Books about Anguilla


Friday, 27 April 2012


Mr. Victor F. Banks
I feel compelled to repeat a comment that I have been making regarding the way in which the AUM Government and its supporters interpret the concepts of “democracy and freedom of expression”. I have been saying that they (the AUM) believe that the rights inherent in these concepts are for their benefit only. I have had reason to express this viewpoint in/on several media, including the political platform. On the last occasion, a friend of mine, who is a supporter of the AUM, wrote a letter in the Anguillian in which she erroneously accused me of making disparaging comments about her, regarding finance, on a political platform in Island Harbour. Given the delicate nature of the issue I refused to respond, even in my own defense, because I felt confident that sufficient persons would have heard my statement and eventually put her right. Additionally, I was heartbroken that she was advised or that she, of her own volition, felt the need to publish very private and personal information in the local newspaper. As a matter of decency I had no wish to be drawn into such an exchange. But I make the point to illustrate that very often such supporters of the AUM respond to information and statements which they have neither heard nor read. In fact a few “loud mouths” begin the chatter, very often starting from a false premise, then it “grows legs” as the “usual callers” get on board never even bothering to check the facts. Meaning no disrespect, it is a “herd mentality”.

Two events over the last four days highlight this attitude by AUM supporters. First was the decision by the Anguilla United Front (AUF) to travel to St. Maarten-St. Martin over the weekend to hold a series of town hall meetings as well as a retreat for the Executive Committee and other invited members. The second was the Speaker’s decision to expel the AUF Elected Member and Leader of Opposition, Hon Evans McNiel Rogers from the Anguilla House of Assembly on Monday, April 23, 2012. 

I was rather surprised when I heard that the airwaves in Anguilla were inundated by the comments and calls to a number of AUM talk shows regarding our party’s visit to St Martin. I would have thought that for a group that was very active during the tenure of the past administration on the same programs and on similar forums this would have been considered a normal situation. As far as I can recall the present Chief Minister was constantly on the airwaves and would call a public meeting “at the drop of a hat”. But what surprised me even more was that at the town hall meetings in St Martin there were at least two persons who suggested that they were told that our party was keeping meetings constantly and not allowing the Government to do its work. Of course we were able to convincingly put such statements to rest by pointing out that the present Government and its supporters since ascending to office have had many more meetings than we have had; were on the talk shows several days a week and several times more often than members of our party; and they organized at least four public demonstrations on their own Government while we have not had even one. 

The bothersome aspect of these comments is the realization that some of the persons who spout such nonsense about the AUF keeping meetings in St. Martin, genuinely believe that they are right in their criticism. One AUM supporter called up the Radio Station advising that while they were on the air talking they needed to be aware that the AUF is campaigning because they know that an election is around the corner. This indicates that there is a strong belief among supporters of the AUM that our party is in a conspiracy that affords us information on the timing of the next election. The truth of the matter is that in our system of Government based on our constitution and in keeping with the Westminster model only the Government and specifically the Chief Minister can say with any certainty when the next election is to be called. Unless of course, after five years have elapsed or things have broken down to the extent that there is an extremely unstable situation on the island. Even in such times the Governor according to section 63 (2) of the Constitution must consult with the Chief Minister. It therefore behooves the opposition parties to be always in a state of readiness. This includes keeping in touch with all groups who are a part of the electoral process, wherever they reside. In terms of our situation it is as important to keep our supporters in St. Martin in the know, as much as our supporters in West End or Island Harbour. This has nothing to do with the timing of elections this is about touching base. Obviously, the spin-doctors within the AUM continue to perpetrate the falsehood that the Governor is planning to bring down the Government by sowing the notion that the AUF is a part of such a conspiracy. While in fact we were simply fulfilling a campaign promise that we would visit those jurisdictions where we had solicited support during that period. In case the AUM would like to know St. Thomas will be our next stop! 

While our Constitution provides that the term of office of the duly elected Government is five years, it also gives the Chief Minister the power to ask the Governor to dissolve the House and call for General elections when he so wishes. No Governor has ever in the history of the Overseas Territories refused a request from a Chief Minister to dissolve the House of Assembly. And it is only in circumstances when law and order has broken down that a Governor would initiate such an action. Why then are AUM supporters so frantic every time it appears that the AUF is using its right as a political party and as a responsible opposition to discuss issues of national importance on the various media? Why is it that they feel that it is alright --- and do not protest when the Chief Minister is abroad waging his propaganda campaign against the Governor and his other political opponents in both the regional and international press. Do they not recognize a glaring double standard here? 

As I have said time and time again it is apparent that the AUM is bent on silencing the Opposition in and out of the House of Assembly with the same illogical argument, namely, that when we exercise our right to communicate with our constituents at home and abroad we are preventing the Government from functioning. One commentator, who is an AUM sympathizer, at our meeting in French St. Martin intimated that this was the first time Anguilla has been so polarized and divided --- by veiled implication he was clearly suggesting that it was the AUF’s fault because we were too much in a campaign mode. Again we had to point out very clearly that the AUF is not responsible for the division and disunity in Anguilla at this time and in fact the Government itself is divided. Their own Ministers are at odds with each other --- to the extent that they could not get together to support a vital Bill to enhance the Education System. That Bill was drafted in Anguilla and has already been adopted and passed as model legislation in the other islands of the OECS. When will supporters of the AUM stop looking at the Opposition and focus on what they have to do rather than making excuses to justify their cluelessness and lack of ideas. 

But this obsession with silencing the Opposition seems to be even at the highest levels including the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Her decision to expel the Leader of the Opposition from the House for conduct that did not appear to rise to the level of being “grossly disorderly” as set out in Section 48 of the Rules of Procedure, comes under serious scrutiny. I have listened very carefully to the tapes and it is apparent that Mr. Rogers had already completed his presentation and comments when the exchange between himself and Speaker took place. The Leader of the Opposition’s statement was directed at the Leader of Government Business based on the fact that Members of the House were delayed for over an hour without a stated reason, while some members of the Government side of the House were in private session in the conference room. He pointed out that this was a pattern of behaviour that the Government seemed to practice frequently and which he considered extremely disrespectful. Mr. Rogers then took his seat. 

In normal circumstances one would have expected the Chief Minister to rise and either make an apology or attack the member for his comments. But for reasons that were not apparent the Speaker decided to engage the Leader of the Opposition on a matter that was obviously closed. Mr. Rogers did not place any direct blame on the Speaker. On the contrary he had berated the Chief Minister for not effectively managing the agenda for that meeting as well as for some previous meetings. What ensued will remain a puzzlement to many persons who were listening to the House of Assembly. First of all the Speaker allowed the Leader of the Opposition to explain why he made the comment then in the midst of his explanation decided to shut him up and demand that he take his seat. Mr. Roger’s response was defiant or perhaps indignant having been denied the opportunity to state the reason for his dissatisfaction for what was clearly an annoying delay of the proceedings of the House. To fast forward, there is obviously much validity to the comments of the Leader of the Opposition because after he left the Elected Member for East End also expressed similar concerns over the frequent delays. 

Don’t get me wrong I am not disputing the authority of the Speaker to manage the House of Assembly, but her role is to achieve the exact opposite of what her actions to date have demonstrated. Her role is to facilitate fair debate in the House of Assembly on issues of national importance. An important aspect of that responsibility is to ensure that the views of the minority or the Opposition receive equitable expression. It is not about her it is about the business of the House --- the people’s business. Obviously, on this occasion this was not a situation where the Government and the Opposition were at odds --- it appears, however, that the Speaker was on the defensive regarding her management of the House. And she did not seem willing to entertain any objections from the Opposition on delays that persons from both sides of the House found to be unsatisfactory. 

A certain level of arrogance may be detected in the manner in which the Speaker dealt with this issue. She could have easily accepted the member’s comments as warranted, given the long delay, and moved on to the next contribution to the motion. However, she chose to act as if there were no grounds for the concerns but stood ready to suppress the member’s right to explain the reasons for objecting to what he described as disrespectful behaviour. Based on this and previous rulings by the Speaker it could appear that she is more concerned with fighting off threats to her authority than ensuring that the democratic process is upheld in the House of Assembly. Does she really understand that it is her job to make create an environment in the House for equitable participation in the debate rather than to show off her ability to push elected members of the Opposition around? 

It is against such attitudes that seem to embrace the notion that “democracy and freedom of expression” is reserved for supporters of the AUM Government --- that we take serious objection. The Anguilla United Front will never surrender those inalienable rights to the vacuous rants of AUM supporters caught up in this “herd mentality” --- swept up in a stampede, perhaps inadvertently trampling under foot the very principles they claim to espouse.

By: 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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