Leader of the Opposition to ask him to adjust his “style, approach and attitude” in his dealings with the British Government, the Governor and senior officials in the public service.
While these examples may not be exhaustive, they illustrate the pointless battles, which continue to obstruct “real progress” as well as the Chief Minister’s blatant disregard for good governance. The fact is that while we hear many of his supporters making the claim that “we need Hubert to deal with the British” --- the record and history has proven irrefutably, that Mr. Hughes has never gotten anything out of the British with his approach --- except of course his own political demise. On the other hand the record of the past Government in terms of its relationship with the British has been one of mutual respect and partnership in the governance process that has led to many positive and constructive outcomes. 

So while the last nineteen months have been replete with criticisms of the past Government and its management of the economy --- the present Government must thank the Anguilla United Front for the visionary initiatives from which it has benefitted over its term so far. Let me name a few: - 

  • The AUF created a vibrant economy as a result of a deliberate plan to attract private sector investment, which created thousands of jobs and business opportunities leading to the building up of a substantial Social Security Fund. The present Government has used this fund as a source of financing for its budgetary shortfalls. Without this facility the Government would have been hard-pressed to meet many of its commitments in the early months.
  • The AUF initiated the Policy Based Loan (PBL) from the Caribbean Development Bank that has enabled the present Government to consolidate its loans and manage its debt obligations with more sustainable arrangements. Without this loan the Government would have been unable to satisfy its borrowing needs and reduce its debt service.
  • The AUF established a separate Inland Revenue Department along with appropriate IT support systems to create more effective revenue collection. Without this integrated tax collection system the present Government would have been unable to get accurate data on the performance of the economy and make informed fiscal decisions.
  • The AUF signed on to the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Fund (CCRIF) to ensure that Anguilla has a facility that can provide a source of guaranteed assistance in the event of a natural disaster. Without this assistance in the amount of 4.3 million US dollars, Hurricane Earl would have placed considerably more stress on an already struggling economy.
  • The AUF, despite some objection from the present Chief Minister while in Opposition, provided ways and means to facilitate the timely completion of the Viceroy Resort. The AUF also insisted that there was need for more than one major project to allow for more certainty in the delivery of new jobs and business opportunities in the operational phase. That property can now accommodate over six hundred guests and almost as many employees. Without the Viceroy Resort, the failure of the Flag would have had a more disastrous effect on our economy.
  • The AUF decided as a component of its access strategy to improve the pier facilities at the Blowing Point Ferry Terminal, as a result even as we await a more modern terminal building the facility provides an entrance for more than sixty percent of all passenger arrivals to Anguilla. Without the improvements at the pier facilities the impact of the decision of our main carriers to reduce flights to Anguilla would have been devastating to our tourism industry.
  • The AUF decided to expand the Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport (formerly Wallblake Airport) to facilitate larger commercial carriers and more direct private jet arrivals into Anguilla. In one week last December, even in the midst of the recession, we had record private jet landings into Anguilla --- up to some fifty movements a day. Without this expansion Anguilla would not have been able to facilitate this new trend in air travel and the upper end Tourists that visit our island. And we would still have been waiting for Hubert’s “pie-in-the sky” Airport in Brimegin.
The truth is that the Chief Minister and his colleagues have not brought any new ideas to the table for “fixing” this economy. We the members of the Anguilla United Front are proud of the contribution our Government made such that even today it is assisting the present government to survive this challenging period.

But in the midst of all of this the Government led by the Chief Minister continues to construct a series of conspiracy theories so as to take no responsibility for anything, which has gone wrong since he ascended Office. He paints a deliberate picture of a pattern of sabotage being directed against him by successive British Governments and has no problem rewriting history to prove it. For example, in one of his latest press conferences he sets about creating a historical basis for his conspiracy theory by suggesting that the British Government threw him out of office unconstitutionally in 2000. Those of you who remember the circumstances of the Chief Minister’s demise in 2000 will recall that on the basis of my resignation from our coalition Government in 1999 he ended up with a minority government which could not meet the quorum requirement for a sitting of the House of Assembly. The FCO did not throw Hubert Hughes out of office, unconstitutionally! Mr. Hughes lost on this constitutional matter in the High Court! It was the High Court that ruled that the Speaker acted constitutionally not the FCO. As a consequence Mr. Hughes could not effectively govern and was obliged to demit office. But the Chief Minister continues to perpetuate this lie to erode credibility from the British Government’s insistence on his adherence to correct procedures and good governance.

The Chief Minister has also over the years constructed monuments of lies and half truths which have not only led to the distrust and denigration of his opponents but have also created an illusion of himself as being an honest and sincere leader. To build this false image, anyone and everyone, including family and friends are dispensable. “I am clean!” He proclaims. Such a claim seems hardly a characterization for a self-admitted liar.

The recent arrangements/agreements between the Government and the Temenos and the Viceroy Projects have been the subject of island wide discussion. The transparency with which this Government purports to cloak itself needs to be disrobed --- and a number of questionable matters may well justify investigation. For example, the question has been raised to me as to why it is that the Chief Minister’s sons appear to be receiving an inordinate share of the limited opportunities in the construction sector? Or what is the story on the land leased by Government to one of the CM’s tenants to build a shopping mall in the Spring Path area? Who is the actual owner of that shopping mall? Who is building and/or financing it? And by the way, a request for duty free concessions for that project is now before the House of Assembly! I have been told that this is the only request from a local investor in construction brought to the House for the entire AUM term of office.

Quite recently the CM has made libelous comments about the Chairman of our Party, Mr. Fritz Smith, to imply illegal conduct in his role as Project Manager of the Airport Expansion Project. But I have noticed that neither the Chief Minister nor his offspring respond kindly to any allegations of corrupt practices directed at them. The Parliamentary Secretary was both incensed and defensive when questions were raised about his alleged participation in a fast ferry service agreement with Viceroy. Yet he is quite comfortable when he casts aspersions on other persons, in a most cowardly manner, on the blogs or in the shelter of the House of Assembly. Nevertheless, I will not shirk from the urge to raise a number of questions in connection with the Temenos and the Viceroy negotiations.

My question is what were the assurances given Mr. Rizzuto, which caused him to express surprise at the Government’s position after he won the auction for the purchase of the Tenemos? It is quite reasonable, based on the Chief Minister’s characterization of Mr. Rizzuto as “a good friend”, to assume that there were no impediments to cordial negotiations. In fact, in Mr. Rizzuto’s letter of November 15, 2010, there seems to be some “quid pro quo” arrangements being made by the CM to Mr. Rizzuto long before the auction process took place. I now quote a small section of that letter for your own interpretation as follows: “On a side note you asked me to remove Joe Hylton from Anguilla and in a short time I achieved this. I now need you to finalize the property transfer and award it to CuisinArt Resort & Spa and you will have my personal word that I will complete the project and utilize local workers.”

The Chief Minister was very strong in condemning the Governor for having a social meal or drink with Mr. Rizzuto but in this case his insistence on the removal of Joe Hylton as Project Manager of the construction site for expansion of the Resort, raises a number of questions. How did the CM’s request for the removal of Joe Hylton relate to the involvement of his sons in the construction of the six new villas at CuisinArt? Were any promises made by the CM to Mr. Rizzuto as an incentive for Hylton’s dismissal as Project Manager? Where were these discussions held? On the other side there are also questions regarding the Parliamentary Secretary. Why is the Parliamentary Secretary so adamant that Mr. Rizzuto should not be allowed to acquire the property? Does the Parliamentary Secretary still harbour resentment against the Resort for not giving him an executive position? Why are members of the Government making public statements claiming that they are not aware of what is happening with the Temenos deal? I believe that there are strong grounds for an investigation into these matters.

For more than a month I have been making the point that because of the Parliamentary Secretary’s solo negotiations on the notorious three-page MOU for Viceroy written on Starwood Capital Group stationery, we lost upwards of EC$18 million in direct revenue for 2011. The media statement shows a smiling picture of the CM and the Parl. Sec. and the three-page MOU carries the signature of the Chief Minister witnessed by his Permanent Secretary. In writing about this incident in his Confessions entitled: “Who runs Anguilla?” the Minister of Social Development, Mr. Eddie Baird had this to say: “Only the Executive Council possesses the authority to issue a licence and to approve a Memorandum of Understanding. Not even the Chief Minister and definitely not the Parliamentary Secretary, acting outside the walls of the Executive Council, can approve an Alien Landholding Licence or a Memorandum of Understanding. At the time of the Parliamentary Secretary’s announcement, the Executive Council had not even discussed these matters.” This action by the Parl. Sec was obviously condoned by the Chief Minister, which illustrates what I have been saying continuously that: “the Chief Minister leads by bad example.”

The questions continue! Why did the CM give the Parliamentary Secretary the authority to negotiate an MOU on a 500 million US dollar property on his own? Why did the Chief Minister sign the MOU without Executive Council approval? Why did the Chief Minister decide to move this MOU forward without sharing the details with his colleagues? Will the boasts made by the Parl. Sec about the employment of Anguillian contractors be realized in the upcoming construction works at Viceroy? I believe there are strong grounds for an investigation into these matters.

This latter matter in particular as well as the ANGLEC and the Social Security US$ 200 million loan were used by the Governor in his letter to EXCO to demonstrate this Government’s disregard for good governance procedures. I believe the Governor was well within his right to raise these issues but it is obvious from the Chief Minister’s response on a talk show on Monday night that he still has not gotten the message or otherwise he definitely believes that the rules do not apply to him. The Chief Minister tried to compare this action with the past Government’s concessions granted so as to attract investment in the economy at a time when we were in a recession. Of course in keeping with the AUF’s support of good governance principles! All those concessions were approved in EXCO after negotiations with the Tourism Investment Committee (TIC). They were not negotiated in a corner at Da’vida’s and signed by the CM without authorization from Executive Council. The seriousness of these actions demand investigation --- according to Minister Walcott there is a “stench” coming from the head.

What I have been constructing is a pattern of style, approach and attitude, which is not delivering the goods of the people of Anguilla during this period of global financial crisis. And I wish to point out that this situation does not have to be so! The Chief Minister and his Government fail in their responsibility to the people they have been elected to represent. In fact they appear clueless as to how to fix the present situation. They seem to take comfort in being able to blame everyone else and they believe that confrontation and incivility is a mark of good leadership and will bring success. And lies, half-truths and innuendoes still remain “best practice” as a strategy to consolidate their authority and legitimacy. This is not what the people of Anguilla deserve.

The Government needs to stop acting like “little cry babies”. Whenever the Chief Minister receives a letter from the British Government or the Governor he runs on the radio complaining: “look wah di Governor do we!!”. For example, the Chief Minister was on a talk show on Monday night reading out a letter from the FCO Minister on his concerns regarding revenue shortfalls and the high probability of a larger than anticipated deficit. The FCO Minister then goes on to make the suggestion that “anticipated revenues from the sale of the Viceroy resort should not be used for recurrent expenditure, but should be used for capital expenditure and to build up the Government of Anguilla’s reserves.” As far as I am concerned these are the views of officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the basis of their analysis. The operative word here is “should” not “must” therefore the Government of Anguilla has the opportunity to make the case why this should not be so and why --- and provide suggestions as to how it will deal with the issues involved. And in his final paragraph the Minister says: “I look forward to hearing about the urgent actions your Government is taking to improve the fiscal position this year.” It is not only the British Government who is looking forward to the Chief Minister’s plan of action for our economy --- every single Anguillian is doing so as well! It is time for Chief Minister to “man up!” Take the issue by its horns! The British Government gave their opinion --- you are entitled to yours. And since we all know what that objective is, namely, to restore stability, show us your plan! And stop being a cry baby!!

The truth of the matter is that I believe that the British position needs to be qualified. Putting some of the windfall into a capital project, which generates economic activity could be a good thing but it is equally important that some recurrent expenditure commitments, which are critical to ensuring social stability, are addressed. And any resources put to building up reserves would have to be very marginal indeed. Such savings have little value when the economy is hemorrhaging. The unique circumstances of Anguilla must be made clear to FCO officials. Britain is a modern country with all the social and financial “safety nets” to provide for the indigent; the unemployed; bankrupt businesses; and struggling financial institutions. Anguilla is an open economy heavily impacted by issues of external origin and depends on the strength of the markets to which we sell our products and services. There are serious limits to the amount of trimming of expenditure and increases in tax revenues we can absorb. These are points that need to be made strongly in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Not cussing! As a Government the AUF faced the same challenges and we found this approach most effective.

But what is further lacking in this Government’s strategy is an awareness that the private and the public sector must work hand in hand, especially in times like these. The AUM came to office with an adversarial approach to most developers (local and expatriate) because they never appeared to understand that their investment created jobs and business opportunities and since our competition is regional and even international as a Government we must make it worth their while to invest in our country. Companies invest in a country because they see it as a good business opportunity --- not for philanthropy but for profit. As a Government we have to help them to be profitable so as to increase economic activity. Such activity creates more taxable income and as a consequence more Government revenues. However, there must be balance --- that is the technical aspect of negotiations. Our decision makers and our technicians must understand the business models and as a consequence know how, when and where to design the most effective systems for sustainable revenue streams. Unfortunately, the Chief Minister is still insisting on a business model for successful tourism project development that expired in the early 1980’s. He has not and will not be able to attract investors with those antiquated financing models.

So since the Government came to office all we have been hearing about is taxation and expenditure controls. Taxation and expenditure management are only two sides of the development equation. That equation has many sides. And one of the most important is private sector investment --- be it local investment or foreign direct investment both are critical. It is time for the Government to direct the FCO’s attention away from “taxing a dead economy”. We should be asking the FCO to direct us to their Department of Trade and Commerce to help us to design programs to attract qualified British and European investors for a number of our failed projects or provide financing for qualified local projects. And help our financial services industry and banking sector with meaningful interventions not only regulation. Our Government put in place legislation, which could assist Anguillian families with large landholdings to hold on to their undivided property and place it in corporate entities that can empower them to participate equitably in major development ventures. That is a Government taking charge!

It is obvious to me that after a year and a half this Government has not come to the realization that they are the Government! They cannot continue to be a Government of excuses they must take charge and accept responsibility. I was impressed with Mr. John “Torpedo” Ruan’s understanding that time is up for this approach when he staged that most impressive Radio Talk Show last Friday. The AUF never complained about the British and the Governor, we engaged them as equals in the Governance progress. We did not have the disunity that is now tearing this Government apart and during our campaign we preached the importance of a team “United to Lead”. That team was campaigning on a proud record, which contributed to the realization of the Anguillian dream and the vision of our forebears by real progress. Before this economic downturn we were able to deliver EC$ 70 million in road construction; 9 million in school construction; 13 million in seaport development; 50 million in training; 20 million in land acquisition for the future; 70 million in airport expansion and relocation; and 65 million in reserves just to name a few areas. That is a total of almost EC$300 million in direct public sector development. But in addition, we were able to attract almost a billion US dollars in foreign direct investment. All this was not achieved by accident --- it was by a studied approach to what was required to make our island the best that it could be with the resources with which God has blessed us and the ingenuity, civility and pride which brought us respect as a people at home and abroad.

I was especially moved by the Minster of Social Development’s plea for support for our national cricket team. A team which especially in recent years under the mentorship of Cardigan Connor in particular and his staff has made us proud. It is almost shameful to note that the Chief Minister and Minister of Finance is not inventive enough to find less than US$10,000 for their participation in the Leeward Island Cricket Tournament. We understand the scarcity of the times; we understand the need for organizations to help themselves; we understand the differences among the Minister’s of Government; but, based on what is being reported to us from credible and reliable sources, we fail to understand how money can be approved for two new vehicles for Ministers of Government and our national squad and Anguilla is disgraced by not being able to have our gladiators compete in this prestigious arena of regional cricket. It has never happen before to my recollection --- so it is a sad day indeed. According to “The Adjudicator” in her courageous rendition during the Summer Festival Calypso Monarch Competition, even for this alone: “It is time for the “Veteran” to go!” Indeed there is a widely held view that the “Veteran” should depart “in style” with his entourage in tow. But this is just another conversation with the nation!

I thank you for your kind attention.

Victor F. Banks
Victor Banks is a former Finance, Economics, Commerce and Tourism Minister on Anguilla. He is presently the leader of the Oposition Anguilla United Front Party, writer and author of a weekly political article for the Anguillian News Paper, lyricist, and a self-employed entrepreneur.

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