30 August, 2007

Crown Lands

Constitutional Discussions 22: Disposal of Crown Lands. Opportunities for official corruption by local administrators in a colonial setting are limited. The External Auditor reports to the Governor and the House of Assembly on the spending of public funds. He ensures that it is difficult, if not impossible, for senior government figures to dip their fingers into the public purse and remain undiscovered. There is thus an external check on waste of public monies. Not so in the case of public lands. There are no checks and balances when it comes to wheeling and dealing in public lands. This lack has long been a cause of public ferment and distrust in Anguilla. It is a subject on which several representations were forthcoming to the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission during the public discussions leading up to its August 2006 Report.

Section 75 of the Anguilla Constitution presently provides that the Governor is the person who signs legal instruments dealing with Crown land. He is obliged to do so on the advice of the Executive Council, or cabinet. This two-step strategy ensures some degree of control. Most Anguillians believe that is not sufficient. It does not give the Anguillian public the full assurance that it demands. A Governor will not be sufficiently aware of local affairs to be able to question a dealing that is inadvisable but that is being pressed on him by Cabinet. One suggestion for reform found wide acceptance. It was to require all dealings in Crown lands to be the subject of debate in the House of Assembly. This strategy would act as an additional control on wasteful dealing in public land. The fear of public exposure would limit the temptation to deal improperly in public lands. The Commission recommended at paragraph 162 of its Report that section 75 of the Constitution should be amended to provide that all future dealings in public lands in excess of one acre be required to be approved by a Resolution of the Assembly.

It is a matter for regret that both the supporters of Government and of the Opposition meeting in caucus at Limestone Bay Café disagreed with the recommendation of the Commission. They all preferred that the present provision remain as it is.

We are left to wonder why!


29 August, 2007

Social Insecurity

At Last! The 2003 Accounts.

I recently received a message that the long overdue Social Security Annual Report for the year 2003 has been published. I had a look at the website. The letter of transmittal and other reports are undated. We have to assume that the Minister received the Report when it was published, in August 2007. I would have thought this was a tad in arrears for a Social Security Board?

My correspondent was not impressed. He sent me a query he had received recently. I shall publish his response at a later date. This is what the query he received said:

We finally get to see the Social Security Annual Report for 2003. As expected, it is not very revealing. How much does Tim earn? You tell me:

6. ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENDITURE

2003 $$

2002 $$

Salaries & Allowances of Admin staff

1,577,200

1,408,037

Allowances & Expenses of the Board

139,257

140,801

Other Expenses of Administration

1,402,705

1,654,122

Other Expenses

89,083

76,110

Total

3,208,245

3,279,070

This trough has room for countless snouts.

They have over $14 million in a Smith Barney account. In 2002 it lost over $3.5 million. Madre de Dios!

They own an unstated number of vehicles, having a total depreciated value of $69,000+ at the beginning of 2003. I don't know what they cost, or how many of them are devoted to Tim's "official" use.

They spend, very roughly, $4 million a year to give out $3 million in benefits. This does not include the Development Fund.

The Development Fund gave a $100,000 grant to the Jazz Festival.

What else do you see here that might interest Don? He has a somewhat limited fascination for financial statements.

Is this what they call a faith based initiative?

Yours faithfully etc,

I know that Director Tim Hodge honestly believes that Social Security is transparent and likety-splick clean. However, the Social Security fund is one of the largest honey pots of potential for misuse on the island. There must be few funds, other than the government’s total income housed in the Consolidated Fund and the entire asset base of one of our major banks, that are larger than the public monies held in trust by the Social Security Board. To this end, the Board must expect that its accounts will be subject to the most stringent examination and analysis. Tim is an old friend of mine. But, old friendships must not be permitted to stand in the way of rigorous examination of the accountability of the Board for the funds upon which future generations of employees must depend. The Social Security Board has no shareholders meeting to face questions. It is all the more incumbent on them to provide us with the fullest details of where our money is invested and what is being done with it.

I have to agree with my correspondent that the explanation of administrative costs published on Social Security's website, no matter how acceptable it is to the accounting profession, should not be acceptable to us here in Anguilla. Later, my correspondent's response to the above letter.


28 August, 2007

Quarantine

Oriental Fish Imports. A correspondent sent me a Belize article from Caribbean Net News. I read it with interest. I was amazed. I had no idea that any public health authority in the West Indies was so aware of the environmental issue. It was staggering, for someone residing in Anguilla to read about such principled determination.

Their Quarantine and Inspection Service has recently confiscated and destroyed 4,492 pounds of fish originating from Asia. The reason? The fish were inspected! It was noticed that they were not from the USA as stated on the permits presented for importation, but from Asian countries such as China, India and Vietnam. The problem? The fish represented a high risk for the introduction of diseases to the aquaculture sector. These countries are not transparent in their reporting of fish diseases.

It gets better. I learned that the Belize Agricultural Health Authority in 2006 issued 6,257 animal health and food safety permits. All application are screened by a Veterinary and/or Food Safety Officer. A risk analysis is performed for those commodities that represent a high risk due to Belize’s natural conditions. In 2006, six international site visits were conducted to verify inspection, approval and certification procedures. Four documented risk analyses were performed for those commodities that represent a high risk. These included milk powder, duck meat, packaged bees, and pork.

In the same year, 2006, the Quarantine and Inspection Services confiscated over 106,500 pounds of high-risk commodities. They refused entry into Belize of a total of 90,000 pounds of commodities due to high pest infestation.

Can any of us in Anguilla imagine anything like that happening in our Public Health or Fisheries Authorities? I doubt it. If I am wrong, please let me know. And, what was much more extraordinary, the information was published! It was information that the press and public could access. It was not kept from the public. That is quite extraordinary for us in Anguilla. As my correspondent writes,

How mucha high risk or pest-infested commodities were confiscated in Anguilla in 2006? If anything has ever been confiscated here in living memory, it's a State Secret. But we have the Cuban tree frog, the killer tick, the pink mealy bug and a zillion African snails.

Of course, Belize has marine parks. She has fish farms. She has one of the greatest barrier reefs outside of Australia to protect. Her officials have more reason to be interested in the marine environment than our officials. We in Anguilla have nothing worth protecting. Or, so it would seem!!


26 August, 2007

Assembly

Order in the House of Assembly. A correspondent has recently sent me a post from the St Helena Herald. He has added his comments. I wonder if his comments are relevant to the conduct of business in the Anguilla House of Assembly at this time. There have been times, no doubt, when his comments may accurately describe what happened in Anguilla. But, does it happen still? Make up your own minds. This, in red, is the clipping he sent me, with his comments in green below:

St. Helena Herald
17 August 2007
Honourable Speaker calls Councillors to Order

During formal Legislative Council Meetings, the Honourable Speaker of the St Helena Legislative Council has found it necessary on occasion to remind Honourable Members of the rules of procedure when rising on points of order or information. The current Speaker, The Honourable Eric George MBE found it necessary to do this at the 3rd Meeting of the 2nd Session of the Legislative Council also.

Someone asked me to explain what was actually happening in the Meeting at the time, which I did. Realising that there may be others who may be unaware of the rules of procedure in Legislative Council,the following information relevant to any member rising during a debate in Legislative Council, is offered for clarification.

The St Helena Legislative Council Guide to Procedure contains a section on Standing Orders made, with the approval of the Governor, in accordance with section 29 of the Constitution:

ORDER 22 – Responsibility for Order

1. The President shall be responsible for the observance of the rules of order in the Council and his decision on any point shall be final.

2. Whenever the President rises during a debate, any member then speaking or offering to speak shall sit down, and the Council is to be silent so that the President may be heard without interruption.

ORDER 23 – Points of order or information

1. Any member deviating from the provisions of these Standing Orders may be immediately called to order by the President or by any member rising to a point of order; a member rising to a appoint of order shall simply direct attention to the point he desires to bring to notice and submit it to the President for decision.

2. When the question of order has been stated, the member who raises it shall resume his seat and no other member, except with the leave of the President, shall rise until the President has decided the question, after which the member who was addressing the Council at the time the question was raised shall be entitled to proceed with his speech giving effect to the ruling from the Chair.

3. Any member may rise at any time to state any fact which is relevant to the matter under debate and of which he believes the member then speaking to be unaware; Provided that a member so rising shall confine himself to stating the fact in question, without argument or opinion; and Provided also that any member who appears to the President to be abusing the procedure provided by this Rule so as unreasonably to interfere with the freedom of speech of another member shall be liable to be dealt with under Order 25, Rule 2.

ORDER 25 – President’s powers to enforce order

2. If a member shows disregard for the authority of the Chair, or abuses the rules of the Council by wilfully and persistently obstructing its business or is grossly disorderly, the President may order that member to withdraw from the Council Chamber for such period as he may determine, and may direct such steps as are necessary to be taken to enforce his order.

Source:

St Helena Legislative Council Guide to Procedure, issued April 1989 by the Secretariat, following the introduction of the St Helena Constitution Order 1988.

I trust the above selected information about rules of procedure in Legislative Council is helpful.

Cyril Gunnell

This is different from Anguilla. In Anguilla, any member is free to interrupt whoever is trying to speak, so that he or she may correct the misinformation being presented. This is called a "Point of Order." Other members may then intercede. Whoever speaks the loudest has the floor. The Speaker yields his authority by banging his gavel repeatedly and making empty threats. When the meeting turns into something resembling a mass cat and dog fight, the radio broadcast is suddenly discontinued without explanation or apology.

In Anguilla, we call this "Setting a good example for our young people." We wonder why they have gone bad.

I have to admit that I do not have a copy of the Rules of Procedure of the House of Assembly of Anguilla with me in London at this time. I seriously doubt if our rule on points of order are as detailed as these. I also doubt that they provide such clear rules on how a Member is to make a “point of order”. I have never heard a Member in Anguilla make a “point of information”. And, I doubt that Speaker David Carty can be described as ineffective.

Does anyone know what the Rules of Procedure say?


24 August, 2007

Transparency Int

Transparency International. A reader sent me this article from the Guardian Newspaper. It gives us an insight into the sort of good work that Transparency International is doing all around the world:

Anti-corruption survey lists lawyers for first time
Lawyers have a new reputation in Kenya - as solicitors of bribes. The professionals have
been listed for the first time ever in the annual Kenya Bribery Index, prepared by the local chapter of the Berlin-based Transparency International. Lawyers were ranked the ninth most corrupt group in Kenya in the report, which was published yesterday. The police remained the most corrupt institution in the country for the sixth year running, according to the survey which involved asking 2,400 respondents what institutions they had interacted with and for details of bribes paid.
Associated Press in Nairobi

The article inspired me to do a Google search for the Kenya Bribery Index. I recommend that you have a look at it. It gives an idea how long the Kenya Branch of Transparency International has been working to encourage their fellow citizens to clean up their act. Perhaps, some enterprising young persons could consider setting up a branch in Anguilla.

I was sorry to see how poorly the judiciary and police of Kenya do in the rankings for 2007. The police in Kenya have traditionally been the worst offenders when it comes to bribes. Lawyers enter the list for the first time. You can download the 2007 report here.

Now, I am well aware that thre is no evidence that we have corrupt police or lawyers in Anguilla. But, it would help to keep us on the straight and narrow if we did have a branch of TI here, wouldn’t it?


22 August, 2007

Obsession

Why is Don Mitchell Obsessed With Good Governance? I suppose it is guilt. What do I mean? Nothing keeps a man more honest than the fear he will be found out. Confession is good for the soul. With those two maxims, let me examine why I seem to be obsessive about the need to act properly in government. Since I was first appointed to the Public Service Integrity Board three years ago, I consider that I have been involved in a fraud on the public purse. This is my confession. It is nothing new. Deputy Governor Stanley Reid will tell you that I have used the identical words to him on several occasions. So will Governor Alan Huckle, Governor Andrew George, and PS Foster Rogers. Let me explain.

It is a fundamental principle of government that no civil servant may expend public funds on a purpose that has not been approved by the House of Assembly. Every penny spent must come under a “head” in the Estimates that are approved by the Assembly each year in the Budget. No matter how worthy the object, there must be no exceptions. When I served as a Head of Department in the Anguilla public service in the 1970s, we regularly received a circular from Financial Secretary Franklin Connor reminding us that if we misspent one penny, we would be made to pay for the cost out of our own pocket. So, Anguilla is supposed to be subscribing to this principle. But, to my dismay, I have been immersed by the Anguilla authorities in two programmes that offend this principle. It has been done in spite of my protestations, but, still, I have gone along with it.

The first was the appointment to the position of Chair of the Public Service Integrity Board. When I was first appointed at a salary, I asked Governor Allan Huckle how I was going to be paid, since neither the post nor the Board existed in the establishment. The funds to pay for the Board had never been approved by the Assembly. He assured me that it was all right. The members of the Board would be temporarily paid out of “good government funds” that had been provided by the British Government under a Budget approved by the British Parliament. No further approval of the Anguilla Assembly was required. As soon as possible, the expenses of the Board would be incorporated into the Anguilla Budget, and formally approved. The Board carefully approved and presented a Budget. The idea was that it could be included in the annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure. Years have passed. The UK government has long ceased to pay for the Board. I understand that the Board and its expenses are now locally funded. No part of the Board’s budget has ever been submitted to the House of Assembly. I have repeatedly asked who pays the expenses of the Board. No satisfactory answer has ever been forthcoming. So far as I am concerned, the Board is part of a gigantic financial fraud on the public revenue. Every time I mention this to the relevant authorities, I am met by a knowing smile and a wink. I am told to keep quiet. Everything has been organized! And, this in relation to Anguilla’s Public Service Integrity Board! I cannot convey to you the sense of outrage that I feel every time I contemplate the irony of it all. It is no exaggeration to say that the situation leaves me with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Then, in early 2006, I was asked to participate in a Commission to advise on the revision of the Constitution. It was to be called the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission. The positions were to be salaried. There were to be printing and other expenses. I was to be the Chairman. How was it to be funded, I asked. Assurances came down that it would be paid initially from discretionary funds in the office of the Chief Minister. We were asked to prepare a budget so that the costs could be included in the national Budget in due course. With this assurance, the Commission duly prepared a budget. We submitted it to the authorities. It exceeded one hundred thousand dollars, not an insignificant sum. Months passed. The Commission completed its work. A year has now passed. The national budget was approved in December 2006. Not a penny of the Commission’s cost was included in it. No retroactive approval was sought from the Assembly. Worse, the Commission never received any explanation as to how the funding was approved.

The result is that, over the past three years, I have increasingly felt smeared by an unspoken accusation of participation in a series of frauds on the public revenue. I feel great discomfort, verging on paranoia. That, I suspect, is the source of the guilt that causes me to harp on the subject so obsessively.


20 August, 2007

Public Service Head

Constitutional Discussions 21: Deputy Governor to be the Head of the Public Service. In a colonial setting, it is traditional for the FCO-appointed Governor of an Overseas Territory to be expressly stated in the Constitution to be the head of the public service. The ostensible reason usually provided is that this is a highly effective strategy for keeping civil servants out of the political fray. It is said to exist for the protection of the public service. In general, most public servants would echo that sentiment. One of the less often mentioned negatives, is that this strategy keeps local institutions from maturing. It forces a child-like dependence on the colonial power. It is destructive of growth in self-confidence and independent thinking. It is retrogressive. Some other strategy has to be found. We need to keep the service out of the hands of manipulating politicians. We also need to ensure that we can rely on our own people and institutions to do the right thing. One strategy that the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission looked at was localising the head of the public service.

At present, section 66 of the Anguilla Constitution makes it clear that it is the Governor who is the head of the public service. In practice, the Governor has little or no time to devote to mastering all the needs of the various government departments. He is kept busy pressing Foreign Office priorities on the local government, and reporting back to London on the latest developments in his territory. He delegates the running of the public service to his Deputy. Anguilla now has its own indigenous Deputy Governor. In the Turks and Caicos Islands and in the Virgin Islands, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had no difficulty in writing into their new Constitutions an assurance that in future the Deputy Governor will always be a local person. We in Anguilla can expect no less. By formally transferring responsibility for the public service to the Deputy Governor, the desirable end of localizing control of the public service will be encouraged. This is a step towards self-reliance and increased self-government. It is a relaxing of the apron-strings. This was a suggestion that found extensive favour wherever it was discussed in the public consultations that led up to the August 2006 Report of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission. In paragraph 148 of its August 2006 Report, the Commission recommended that section 66 of the Constitution be amended to make it clear that in future the head of the public service is the Deputy Governor.

Members of the House of Assembly meeting in caucus at the Limestone Bay Café were generally in agreement with the recommendation. They have reservations about the present holder of the office of Deputy Governor. He has been appointing Permanent Secretaries who did not meet the approval of the Chief Minister or his Cabinet colleagues. Not that they have any official say. It is just that they did not approve. Some of the appointees are said to be too young. Others are said to be too junior in the service. One might surmise that there is no real substance to the objections. The appointees may well have been the most qualified and those most entitled. The dispute has probably arisen only because there is no transparency in the appointment system. The Deputy Governor makes his decisions not on the recommendation of any review board. Appointments, like dismissals, lie in the arbitrary and unsupervised disposal of this one man. No matter how well-meaning and full of integrity the individual may be, that is a system that begs out for distrust and suspicion.

The Commission had bolstered the element of transparency and oversight in its Report by recommending at paragraph 151 of its Report that in future the Deputy Governor should be required to act on the advice of a much-strengthened, independent Public Service Commission. Members of the Assembly would dilute this by providing that the Premier and Leader of the Opposition both have a say in the appointment of members of the PSC.

My sense is that this variation does not find favour in the community.


18 August, 2007

The FCO

Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I suppose we all in Anguilla know by now that later this year the British House of Commons will be investigating how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is managing Anguilla and the other British Overseas Territories. The investigation will be done by the Foreign Affairs Committee. They have issued a press release about it, which we should all read.

Personally, I have not thought through the issue. I also lack familiarity with and knowledge of the various departments of government in the UK to be able to suggest any alternative to the FCO. So, I do not claim to be able to offer any definitive suggestions for future change. However, I have not disguised my disgust in previous posts with the complete failure of leadership of the FCO and its appointees in Anguilla. It might be worth recapping some of the problems while I attempt to do a little research on the issue. There is the whole question of structural suitability of the FCO for the role of providing British leadership in the area of good governance in Anguilla.

First, the FCO has no traditional role in the government of Anguilla. Or, in any other Overseas Territory, for that matter. The relationship is relatively new. The FCO can be seen as really the Foreign Office given new and unwelcome tasks and responsibilities. The FCO inherited the Colonial Office responsibilities when the latter was abolished some years ago. In 1966, with most of the colonies gone, the Colonial Office had first been merged with that of the Commonwealth Office. In 1968, with the declining importance to Britain of the Commonwealth, and the realization of Britain’s European destiny, the Commonwealth Office had been subsumed into the Foreign Office. This now became known as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The FCO is thus a new invention. It has no tradition of responsibility for the British overseas territories. It has never embraced the responsibility by preparing itself in any way to carry out the necessary developmental functions. It is not itself a development department. It does not think in terms of how to improve governance. It deals with scheming and wheeling and dealing to promote Britain’s trade and other interests in the wider world. No British government official I have ever spoken to has ever suggested that the FCO has been more than perfunctory in cooperating with other British government departments in improving governance or providing development assistance in Anguilla. No British government department in my view is likely to be less suited to being in charge of a developing country such as Anguilla is.

Second, the personnel of the FCO are unsuited by academic education or professional exposure to dealing with Anguilla. The old Colonial Office experts who transferred to the FCO in 1966 have long ago died out or retired. We can expect that there is not one of them left who has any experience with the Caribbean or other OTs. The sort of persons who go to the FCO are graduates in Greek or Latin. They read Sophocles and Cicero at University. In the original languages. They look for promotion to being stationed in Washington or Vienna, not to The Valley or Road Town. When Commissioner LeBreton was transferred from Anguilla on promotion in about 1978, it was, as I recall, to be 3rd Secretary in the Consulate in Mombassa. Not even in Nairobi! A subsequent Commissioner, Godden I believe, was transferred on promotion from Anguilla to be Commercial Attache in the Consulate in Calcutta. Not even in Delhi! Can we imagine what a disgrace it must be for an ambitious FCO person to be posted to Anguilla? It can only be acceptable to someone who has come to the end of a middle-administrative career, and who is willing to go into retirement with little or no seniority, but the title of “His Excellency” on his last posting. Such persons do not come to Anguilla with any training in development issues. They have never been exposed to the need for social, economic or political improvements in an overseas territory. They have no concept of the needs of a frontier society under the pressures a community such as Anguilla is exposed to. They have nothing by way of leadership to offer us. That is not an adverse comment on their character or professionalism. It is just that they are round pegs in square holes.

The vacuum that we presently feel when we consider the British presence in Anguilla, the failure of leadership, is not to be blamed on the type of Governor sent here or on the negligence of the FCO. They all mean well, I am sure. It is just that Her Majesty the Queen must provide PM Brown with more guidance, based on her long experience and exposure to the issues in Britain, than any Governor can provide our Executive Council. There must be some other British Government Department more suited to helping Anguilla to improve standards of self-government, transparency, and accountability. There is no Department that I can think of that is less suited to providing for the government of Anguilla than the FCO has been.


17 August, 2007

Salaries

Curacao’s Example.

Aruba is notorious as being the most corrupt country in the West Indies. For decades it has been owned from top to bottom by the New Jersey Mafia. Not to be compared with St Maarten. That is owned by the Sicilian Mafia. In Aruba, no serious crime is committed except with approval of the bosses. Gratuitous crime is bad for business. The massive casinos and houses of prostitution that are the basis of Aruba’s tourist industry might suffer an unacceptable drop off in income. Anyone guilty of an unauthorized crime is seriously punished. And, I do not mean through the courts! That is one reason why the murder/disappearance of the silly little blond US chick on Spring Break in Aruba a few months ago was so shocking. It was bad for business, and clearly had not had official approval.

Second to Aruba must be Curacao. It has been run by its own home-grown mafia for generations. Even St Maarten and Aruba could not stand it any longer, and sought and gained separation. So, we read the Curacao press usually with disbelief and dismay. Their political confusion is normally too complex to understand.

A correspondent recently sent me a Curacao story from the Friday August 17 issue of the Daily Herald. It had me spellbound. The new government in Curacao has repudiated a recent increase of salaries for government ministers. That salaries increase had been instituted by the outgoing government. The article read:

WILLEMSTAD--The Council of Ministers has decided to revoke the proposed hike in salaries and new pension agreement for Members of the Island Council and Executive Council in Curaçao. The decision of the Island Council on June 28 to approve the hike is against the general interest of the Netherlands Antilles, Prime Minister Emily de Jongh-Elhage said. Approval of the salary increase immediately sparked widespread criticism from political parties and various sectors in Curaçao. Consequently, Lt. Governor Lisa Richards-Dindial did not sign off and publish the island ordinance.

An editorial in the same issue of the newspaper was even more revealing:

With its decision to revoke the salary hike and new pension scheme for Curaçao’s Commissioners and Island Council members, the Council of Ministers has gone a long way in reassuring the public that the Netherlands Antilles can adhere to principles of proper governance. Once the Advisory Council stated that the June 28 decision by the outgoing Island Council three days before the new council took office was against the penal law, the Islands Regulation ERNA and the general interest, it was clearly the only way to go. Some doubts had risen about the incoming PAR-led governments at both the federal and island level having the guts to reverse the much criticised decision by the former FOL-led coalition, mostly because FOL is also a member of the new coalition with PAR and PNP. The fact that several controversial appointments by the outgoing FOL-led Executive Council were not reversed added to the concern. There was some discussion on forming a committee to look into that matter, but so far little else

Stories appearing on various websites and in newspapers have suggested that in recent times Anguillian government ministers and members of the House of Assembly have increased their salaries on two separate occasions. The most recent one when a general salary increase of 20% was announced. To quote my correspondent:

When we in Anguilla look to Curacao as an arbiter of ethical governance, we're in big trouble.

I am reluctant to post anything about integrity in government when I am under threat of legal action by government Ministers. However, this is such a revealing story that it deserves more air-time. Besides, the purpose of this Blog is to discuss just this sort of issue. It would be very sad if a threat could silence this Blog. But, I ask you to be careful in your comments. My lawyers tell me that I must not be thought of as encouraging malicious comments.

What is your view? Do you believe that we can learn anything from Curacao? Do you believe that our Ministers acted in the interest of the public when they increased salaries?

16 August, 2007

Referendum

Don Mitchell is Opposed to a Referendum. Have you read this thread on the AnguillaTalk Forum? The author claims to be confused and disturbed. I do not know why. I have repeatedly made the point on radio and in print. I have given my reasons each time. To summarise, there are at least two principle objections to deciding on a new Constitution by holding a referendum in Anguilla. Excuse me if you have heard or read this before, but I want to be pellucidly clear.

One, a referendum can only be held under a law which provides the rules. In the absence of a law, there is no way to hold a referendum. A law is necessary to control how many times people vote, or where they vote. In an unregulated referendum, all the problems our Elections Act was put in place to avoid would be able to raise their heads. We have no tradition of holding referendums. Utter confusion would reign. The Swiss hold a referendum on practically every law they pass. They have been doing this for hundreds of years. It is hardly surprising it works well. You can be sure it is governed by a Swiss law. It is countered that we held a referendum before. We can hardly call the 1968 public meeting in the Webster Park, which resulted in a show of hands to adopt the revolutionary Constitution, a real referendum. The event is called a “referendum” in all the literature. That is just a polite expression. If the proposal is that we hold a meeting in the Park to show our approval of the new Constitution, I would have no objection to that. No new Constitution can be adopted without the consent of the people. It is essential that our people show their approval, in overwhelming numbers, of any proposed new Constitution. I believe this can be achieved by going village to village, house to house, if necessary. The proposers of any new Constitution must convince us that the people approve. The British have told us that is a requirement for them before they consent to any new Constitution. This is not an impossible condition to meet. The whole island is not much bigger than a village. The scandalous way in which the 1976 and 1982 Constitutions were snuck up on us must never be repeated. The great suspicion with which constitutional reform is met in some circles in Anguilla must be laid to the clandestine way in which the British and Anguillian Governments of the day pushed these reforms on us without first ensuring they had the support of the public.

Two, referendums have been tried in the West Indies before, and have a poor success rate. The most famous one was the referendum in Jamaica in 1961 on the future of the West Indies Federation. The government of Norman Manley urged the people to vote Yes on the Federation. That government was sinking in popularity, for different reasons. The Bustamante party saw an opportunity to win power by opposing the Federation. They urged their supporters to vote No, for purely political reasons. The government lost the vote. The Federation came to an end. Not that there was any real reason why the Jamaicans should have voted No. It was just that the people would have voted against whatever the government told them to vote. Ever since that, no government in the West Indies has put an issue to the electorate. If I have missed some minor referendum somewhere in the West Indies, you can be sure that it will turn out to have been proposed by an overwhelmingly popular government. A referendum, under our system, will only be put to the people by a government that has a sense that it has the massive support of the people.

How will we prevent what happened in Jamaica from happening to us in Anguilla?

Can I be blamed for suspecting that the people who propose a formal referendum on Anguilla’s new Constitution have a hidden agenda?


14 August, 2007

Transparency

Publicising Cabinet Discussions. A correspondent has sent me the following 2005 news story from Cayman Islands. It provides the basis for understanding their weekly post-cabinet meeting press conferences. It indicates how far they are ahead of us in government transparency. It demonstrates the extent to which we in Anguilla by comparison still live in the dark ages of communication. Our government ministers have repeatedly promised us more transparency and openness. Their secrecy and lack of transparency cause crisis after crisis. Every time there is a crisis they promise things will be different. Nothing changes. Read this and weep for Anguilla:

The weekly Cabinet press briefings, a fixture since the People’s Progressive Movement took office in May 2005, will air live on Radio Cayman and CITN starting in September.

The briefings, which will be limited to one–hour in length in the future, will also move to Thursday at 10am instead of Friday at 10am.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said the changes would improve the press briefings.

“Members of the public will have the opportunity for the first time to hear questions being asked of the ministers by the media, and the ministers’ unedited responses,” he said.

The press briefings will also be rebroadcast on both Radio Cayman and CITN later in the day.

In the past, all five Cabinet ministers would attend the press briefings if they could, even if they had nothing new to report. Under the new arrangement, however, ministers will rotate their attendance at the briefings so that only two or three will make statements at each briefing.

Mr. Tibbetts said the PPM fulfilled a campaign promise and became the first government in the Cayman Islands to meet regularly with the media when it initiated the weekly press briefings.

“This move further demonstrates the PPM Government’s commitment to openness and transparency, to good relations with the media and to communicating its messages accurately and quickly to all segments of the community,” he said.

Copyright © 2004,2005 Cayman Free Press Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Only Hubert Hughes showed us how a leader of government can use the media to communicate his vision and programme to his people. No other administration has ever attempted to follow his lead. He did, in the views of some, abuse his privileged position, when he was head of the government and Minister responsible for the island’s sole radio station. At the time, he seemed to enjoy using the radio to threaten and browbeat those whom he perceived as his enemies.

I can well remember how relieved we all were when Osborne took power, and he promised not to repeat that mistake.

But, has it not gone too far in the opposite direction now?

What would we not give to be told regularly what it is that government is discussing about our affairs and our future!


12 August, 2007

Public Service Commission

Constitutional Discussions 20: Public Service Commission. In independent Commonwealth Caribbean countries, the Public Service Commission, or PSC, is intended to be the body that appoints and disciplines public servants, the civil service. The members of the PSC are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Prime Minister. In an Overseas Territory, the Governor is traditionally in charge of the civil service. He appoints the members of the PSC, frequently without consulting the Chief Minister. Ministers have no say in the hiring or firing of civil servants. All Commonwealth Caribbean West Indians, whether independent or not, recognise the importance of ensuring that our civil servants remain non-political. They are supposed to serve whichever party is in power without fear or favour. If they are politically manipulated, it becomes impossible for that standard to be maintained. In Anguilla, the PSC is provided for in section 65 of the Constitution.

During its public consultations, the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission received many representations concerning the PSC. There was unanimous agreement, even among the politicians, that the public service must remain out of the political domain. There was also unanimous agreement that the Governor’s arbitrary powers over the service should cease. There is a recognised need to localize the public service. One strategy for ensuring political neutrality is to keep the appointment of members of the PSC out of the hands of the politicians.

At paragraph 143 of its Report, the Commission recommended that the appointment of the majority of the members of the PSC should continue to be made by the Governor without reference to either the Chief Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. The public service unions do nominate a small portion of the members of the PSC. The Commission recommended that this should continue. The members of the House of Assembly meeting in caucus at the Limestone Bay Café supported the Commission’s recommendation that the method of appointment of the PSC remain unchanged.

One strategy for ensuring independence in bodies that have quasi-judicial functions is to grant them a term of office long enough to permit them to act free of fear of imminent dismissal. A short term of office is recognised to be unsettling and adverse to independent thought and action. At paragraph 144 of its Report, the Commission recommended that the PSC should be strengthened by extending the tenure of its members from two to five years. That would free them up from the concern that if they acted independently and made politically unpopular decisions they might be removed from office within a very short time.

At paragraph 145 of its Report, the Commission recommended that there be an increased degree of internal self-government. This would be achieved by entrenching in the Constitution that the power of appointment of the members of the PSC be transferred from the Governor to the Deputy Governor. It will be recalled that it had previously been recommended that the Deputy Governor should always be an Anguillian.

It is a matter for some regret that the members of the House of Assembly disagreed with the last two of the above recommendations. They would prefer that the tenure of members of the PSC should be set at a period of three years. This is too short. It would ensure that the fear of dismissal continues to hang over the heads of the members of the PSC, perhaps making them amenable to political pressure. The members of the Assembly also prefer to have the Governor continue to do the appointing to the PSC, and not the Deputy Governor.

The reason for this retrograde step was never revealed. It is a complete mystery to those of us who would like to see some constitutional advancement in this area.


10 August, 2007

Blogging

A Refugee from Carnival. I feel out of touch. London this August has been wet and cold, and far away from home. News from Anguilla is hard to come by. Heartbeat Radio’s 6:30 newscast is broadcast at 11:30 London time. Radio Anguilla is just as bad, with its 7:00 o’clock newscasts. I am not in front of my computer at those times. In the morning, I am in the Public Records Office at Kew photographing Anguilla’s old colonial documents. In the evening, by that time I am asleep.

The gossip columns on AnguillaTalk keep me partially informed. The level of discussion there is too juvenile to keep my attention for long. I usually read one or two threads and give up. The Anguillian Newspaper is published only once a week. By Friday, I have read whatever the latest news is on the website. It will be another week before anything new goes up. The Anguilla Guide Forum has little to interest a resident. It is mainly for tourists. I fall back on the traditional means of keeping in touch in the islands: the drum. It’s modern form is email. So, please keep your messages coming. Or, you can correspond on the Blog itself. I publish every comment, no matter how uncomplimentary. The only ones that are deleted are uncalled-for attacks on other persons.

Personal attacks on me are OK. I do not understand why there have been so few of those!

09 August, 2007

Public Accounts

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Constitutional Discussions 19: The Public Accounts Committee. One of the most important safeguards against waste of public funds is transparent accounting and reporting of government expenditure. The Auditor General in an Overseas Territory such as Anguilla is an external auditor. The word “external” suggests that he is free of influence from our politicians. He is appointed by the Governor without control from any local body such as Cabinet. This ensures that he is independent of our politicians. He reports only to the Governor. The Governor ensures that his Report is laid before the House of Assembly. The committee of the House that works with the Auditor General’s Report is called the Public Accounts Committee, or the PAC. What happens to the Auditor General’s Report after that varies from Territory to Territory. In the case of Bermuda, it is used by the PAC to examine how public funds were spent. Questions are asked. Inefficiencies can be highlighted. By this means, civil servants are encouraged to resist pressure from the Minister to spend funds in a manner that was not authorised by the House when the Budget was passed. For this oversight system to work, there has to be a vigilant and active PAC. It is a notorious matter that the PAC has never functioned in Anguilla. A similar complaint is heard about the PAC even in independent Commonwealth Caribbean countries. That it works well in Bermuda is a credit to the sophistication of that community.

In Anguilla, the PAC is not mentioned in the Constitution. It is referred to only in the Rules of Procedure of the House of Assembly. The Rules provide that the Leader of the Opposition is to be the Chairperson of the PAC. At paragraph 126 of its Report, the Constitutional and Elections Reform Commission made recommendations for the PAC to be strengthened and for it to function more efficiently. One of these recommendations was that the Leader of the Opposition should no longer be the Chair of the PAC. It should be the Speaker of the House or someone appointed by the Speaker. We in Anguilla well know the reason why this should be. There are two principal objections to having the Leader of the Opposition chair the PAC. The first is that the PAC is not meant to be a political weapon. It is meant to be a tool for ensuring transparency and good government. In a highly politicized society such as ours, it is frequently not thought a good political strategy to point out to the government of the day that they are wasting public funds. It may be more politically expedient to permit them to waste funds, and then to use the waste, when elections are next due, as a political weapon in the election campaign. There might as well have been no audit for all the good that does. The second problem is that, with such a small Assembly as we are likely to have for the foreseeable future, we may continue to have a situation where the members of the Opposition are unable to agree on who is to be the Leader of the Opposition. That is the reason why this office has remained unfilled for the past two years. The result is that the PAC cannot be constituted. It ceases to exist.

It is a matter for regret, therefore, that, at its recent caucus at the Limestone Bay Café, the members of the House of Assembly disagreed with the recommendation that the Leader of the Opposition cease to be the chair of the PAC. They agreed that the powers of the PAC should be strengthened. They want to retain this office as one of the perks of the Leader of the Opposition. This even though they know they have never had a PAC that has functioned!


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