30 January, 2009

Cops & Robbers

Is our police force up to scratch for the task? Things in Anguilla on the criminal front are bad so far as our tourist industry is concerned. Really bad. From what I am hearing, they are about to get worse. And, I am not sure our police are up to it. I am not saying they are keystone cops. But, some of our citizens are mad as hell at them.

And, let me not be misunderstood. There are some very good police officers. Unfortunately, they are overwhelmed by the numbers of lazy officers among them, and the total lack of leadership at the top.

I am sure we have all heard by now about the two and a half hour conference the police had with members of the much victimised restauranteurs last Wednesday. The meeting was chaired by Police Commissioner Keithley Benjamin. He answered all the questions. Supts Rudolph Proctor and Illidge Richardson had little or nothing to say. I'm told it was all classic Keithley. The body language signified everything. Keithley is hard to understand at the best of times, as he speaks in a muffled, tight-arsed style. On this occasion, he did nothing to make it easy for his audience to understand, far less take confidence in, his mind-numbing platitudes and assurances. For the entire duration of the meeting, he spoke with his elbows resting on the table, and his hands clasped together – in front of his mouth. He generally avoided eye-contact, making sure he was speaking only to his notes on the table in front of him. Several people had to ask him to speak up, all to no purpose. Even with straining to hear, few could understand what he was talking about.

Someone tells me that this type of body language indicates one of two things. Either you lack confidence in the truth of what you are saying. Or, it indicates the speaker's irritation at having been ordered to a meeting that he did not wish to attend.

Keithley referred to the three successful violent restaurant robberies, and the one attempted but repulsed, that have taken place in recent weeks. He suspects there may be a total of eight different individuals involved.

The Minister of Tourism, the Hon Victor Banks', main contribution was to urge restauranteurs not to arm themselves and act like Anguilla is the Wild West. Good advice, if the police can come up with a strategy to protect our restaurants. They are the only businesses likely to be carrying home large wads of cash late in the evening, and must be prime targets for villains of the night. If anyone in Anguilla deserves to be armed for protection, it is restaurant managers carrying home cash late at night. If it was me carrying the cash, I would not exit my restaurant late at night except with a gun in my hand.

A cellphone was found in the vicinity of the Barrel Stay, and one person is in custody over this incident. What he did not say is that it was civilians who discovered the evidence. They had to practically push the police, who responded to the report, out onto the beach to examine the foot prints in the sand.

Both Barrel Stay and Veya victims complained at the meeting that no written statements had been taken from them. They do not know what is happening with the investigation. Police took several hours in each case to examine the crime scene.

Pump House's Gabi was so upset at something that she walked out of the meeting. I must ask her what she was so mad about. I suspect that, as usual, no one in the police force has been in touch with her since the day of the robbery, and she feels frustrated and betrayed.

One classic Keithleyism was his, You do not like us, and you don’t believe in us, but we are still serving you! All the time looking down at his notes, and refusing to look anyone in the face. Well, thanks, I say.

Another, when Keithley was asked if a murder had to happen before things change, was his response, “Well, then, we shall have to find the perpetrator. I understand this pearl of wisdom had the room stunned for a moment. One or two got up and left. They all should have left the room.

Mango Dave was not reported to me to be present. Maybe he was still in the States. It would be useful to learn what his experience with our Royal police has been like since his robbery.

No update on the gun-toting robbers at Caprice Restaurant. But, no update is ever given to victims. That was one of the problems highlighted.

And, now the Koal Keel has been broken into and burglarized. The security guard is reported to have slept through the whole incident. But this is probably an exaggeration.

The one conclusion that everyone came away from the meeting with was that the police have no plan for dealing with the recent upsurge in gun-carrying, machete-wielding thugs. Victim complaints are all to the same effect. Police response time to crimes in progress stinks. Telephone calls are never returned. Written statements are seldom taken. Crime scene evidence is looked for days after the incident, when the crime scene has long been messed up.

All in all, the séance was standard bull-s+++. “Just permit the restaurant owners to let off steam, and then we can go back to business as usual”, must have been the plan.

Or, so I'm told. Maybe some of the participants can correct this impression if I have been misled.

Isn't there a Brinks equivalent who can visit all the restaurants in the island before closing up time with an armed guard and pick up bags of cash and deliver the bags to the banks for a fee? It would only take two vehicles to go out every night. One for the west and one for the east. Zaras is in a lonely spot, and I am sure Shamash's comfort level would increase. I know that most tourists do not bring cash to the island. Most of them use credit cards or travellers' cheques. But, the bandits do not seem to realise this.

As for the suggestion raised at the meeting that the security guards be armed, I recall during Hurricane Omar a sailboat washed up at Sherricks Bay at 3:00 in the morning. The owner sought refuge at one of the damaged villas at Cove Castles until it died down. He returned to his boat at 6:30 and found one of the security guards and another person at his boat “checking to make sure no one was hurt”. Later, examining the contents, he found his camera, video cam, binoculars, radio and gps missing. He confronted the guard, who got really indignant and walked away. He called the police and filed a report of the theft. You know the rest of the story. End of story.

Good luck with arming security guards!

28 January, 2009


Slave labour on the rise in Anguilla. The Chief Minister said to all of us in Anguilla just a few days ago that in these depressed economic times, it was necessary for the government to give preference to Anguillians over foreigners. He advised any foreign worker who was holding down a job that an Anguillian could do to leave our shores. He warned any unemployed foreign worker to leave the island immediately.

From the complaints that have been made to me, it seems that some of our legal foreign workers are being exploited mercilessly.

It is not as if this activity is new to Anguilla. How can we forget the amusement we all enjoyed back in the 1990s when Island Harbour fishermen took their boats to St Martin each morning. At the dock in Marigot they would hire Haitian illegal immigrants to dive for conch and lobster in deep water with defective scuba equipment. The Haitians were glad for the $5.00 a day they were offered. If one or two did not make it back to the surface, there was no one to complain. And, our fishermen’s bank accounts grew fat on the proceeds.

According to the Chief Minister’s PS, Foster Rogers, the number of work permits issued last year is 4,200. That is a lot of work permits for little Anguilla. That is about one third of our population [not counting the one thousand-odd Chinese and Indian workers who were initially confined to their containerized ghettos until our lax to non-existent enforcement authorities let them out to roam all over the island looking for work. For all statistical purposes, they are ghost workers who do not count.]

Some of our Anguillian building contractors learned from our fishermen. The construction industry is the major engine that drives the economy of Anguilla. Our building contractors like to employ foreign workers in preference to Anguillians. There are a number of reasons for this.

One, Vincentians, Dominicans, and St Lucians are docile and manageable. Unlike some annoying Anguillians who insist on being treated with fairness. Actually, best of all, these foreigners live in a state of perpetual terror of deportation.

Two, they are better qualified and more skilled than the average Anguillian unemployed construction worker, drug-dependent, semi-literate, lazy, school-reject that he tends to be. Technical workers from off-island go to trade school and get a certificate of competence. Ours are more likely to just drop out of school and demand a pass by the nearest rum shop at 7:00 in the morning on the way to work.

Three, they are so grateful for a job. We can pay them half of what we bill for their work, and pocket the balance. And, sweetness of all, we can make them in their desperation pay for their own work permits.

Four, we do not have to pay them their statutory holiday pay or overtime rates. Unless we get caught for not paying it. And, then, the worst thing that will happen is that we’ll be forced to pay them what we should have paid in the first place. With no penalty or disincentive. In this way, government actually encourages employers to rip off their workers.

Five, we can easily avoid the need to pay social security for them. We can even deduct from their pay their social security contribution, and then pocket it. Who in Social Security bothers to check construction sites? When was the last time you heard of anyone in Anguilla being prosecuted for any contravention of the Social Security statutes?

Six, job-hopping is strictly prohibited. They are indentured to you for the duration of the time they are permitted to be remain and be exploited in Anguilla.

Seven, the moment they complain, with the help and cooperation of the Immigration Department and the Labour Department you can fire them and have them deported from the island. Just claim you have no more work for them. Or, you can no longer afford them, and, pouff . . .

Eight, it helps if your cousin is Russel Reid, the Labour Commissioner.

Come on, Russel, we expect higher standards from you. No, they are not going to come to your office and complain in person to you. Not if they want to keep their jobs. You have to take the initiative and look out for their interests. You are expected to go out to the job places and check the employers’ books to see how well they are complying with our laws and regulations. Check with the workers personally, and in private. You have to double check your findings with Social Security. That is what you have all those inspectors for.

I am sure that the Chief Minister did not mean that it was OK for us to cruelly and illegally exploit foreign workers from our sister West Indian islands.

24 January, 2009


Passing the 100,000 visit mark. I nearly missed it. While I was in St Kitts attending the 90th birthday of my aunt, this blog celebrated its 100,000th visit. That is worth some sort of celebration. Join me in raising a glass to Corruption-free Anguilla.

I have configured the site meter so that it does not include my visits in the statistics. If I visit the blog four or five times a day, eg, to post comments, then my four or five visits are not counted in the statistics.

How it counts other persons I have never bothered to find out. It is very likely that if you visit once and then “refresh” five times, that will count as six separate visitors. I do not know if the figures are misleading in that way. It is possible that if you post a comment, then visit five or six times to see if anyone has responded to your comment, that will count as five or six separate visits. I do not know.

Even so, I am honoured that several of you have seen it fit to spend a few minutes each week visiting.

I am especially indebted to those of you who have posted explanations, elaborations, and even criticisms. They have all added to the interest. And, I have learned a thing or two.

My thanks to all of you.

PS: I stopped just in time spelling it “millstones”.

21 January, 2009

Access Tsar

Hon Donna Banks “Access Tsar” of Anguilla. There was much hoopla when we read in the 12 January edition of The Anguillian: “If all goes well, as planned, there will be a solution in the near future to the difficulty of full airlift from Puerto Rico into Wallblake Airport, Anguilla.” Great news.

But then I read on: “Hon Banks spoke about certain guarantees which the Anguilla Government were expected to meet in accordance with the new flight arrangements to the island.” Oh-oh – this sounds expensive, I thought.

I continued to read: “Replying to a question, Ms Banks said that the start of the service was being promoted for February 14 and it was hoped that Kirby Hodge would be in a position to secure the necessary finances for the aircraft. It is understood that such a 1900 D Turboprop Beechcraft would cost in the region of three million US dollars.”

Now the article really had my attention – How was Mr. Hodge going to find financing in today’s current economic climate? And, US$3 million for a turboprop plane? Sounds pretty expensive to me. And, service starting in one month when there is no financing, FAA clearance, insurance – not even a plane?

I thought I’d better investigate.

It turns out that the press release was only what the public was being told – there was actually a “secret” committee sending out “secret” emails that told a totally different story. At a board meeting on 13 January, after suitable prayers for direction by Anguilla’s Access Tsar, the Hon Donna Banks, an Air Services Development Programme was agreed by those present. It was decided to call a general meeting of the members of the Anguilla Hotel and Tourism Association for 21 January to try to persuade them to agree on the funding of the purchase of this aeroplane. It was also agreed to recommend funding of US$4.3 million for operating costs, with US$3.87 million, or US$322,500 per month, guaranteed by the government of Anguilla.

According to the plan, Cap Juluca, CuisinArt, Viceroy, and Island Dream Properties will pay the lion’s share of financing this private airline. But, restaurants and “allied members” will too.

It is appropriate for a number of questions to be asked in these very difficult times. Aircraft are being repossessed left and right. What is the great urgency in grabbing this wonderful offer before someone else does? Why the pressure for an instant decision? Why not just lease an aircraft instead of purchasing one?

Anguilla does not usually issue contracts of this size without competitive bidding. There are several Anguillians who can operate air services. Have they been invited to put in a bid? Is the Anguilla Tourism Board not required by law to use the Tenders Board before they can give out contracts to whoever smiles at them and talks sweetly?

And, why give this "no bid" contract and revenue to a Charlotte Amalie company? Would it not be better for all of us to give the contract to a locally based business? That would keep the revenue as well as all the ancillary support business for ourselves.

Even if Rainbow is a great option, should not the members of the AHTA be given the opportunity to explore all options before the Access Tsar presents them with a fait accomplis and literally hands them the pen to sign on the dotted line?

Why try to mortgage all the little hotels in Anguilla? Just so we can have what amounts to a national airline? Do these people not know the history of national airlines in the West Indies? Have they already forgotten the enormous deficits they have incurred for the governments and people that have guaranteed their expenses?

How is Kirby Hodge going to get financing for a venture like this when no one else is getting financing for anything? How is he going to get the ‘plane purchased, insured, FAA clearances, and landing and gate clearances in 30 days for a February 14 start up? If they are lucky, by the time this is all set up, the season will be over.

And, what happens when in one month’s time American Eagle says, “We are adding two more flights to Anguilla”, and drops the fare? Does this fellow get a free ‘plane when the service goes bankrupt?

Does the Tourist Board think that setting up a service like this is like buying a used car? You just get a licence and off you go? What have they been smoking?

Even if it was a private enterprise, with no backing from anyone, these ventures take years to show a profit. Does Donna really think there will be 38 people just waiting to get on this ‘plane’s two flights? And, that the same thing will be repeated every day, for ever? And, Anguilla is expected to guarantee Mr Hodge US$8,000.00 per trip, or US$16,000.00 per day?

Has ExCo already approved this initiative?

Is there pressure to announce the service, which does not yet exist, at the upcoming New York marketing meeting?

Posts on various Anguilla forums indicate that the Rainbow International service was formally “announced” before Christmas. It has already reached an international audience.

Two postings on Anguilla Guide indicate that at least they are not taking people’s money. So, Islander posts, “Has anyone actually booked seats on Rainbow at the above rates? I am hearing conflicting stories about the reality of this new service?” Then, Beach Court Villa posts, “With great anticipation, I contacted Rainbow International Airways to purchase seats for the SJU-AXA legs. To my great disappointment, the hoped-for start date of around February 12, 2009 will not be realised. No one there would venture to estimate a new start date, which leads me to fear that it is quite some way off. What a shame for the owners and for all of us whose schedules have been so disrupted by AA and AE.”

All I can say is, this seems to me like a disaster waiting to happen.

But, according to Ms Banks, this is all secret. It is not for “public consumptions [sic]” by persons other than those designated to be on the committee.

Maybe, this will all come out when we get our new Freedom of Information Act?

20 January, 2009

Soft Opening

If Victor is counting on the closing fees at Viceroy to make up his 3% increase in the budget, he will be in trouble. The word on the street is that the planned April “soft opening” at Viceroy is off. Yes, I know that the date you last heard about was Christmas, 2008, then April. But, I am reliably informed that was changed to June without anyone officially telling us about it. Now, even the June date is said to be in doubt. I checked with Viceroy’s liason officer. He assures me that all is on schedule for the soft opening in April.

According to the newspaper report of the Hon Minister of Finance’s presentation on the Budget speech for 2009,

“He said the increase in revenue of $4 million over the 2008 figure was mainly expected from Stamp Duties resulting from alien landholders’ licenses to be issued to purchasers of real estate when the Viceroy project opens for operation in 2009.”

It would be interesting to try to do the math to see what kind of sales they need to generate this kind of revenue!

So, how are the World Class Pools coming on? I have been informed that several of the large pools have been given to local contractors for completion because World Class is way behind schedule. Good to see our local contractors get the business rather than the “professionals” from off-island!

Why are the managers being reassigned? I presume it is because there is nothing here for them to do.

How can they open in April when the restaurant they built on the point will have to be redone? The ground seas that I am told swept through it in December must have cooked the wiring by now.

And, how are the law suits coming along?

Claim No. AXA/HCV No. 2008/0051 - Thomas P Lydon and Sharon K Lydon -v- Barnes Bay Development Limited and Stewart Title Eastern Caribbean. The Claimants are represented by Webster Dyrud Mitchell, the 1st Defendant by Keithley Lake & Associates, and the 2nd Defendant by Caribbean Juris Chambers.

Claim No. AXA/HCV 2008/0061 - Mark Frederickson -v- Barnes Bay Development Ltd (dba Viceroy Resorts & Residences (Anguilla). The Claimant is represented by C.R Hodge & Associates, and the Defendant by Keithley Lake and Associates.

Anyone want to guess what the suits are about?

18 January, 2009

Not Happening

Who is Robert FX Sillerman? He is very big stuff, a media and entertainment billionaire in the USA. For years, he dealt in millions of dollars like you and I deal in tens and hundreds. Through his company, CKX Inc, he was acquiring the majority rights to Graceland, the Elvis Presley Estate, as well as the assets of Simon Fuller’s “American Idol”, part of the Idol franchise which airs in more than 100 countries. In 1990, when Sillerman and his wife celebrated their 25th anniversary, he presented her with US$100 million to launch her charity, the Tomorrow Foundation. Additionally, for what it’s worth, he owns the rights to the name, image and likeness of Muhammad Ali.

Robert FX Sillerman

And so we come to Anguilla, and Sillerman’s flagship Flag Luxury Properties, and its associated Temenos Golf Club. This has been advertised to consist of a 114-room hotel with an 18,000 sq ft spa and fitness centre, 50 oceanfront residences, 18 “estate homes”, 10 villas, 38 spa villas, and a Greg Norman-designed golf course.

Greg Norman at the 2003 groundbreaking ceremony

The hotel was originally projected in 2003 to be coming on stream in 2006.

Local dignitaries at the 2003 groundbreaking

In the event, the golf course and club house were both ready by 2006. But, not any part of the hotel or villas.

Club house and golf course at its 2006 opening

We in Anguilla have been holding our breaths since St Regis dropped out of the picture and was replaced in January 2008 by Baccarat Hotels and Residences. We wondered about those villa purchasers who had invested mainly on the promise that St Regis was to manage the Temenos property. What would they think, and, more importantly, what would they do?

Late last year, even before the markets crashed and the world economies began to be exposed to fears of recession and depression, catastrophe struck. In August, we learned that the entire project was suspended indefinitely. All the hoopla about the resort being branded as a Baccarat Hotel has fallen through. I have my doubts that Baccarat is any longer associated with the closed hotel project. Once the announcement was made of Baccarat’s involvement, a website had immediately gone up. Over last summer, the website went completely inactive. Now the Baccarat hotels website does not even link to or mention anything about Baccarat Anguilla. Nor does the Temenos Anguilla website have any mention of the Baccarat hotel. All references to it have been removed.

Feverish moves during the last half of 2008 to obtain the necessary further financing to complete the project do not appear to have resulted in any real progress. And, now the world economies are sliding into a depression that is estimated by many commentators to be likely to last for at least the next year, perhaps two or three years. Meetings between the principals of Temenos and the government of Anguilla as recently as this month have not produced any news of new funding coming on stream to permit the project to pick up steam again. The construction company, Ashtrom, have departed, and the imported Chinese workers packed and housed 20 to a container are slowly trickling back to Beijing.

Meanwhile, in December 2008, the Hon Victor Banks presented a budget for Anguilla for the year 2009 of EC$339 million. This record amount was intended to meet the growing cost of Anguilla’s public services and capital programme for the coming year. As Mr Banks explained, his budgeted increase in revenue of $4 million over the 2008 figure was mainly expected from stamp duties resulting from alien landholding licences to purchasers of real estate when the Viceroy/Mubadala project opens for operations in 2009. Flag Luxury Properties was conspicuous by its absence from mention in the budget.

So, I wondered, what has really happened to block Flag Luxury Properties out of the Minister of Finance’s Anguilla budget calculations? Where is Mr Sillerman and his billions of US dollars in all of this? I did a Google search for Robert FX Sillerman. Fortunately for us, when you are a public company or a public figure in the United States, most of the information on you is published on the internet. This information is required by law to be public information. Go ahead, you can do it too! This is what is out there:

Credit Suisse was the last lender to the project that I could find. They put in a reported US$180 million in March 2006. Sillerman reportedly came up with additional financing for the project at the same time. The project was originally estimated to cost some US$200 million. So far, a reputed US$500 million has been invested.

Flag Luxury is owned by a company called FX Luxury. Flag Luxury, FX Luxury and FX Real Estate are so intertwined that I have been unable, even after multiple readings of this website, to untangle the relationships. Perhaps you can do better.

From yet another site, we learn who the directors of FX Real Estate are. They are, principally, Robert FX Sillerman as Chairman and CEO, Paul C Kavanos as President, and Barry A Shier as Chief Operating Officer. Sillerman is the founder of SFX Entertainment from which he made most of his money, upto and including its sale to Clear Channel Communications in August 2000. Kavanos is the founder of Flag, and previously developed Ritz-Carltons in the USA. Shier is an old pro in the gambling and hotel industries, having served in various capacities for Mirage Resorts and Golden Nugget of Las Vegas.

More searching of the internet reveals that FX Real Estate is not doing well. In the past year alone, its shares have dropped in value from US$8.00 to 10c.

FX Real Estate

An SEC filing of 5 November 2008 tells us that FX Real Estate appears to have lost its option to acquire the Elvis Presley Estate.

Subsequently, a December 2008 release informs us that FX Real Estate has defaulted on a US$475 million loan from Credit Suisse. As a result, the company appears to be at risk of losing its Las Vegas properties. It seems to me that these business reverses must negatively impact Mr Sillerman's ability to find the further resources needed to revive the Flag project in Anguilla.

Various government press conferences and speeches in the House of Assembly in November and December of last year indicate that some five to six million US dollars are owing to local creditors alone. Chinese workers abandoned by their employer on the island claimed they had not been paid for several months before they were picked up and deported. Word is that they were sent home, at government expense, after some of them began to threaten that they would complain to the nearest Chinese Embassy. The Blanchard-operated Zurra Restaurant is closed. All its signage has been taken down. Ashtrom, the general contractors for the project, have packed up their bags and left the island. The golf course was closed down, though the maintenance crew was kept on with the slimmest of budgets.

All in all, it is not surprising that the Hon Minister of Finance has ceased to factor into his projections for income in 2009 the Flag Luxury Properties hotel development project at Cove Bay. The Flag project is not likely to be completed anytime soon.

The likelihood is that Sillerman & Co have much more important business to attend to than little old Anguilla and its over-ambitious golf course. Unless, cynical and unworthy thought though it is, he was banking on buying out the Credit Suisse debt and his partners' equity on the cheap? Little hope of that. The law suits alone will likely take years to settle.

Now, the word on the street is that the remaining golf course workers have not been paid for weeks, and are very upset and worried about their future. Who can blame them?

So, who is thinking of playing golf now?

17 January, 2009


Anguilla has been presented with the means to prevent the British Government from abusing us in the future. Those of you who are following the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts to negotiate a new constitutional arrangement with the few remaining British Overseas Territories who have not yet adopted a new Constitution, will have noticed the report that the British negotiating team is meeting with the Cayman Islands team in early February to hammer out the final issues. The British team is expected in Anguilla shortly after that to enter into preliminary discussions with the Government of Anguilla. [Quite what the discussions will be about is unknown to all Anguillians, since the Cabinet and the members of the House of Assembly have been strangely quiet about what exactly it is they have been agreeing to for the past several months. We gather that the major thrust of the Chief Minister’s Committee is to go for “full internal self-government”. But, what exactly does that will mean for us the people in terms of Constitutional drafting is a State secret.]

So, it is amazing to see by comparison the openness, frankness, transparency, and sheer ingenuity with which the government of the Cayman Islands are treating the constitutional issues that confront them. They debate every issue in public, not in secret, as we do.

Caymanian Compass has a fascinating article summing up these remaining issues between the British government and the Cayman Islands government. The article reveals that there are ten issues which remain. Only one of them caught my fancy. That is a demand that the Constitution provide that the Governor shall be obliged to act at all times in the best interests of the people of the Cayman Islands. The consequence of such a provision is pellucidly clear. It wourld mean that the British Governor of Anguilla would be required for the first time to take our side in any argument with the FCO on any decision of the FCO that adversely affects our rights.

The British contend that this is a “novel proposition”.

However, if we wish to avoid the trap of being treated as the Chagossians were recently by both the British Government and the House of Lords under the fascist Lord Hoffman, then this is the most interesting constitutional proposal that I have seen yet. It would provide us with a mechanism that would assist us in protecting ourselves from being abused in the future by the British Government. We will have a most influential ally in our dealings with the FCO, employed by them though he is.

Will our leaders have the wisdom to consider, if not adopt, the Cayman Islands demand?

I have no doubt that the Anguillian public would, if they were consulted, support such a proposal.