In this week’s press conference, Chief Minister the Honourable Victor Banks shared with the press a letter he recently penned to UK Prime Minister, the Rt Hon David Cameron, in relation to the lack of development assistance for Anguilla. In his letter, the Honourable Chief Minister highlighted the fact that the UK Government is investing heavily in the Caribbean region, but none of that investment is earmarked for Anguilla.
Yet the UK Government is seeking to enhance the “powers for the UKG’s representative on the island to veto financial and other decisions of the Elected Representatives of the People of Anguilla”, the Chief Minister wrote. In the view of the Chief Minister such measures are demeaning and inconsistent with partnership and the democratic process. It appears to be for these reasons that the Chief Minister wrote: “Prime Minister, we are at a defining moment in the UK – Anguilla relationship”. Though simply put, these words are profound. The Chief Minister has in effect put the UK Prime Minister on notice that how the UK Government chooses to deal with Anguilla, now that he (the Chief Minister) has laid out his concerns and advanced a request for assistance from the UK Government, will either make or break the relationship between the UK and Anguilla.
In my view, succinctly put, the Chief Minister is right. The UK Government has shown scant regard for the wellbeing of the people of Anguilla. They have chosen to use the excuse of Anguilla’s “GDP per capita” to justify their actions or inactions. This suggests to me that all Anguilla is to the UK Government is “figures on paper”. Surely, Her Excellency the Governor must have advised the UK Government that, despite those figures, Anguilla’s infrastructural needs are vast. Surely, the Governor who has lived among us for some time, must have advised the UK Government that Anguillians are a proud people who are used to difficult times, who have overcome drought and famine on this rock (when the solution of the British Government was to move us to British Guyana), who are enterprising and resilient and, quite frankly, would not ask the UK Government for a dime unless we felt that we had no other option.
Surely, visiting officials from the UK Government must have advised the UK Government that what is on paper and what exists in reality is fundamentally different. One can only conclude that such advice has been ignored and that the UK Government is simply not interested in assisting Anguilla. This conclusion is cemented by the fact that the UK Prime Minister recently flew over Anguilla (and other OTs) on his visit to various islands of the Caribbean, making announcements of development assistance. That the Prime Minister did not deem it sufficiently important to visit his OTs and get a firsthand view of our realities, is a slap in the face of our people which, I hope, awakens us from our slumber.
It is apparent that the only interest the UK Government has in Anguilla is to ensure that Anguilla does not become a burden to them. They are prepared to be oppressive in order to ensure that this does not happen. This has been made abundantly clear by the UK Government’s response to Anguilla’s current dilemma: The Draft Anguilla Public Finance Order 2015. This Draft Order in Council has disregarded the Anguilla Constitution, our supreme law, and will in effect amend our Constitution without actually going through the amendment process and without our input.
The Anguilla Constitution currently sets out how executive and legislative authority is to be exercised in Anguilla. It gives significant powers to the Governor including the reserve power to pass legislation that was introduced to the House of Assembly and not passed. Under the current Constitution, the Governor can refuse to assent to legislation, return bills to the House for amendment – and the UK Secretary of State can disallow bills (ie. annul laws passed by the House of Assembly). One would think that the provisions in the current Constitution (as outdated as they are) provide sufficient safeguards for the protection of the UK Government’s self-interests. However, the Draft Order in Council seeks to increase those powers to give the Governor the unilateral authority, among several other things, to:
1. Enact legislation dealing with fiscal matters without that legislation going through any process in the House of Assembly and without consultation. If the Governor so decides, our Government and people will therefore have no voice in what becomes law in relation Anguilla’s finances.
2. Appoint a Chief Financial Adviser “whose office shall be a public office.” I am subject to correction, but this suggests that the Chief Financial Adviser will be paid by the Government of Anguilla as would any other public officer. Imagine having to pay for the whip used to give us licks. However, it is clear that the Chief Financial Adviser is no ordinary public officer, but rather a spy sent by the UK Government to assist the Governor to keep an eye on Anguilla’s tax-payers money, tell us how to spend it, and to do their bidding for he or she “has to comply with any directions given …by the Governor”. Additionally, the functions of the Chief Financial Adviser will be prescribed by order of the Governor and published in the gazette (which means given legislative teeth without having to pass through the legislative process in House of Assembly and therefore without input from elected representatives) which is certainly not the usual course for someone holding a public office.
It is interesting to note that in at least one other OT, their Constitution was amended to set out the duties of the UK imposed Chief Financial Officer. We certainly do not want constitutional change of this nature, but we must wonder whether the UK is seeking to entrench the powers of the Chief Financial Adviser in our governance framework more craftily. While we are not privy to the proposed powers of the Chief Financial Adviser, we know for certain that the Chief Financial Adviser will have significant clout because the Governor is bound to consult him or her (not consult the Chief Minister or even the Attorney General) before making legislative proposals to Executive Council.
3. Direct Ministers of Government and the Parliamentary Secretary on matters related to Anguilla’s financial obligations, which they will be legally bound to comply with. In other words, override the decisions of our elected representatives and impose what the UK Government thinks is in its best interest even if it is detrimental to the people and future development of Anguilla.
4. Dissolve any board and reconstitute them as he/she sees fit. Again, this gives the power to in effect exercise ultimate and unfettered control over the governance of Anguilla and any public institution.
I could go on, but I trust that the point has been made.
We are truly at a defining moment in our relationship with the UK. It is clear that the UK Government does not see Anguilla as an asset, but rather as a liability. Whether or not the UK Government assists Anguilla, as requested by the Chief Minister, there is absolutely no justification for the oppressive and demeaning stance that the UK Government is taking in relation to Anguilla. The UK Government, which is supposed to be a bastion of democracy, is in effect proposing to render useless the democratic process through which we have elected successive Governments. What is the point of electing a Government which does not have the power to direct the financial affairs of the country? Isn’t this what makes the country turn? How ironic is it that the UK has fought wars to promote and protect democracy around the world and yet is seeking to undermine the democratic systems and structures operating in its own OTs? The UK Government should be seeking to establish a more progressive relationship with Anguilla, not one which strips our people of dignity and respect and makes our leaders powerless.
I would think that in this century, the UK Government would be more interested in providing the assistance needed to empower its OTs, revamping Constitutions so that they reflect more responsibility for self-governance, helping OTs to build resilient economies and promoting the bio-diversity of the OTs as an asset to the UK – rather than adopting an unreasonable, unjustifiable and tyrannical position that can only stunt the development of OTs and particularly Anguilla. We can only hope that the Chief Minister’s letter to Prime Minister Cameron does not go unheeded. His response will surely determine our next move.