22 April, 2008

Anguillian Status

Anguillian Status Commission. We continue our examination of the Commissions and Commissions that are required to oversee our administrators if we are to invest them with increased political powers, amounting to "full internal self-government".

This Commission is the one which decides who is and who is not an Anguillian under the relevant constitutional provision. There is in existance just such a Commission. It was appointed under the Anguilla Constitution 1982. The provision is short. It reads:

80. (1) There shall be an Anguilla Belonger Commission . . ., the composition and functions of which shall, subject to the provisions of this section, be prescribed by law.”

The law in question is the Anguilla Belonger Commission Act c A60. This may fairly be described as a most unsatisfactory law. The complaints made against it include: (a) it is a stooge of the Chief Minister from time to time, implementing his policy moods as they change, depending on the side of the bed he wakes up on; (b) its members have no security of tenure, so they had better follow the Chief Minister's instructions, or they might all be fired; (c) even the Governor can remove the members without cause; (d) it is difficult to find out how to apply to the Commission for your rights to be determined, as it has no website or other publicly published information about it; (e) it seldom meets to do its work, and if it does meet, this is a state secret. It does not release any information about its decisions. How much of this is true is hard to determine. In theory, the function of the Commission is simply to apply the definition of belonger status under the Constitution.

Needless to say, this type of amateur arrangement does not find approval with most Anguillians. The Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission did not make any specific recommendations for upgrading the Commission when it presented its Report of August 2006. However, the entire tenor of the Commission's recommendations was directed to improving independence, transparency and integrity in the work of all Commissions, including this one.

Commissions exist to apply government policy, while ensuring that the guarantees of the Constitution are not infringed.

Commissions remove important decisions affecting the rights and property of persons from the political decision-making process.

Commissions ensure that the Constitution and the law are followed by the administration. Such a dichotomy is a necessary guarantee of our liberties. Anguillians recognise this. The British Government recognise this.

It will not be impossible for us to frame a new constitutional provision that will ensure that this objective is achieved.

One, the new Commission must not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority in the exercise of its functions.

Two, the Governor should appoint the Chairman after consulting with the Premier, not acting on his advice.

Three, no person who has been a candidate for election to the Assembly should be qualified to be appointed.

Four, security of tenure should be enhanced by making their term of appointment five years instead of the present three. Also, the Governor must not be able to remove a member without cause. And, the emoluments of the members must not be subject to government approval.

Five, the Commission should report annually to the Assembly, not to any Minister or the Governor. The Report must be widely published within a specified time. This will not be expensive. It can be done by a novice IT person free of charge on the government website.

The Constitution sets out who is to be an Anguillian and who is not. It is not appropriate for persons close to the Chief Minister or the Governor to have a final say in such an important matter.

It is fine to say that an aggrieved person can always sue.

Have you checked out the cost of litigation in Anguilla recently?


  1. So our next choice is Government by Commissions? Unelected unaccountable non-nationals? Oh Please!!!

    The Majority of Anguillians believe the Status Commission is a stooge not of the Chief Minister but of THE GOVERNOR and THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, neither of whom is an elected representative of the people.

    What we need is transpearancy Mr. Mitchell, not another group of unaccountable people.

    How do we get to a merit based system, where there is rule of law, equality,fairness and Justice for all?

    Unaccountable Commissions will only add to the tunnels of darkness and lack of transpearancy.

  2. Anonymous(first post), when you said merit based system, it reminded me of the "conch" process in the Florida Keys. Who you know, not your qualifications for any certain duty/entitlement, would dictate your position on the "waiting list". If you are indeed a belonger; in Mr. Mitchell you have an ally. His philosophy may fly over the heads of most, but if you can read between the lines, there is no ulterior motive that I can see. He is no martyr, and speaks (writes) about important issues that most on the island would rather not address. Out of fear or apathy, anguillians will not take a stand when it really matters. Be thankful that someone, who some consider an outsider, is making waves. - Scotty

  3. "Our journey from the 1800s to the present is renowned for the transition from a slave society, devoid of human rights, to a free society providing fundamental human rights. But our constitutional and political experiences, thus far, have not been so pronounced and have not provided us with the political rights necessary to enable us to chart our own destiny. Certainly, there have been changes in the structures of our political institutions but more in form, than in substance. And while we have new political structures, the centre of gravity of our politics continues to be the Governor.

    Politics is about power and our Constitution sets out the rules governing the exercise of power. But no matter how these rules have changed political power in Anguilla has always ended up the same place – in the Governor. The more things change, the more they remain the same. And they will remain the same until there is a change in the way we see our politics – until there is a change in our political culture.

    The days of the Vestry were noted for a parochial political culture in which people had no interest in national politics. Almost two hundred years later we have a subject political culture, the hallmark of which is political passiveness. There are no strong feelings towards political issues. And there is hardly any questioning of the policies and actions of our governments; thus the absence of accountability, openness and transparency. Further, because we are a politically passive people, there is no groundswell support for the constitutional and electoral reform process now underway. To think about it, some people may well be saying, “Why bother? In Anguilla, the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

    Copied from the Walter G. Hodge Memorial Lecture 2004 by Colville Petty.


    As Codville Petty also said in his lecture "It is worth noting here that every time the Vestry Act was amended the powers of the Governor were increased, thus diluting further the limited authority of the elected Vestrymen. Actually, the powers of the Vestry were so eroded that it was disbanded in 1883 and responsibility for the island’s day-to-day administration was placed in the hands of a District Magistrate."

    I now make the point that since those times, Anguilla experienced several constitutional and political changes. We have been part of Presidencies and of colonies of one kind or another. We have been in and out of Leeward Islands Federations as well as in and out of the West Indies Federation. We passed through Statehood, declared independence from St Kitts, became an Independent Republic, later a British Dependent Territory and now a British Overseas Territory; and yet, constitutionally and politically, we appear not to have moved far beyond the vestry system of local government.

    It is the Governor who appoints the persons to the Committees and Commissions. It is silly and undemocratic.

    A democratic system would be to increase the number of elected representatives and from that number appoint oversight Committees from persons who are not members of the Executive Council.

    Such an oversight Committee would have noticed that one group of persons had to wait the constitutionally mandated period of years before applying for "belonger status", while another group, were being given status, through what the majority of Anguillians regard as a back door, reportedly in as little as 2 years after arriving in Anguilla.

  4. I might have no problem with the recommendation of Anonymous at 8:01 am above. That is, to have US-style Senate Oversight Committees instead of Commissions and Commissioners. Except for a few things.

    One, and the most important, the suggestion was not tested like the other proposals were during the six-month exercise of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission during 2006. It is a radically new suggestion, and no matter how brilliant, has no validity from the community’s point of view, for the above reason alone. The proposals for the various commissions and commissioners that I have been writing about mostly came out of the representations and recommendations made by Anguillians to the Commissioners in 2006. A few of them emerged in the later revised 2007 Constitutions for the BVI and the TCI. Because they are within the spirit and tenor of the public recommendations made to the Commission, I had no problem adopting them. The proposal for a Senate-type review committee has no such validity.

    Two, the proposal and concept will be unacceptable to constitutional lawyers because they are not within the tradition of our West Indian/Commonwealth Carribbean Constitutions, unlike the Commissions and Commissioners. I am not saying it is not good to think outside the box. I am only saying that it will be so strange as to appear too radical and unacceptable to most lawyers.

    Three, there is no proposal to increase the numbers of the members of the House of Assembly to the extent that the non-Ministers will exist in sufficient numbers and skills to fill the roles proposed to be filled by the Commissions and Commissioners. It would be simply impracticable. Some of the roles, such as the Ombudsman and the Public Service Commission, and the Police Complaints Authority, simply cannot properly be performed by parliamentarians.



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