Hon. Victor Banks - former Minister of Finance,
Economic Development, Commerce and Tourism .
Sunday, 20 January 2013
We've closed out 2012 and swiftly entering into 2013. But the New Year is like tomorrow — it is another day. In fact, we will merely be continuing with all the things that we were doing yesterday. There will be no discernable changes in the world around us today as compared to yesterday. And most likely we will be facing the same challenges. So Tuesday, January 1, 2013, is really a punctuation mark in our lives. Figuratively speaking, it may be a “comma”, “semi-colon” or a “full-stop” in the course of our development as a nation. However, the New Year gives us an excellent opportunity to reflect on the past, revise our strategies if necessary, and re-position ourselves to manage the many issues that will confront us as we progress through the times ahead. And if we use this opportunity effectively we can bring about a positive turnaround in our situation and our fortunes.
As the Leader of the Anguilla United Front, my party has asked me to deliver a message of encouragement to our fellow citizens by applying these very effective tools, namely, “reflection, revision and re-positioning. In my reflection I must focus my attention on some of the negative issues in 2012 — but only so as to describe the nature of the task ahead of us, that is, to create a favourable environment for change. The prevalence of gun violence, murder and other serious crimes featured highly in this catalogue of negatives — but equally the general increase in the level of incivility, or more plainly speaking, “rudeness”, even in high places, also had a causal effect on the quality of our social environment over the past twelve months.
Several young Anguillian men, in particular, lost their lives to senseless acts of violence — while others are facing the possibility of permanent disabilities. Our prison is overcrowded with young men who have been charged or convicted of serious crimes, including murder. And the prognosis for their total rehabilitation seems doubtful at best. The situation is worsened by the proliferation of drugs and the abundance of guns in the hands of angry youth who seem to have little regard for our security and judicial systems. There was indeed a lot to be desired in 2012 as far as the social sector is concerned.
On the positive side of the social sector, we have had a number of encouraging achievements from our young people. The Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive School showed a marked improvement in the examination results with two extraordinary young men, Jose Vanterpool and Cordane Richardson, leading the pack with 15 Grade One CSEC passes each.
In Sports and Athletics two young Anguillians have made us exceptionally proud, namely, Miss Shara Proctor and Mr. Zharnel Hughes. Miss Proctor is our second Olympian in twenty-eight yearsand the first female. Our pride in Mr. Hughes is for his regional and international performance as a young sprinter. Miss Nzingha Banks was rewarded through her prowess in Tennis with a full academic scholarship for tertiary training at a University in the United States. Miss Proctor has also been the recipient of scholarships based on her talent in Women’s Long Jump, and Mr. Zharnel Hughes is off to the International Amateur Athletics Federation’s Regional High Performance Centre in Jamaica for a period of study and training.
In Music and the Performing Arts I can also speak of the achievements in recent times of Roxanne “Roxxy” Webster, Jaine Rogers; Amalia Alberto Watty; Nyne; Shara Hodge; Fedalia “Shea Shea” Richardson; Omari Banks; R & R Productions; Crispin Brooks of Blu Symphony Entertainment; as well as all the Musical Bands to name a few — because even though a seemingly more difficult road — some real successes were realized.
In the wider economy, we struggled with the effects of the global financial situation on our community. Widespread unemployment; bank foreclosures on homes, property and transportation; failed businesses and general bankruptcies were the order of the day in 2012. Foreign direct investment was at an all time low and both local and expatriate investors were particularly cautious about making new investments in the private sector. In the public sector, major capital investment projects were practically non-existent.
The Government of Anguilla continued to struggle to increase revenue to meet recurrent expenditure and implemented new and increased tax measures to do so. In the meantime, negative growth in the overall economy persisted in 2012 placing more pressure on an already dwindling tax base. And to further exacerbate the problem the cost of fuel and electricity continued to rise.
On the positive side, in 2012 a number of investors must be commended for their achievements for without their contribution the situation would have been even worse. In the expatriate sector, we commend Mr. Lee Rizutto and his Cuisinart Group of Companies for the acquisition and development of the Temenos Golf Course and Resort; Charles and Linda Hickox for their tenacious efforts at Cap Juluca; and Ce Bleu Resort of the Crocus Bay Development Consortium that opened its doors just over a week ago.
In the local sector, I would like to commend Mr. Kirk Hughes for the brilliant expansion of his La Vue Resort, as well as Mr. Applewaite “Rayme” Lake for introducing a “state of the art” Automotive Services and Maintenance facility and an Oxygen manufacturing plant. And I would like to make special mention of Mr. Kyle Hodge as one of our youngest entrepreneurs for his new Ice Cream production, services and sales business; as well as Mr. Ian “Sugar George” Edwards, of Sunset Homes, who recently received five prestigious International awards for Architecture and Property Development thereby“positioning the island (Anguilla) as an attractive investment destination, offering first class services in Architecture, Construction and Property Development.”
Politically, over the last year, the Government seems to have been fighting imaginary enemies as well as among themselves — but I have no intention to get into the sordid details of those battles since it is my task to look to the future. However, as an aspect of my reflection here today, I must question whether the Government will continue into the New Year in the same vein as in the last twelve months? Will we continue to hear the blame game being played out? Will they still not take responsibility for their actions? Will they continue to destroy the investment climate with loose talk from the Leader of Government business? Will we continue to be told that Independence is the panacea for all the challenges we face? Can we survive another year of this style, attitude and approach? And the key question: “Are you my people satisfied with the performance of the Government over the past year?”
In light of the foregoing reflections of 2012, what kind of revision needs to take place to make 2013 a more positive year? Based on the state of our economy, and the apparent frustration of the present Government as expressed in the Chief Minister Christmas Message, it is fair to say that the message in his message is that he is totally helpless to achieve anything positive for Anguilla because of all the conspirators and purveyors of evil deeds he perceives to be round about him. It is a message that is standing in the way of progress because the Government seems to be preoccupied with fighting, and that willnot bring any solution to our immediate problems. In essence, the very parties against whom it seems to be waging battles are the very ones whose support it needs to assist us in these challenging times. It is a strategy that needs to be revised because the way forward requires cooperation and negotiation — not confrontation and rebellion; it demands that we build alliances and goodwill with the private sector — not conflict and destabilization; and it means that we must present our positions on issues with rational arguments and calm reasoning — not abusive language and boisterousness. As I said last week, the logic of this Government’s approach could be challenging for even the smallest child to understand.
There is a historical basis to revise the present strategy because while over the years we have heard many of the Chief Minister’s supporters making the claim that “we need Hubert to deal with the British” — the record and history have proven, irrefutably, that Mr. Hughes has never, I repeat never, gotten anything positive out of the British with his approach — except of course his own political demise. On the other hand the record of our AUF Government, in terms of its relationship with the British, has been one of mutual respect and partnership in the governance process and it led to many positive and constructive outcomes. Furthermore, the Chief Minister’s abuse of developers in the public media has historically slowed down and/or stalled the progress of developments at critical junctures when our economy needed to build more cooperative relationships.
The record speaks for itself. Before this economic downturn our Government was 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 designed to make our island the best that it could be with the resources with which God has blessed us. It was achieved on the solid foundation of the values of industry, ingenuity, civility and pride that has brought us respect as a people at home and abroad over the years. The Government’s strategy must be revised to incorporate the approach, style and attitude that brought about the successful relationships with the British Government; local and foreign developers; the public service and the private sector so as to make a difference in the next twelve months of 2013.
So how does the Government reposition itself in 2013 to meet the challenges ahead? Firstly, it is high time that the Government relinquishes its campaign mode. The election ended three years ago so political responses are no longer helpful when dealing with technical issues. For example, taxpayers are no longer concerned about what tax measures the Opposition contemplated when it was in Office — that does not ease their burden. Their concern, Chief Minister, is whether the taxes you are now implementing/imposing are fair or necessary. You are now in charge of formulating the budget — not the Opposition.
Secondly, the Government needs to demonstrate that it has the ability to get things done. For example, the Chief Minister must not believe that he can build confidence in his leadership by blaming other groups and individuals for his inability to do the job for which he was elected. He campaigned on the platform that he was the best man for the job and that his party could deliver on its promises. A part of that job is to deal with the ordinary elements of the democratic process that may include an active Opposition as well as any other long standing economic and/or political arrangements in the system. In short, the Government must put an end to the blame game and establish itself as a Government that can and does deliver, and must adopt a more tolerant approach to criticism.
Thirdly, the Government needs to shelve the Independence issue for a period. It is a fantasy issue in the manner in which it is being presented, because it is based on the false premise that going into Independence will be a panacea for all our ills. The Government should therefore focus on creating the conditions for self-reliance that could include an educational process that promotes a proper understanding of the concept of political independence.
Fourthly, the Government should negotiate and agree suitable amendments with the British Government and sign the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility (FFR) Agreement. Our “olive branch” to assist the Government in this enterprise, even in the face of the CM’s demeaning refusal, still stands. It is an agreement that has the clear objective of establishing and institutionalizing a system of transparency and accountability. It is intended to be best practice for a modern democracy that is seeking to strengthen good governance and develop objective decision-making procedures. Getting consensus on the few remaining issues that have not yet been agreed is, in my view, a relatively easy undertaking — but if resolved can place Anguilla in a more favourable light with regional and international agencies from whom it may seek assistance. It could also improve our investment climate.
Fifthly, the Government must show that it is unified. This can be achieved by dealing with its internal differences away from the public media. To go into 2013 with internal wrangling, of the kind exhibited over the last twelve months, will continue to poison the political environment and hurt the investment climate that Anguilla has developed over the years. It can also cause delay in critical pieces of legislation required to advance Anguilla’s development and standards of living.
Sixthly, the Government should live up to its promise of openness and transparency; comply with the rules and procedures established to ensure good governance; and stop acting as if the rules apply to everyone else except the members, advisors and supporters of the AUM/APP Government. There is general feeling among that group that freedom of expression is a right reserved only for them. This attitude will inevitably lead to tensions among other Anguillians as financial and economic challenges increase.
And finally, but not exhaustively, the Government needs to remember that Anguilla is for all Anguillians. In this regard, it must ensure that every Anguillian has equal access to employment and business opportunities regardless of family connections and party affiliations.
So if we are to change our situation for the better, in 2013, it is my view that the Government of Anguilla must re-position itself to deal with the issues that confront us in an effective manner as we suggest. We the members of the Anguilla United Front, as the Loyal Opposition, also have a role to play in the democratic process and ought to be held equally responsible as the Government if we fail meet our responsibility to hold them to account. In this regard we remain united — both to serve and to lead. It is a responsibility from which we will not retreat even in the face of fierce criticism. As we enter into this New Year, may we all remain obedient to his Great Faithfulness and, even in these challenges times, accept the assurance of strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. May God Bless us all, and May God Bless Anguilla!
By: Victor F. Banks:
Mr. Victor Banks is a former Finance, Economics, Commerce and Tourism Minister on Anguilla. He is presently the leader of the Opposition Anguilla United Front Party, writer and author of a weekly political article for The Anguillian News Paper, lyricist, and a self-employed entrepreneur.
Posted by Realist Spikenice at 13:36