18 August, 2007


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.


  1. Dear Mr Mitchell
    I always read your blog with interest and often find it stimulating. BUt you do not enhance your credibility by purveying outdated stereotypes and misleading information.
    You make some good points in your recent posting about the FCO. Work in the overseas territories is different from mainstream diplomatic work. The FCO recognises this, and is working to develop more specific expertise on the territories and to draw on a wider pool of people to fill jobs concerning them.
    Your description of those who work for the FCO might have been true 100 years ago, but bears no relation to today. The FCO now recruits people from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of different experience.
    Your comments on Mr Le Breton and Mr Godden were plain wrong. A little research would have shown you that Mr Le Breton went on to be Counsellor and Head of Chancery in Nairobi, then High Commissioner in The Ganbia, while Mr Godden retired on leaving Anguilla.
    Andrew George

  2. I have no doubt His Excellency is correct in his description of the careers of Mr LeBreton and Mr Harris. My memory of events nearly 30 years ago is not perfect. But, I believe that Mr LeBreton was transferred from Anguilla to a much lower office, in Mombassa, as we were told. He may have been later promoted to the position of Head of Chancery. He certainly earned it under fire. There cannot be many Commissioners who went through what he did, a dozen rifle bullets through his bedroom window. If it was not Mr Godden, then I cannot recall which Commissioner it was that we were told in the 1980s was transferred on promotion from Anguila to a minor consulate in India.

    The important thing is that, in my view, the FCO does not do enough to raise standards in the Overseas Territories. That is not its fault. I recognise that it is not a training or development agency. It’s job is to represent and to protect the British Government’s interests around the world. If that takes placing intelligence officers in positions of influence, then that is what is done. We all remember the scandal of a couple of years ago when there was an important prosecution in Cayman. It was revealed that an FCO appointee in the government of the Cayman Islands, who was giving evidence, was a spy. The telephones of various local officials had been illegally tapped. The case was, as a result, thrown out of court. I do not have any problem with the FCO doing things like that in foreign countries. I just do not think that makes it the best agency to be in charge of Britain’s interests in a British Overseas Territory.

    My argument is that we ought to take advantage of the upcoming review by the Foreign Affairs Committee to see if we cannot improve our representation in Britain and Britain’s involvement in raising standards in our Third World territories. Because we are only an Overseas Territory, does not mean that lower standards of government should be acceptable to us.

    I would have thought that it was in the interests of the Chief Minister and his government to appoint a high powered advisory committee to come up with recommendations on what sort of representations we ought to be making to the FAC in its meetings later this year. He ought to be liaising with his counterparts in Cayman and Bermuda and the other OTs to see if they can come up with a common strategy. He must want to see standards of good governance, accountability and transparency improve in his Territory. He said as much in his party’s last Manifesto. It should not be difficult to find out how Jersey and the Channel Islands relate to the British Government. Or, how Scotland and Wales relate under the new regime of devolution.

    I recognise that we are completely different from those parts, but there are things to learn from, and now is the time.


  3. Unfortunately, while there are some in the FCO who would like to improve its management practices in the OTs, the reality is that the FCO management sees the OTs as a bother -- places of annoyance, expense, contingent liability or bad press. They cringe at the mention of recent appointments in the South Atlantic Territories where officers revealed themselves not only to be alcoholics, as has been the case in Montserrat and elsewhere, but embarrassing public drunks. Remote Pitcairn made world news when it was revealed that the island was run by child molesters and rapists. The story of the Chagos Islanders, who were forcibly and illegally removed from their islands and sent into exile and poverty is a continuing international embarrassment. Three times the British courts have ruled that they must be allowed to return to their islands, and still the FCO continues to appeal, perhaps hoping that most of the original exiles will be dead by the time the lawyers are through persecuting them.

    It is through leadership that a people succeed or fail. Oppressive “us vs. them” dictatorship creates animosity, inequity, and of course soul deadening apathy. Do not send to know for whom the bell tolls or why the young people are more than a little confused. Look to the quality of the leadership we provide them.

  4. What is needed in Anguilla today is wisdom, the wisdom of a Mandela. Wisdom is the application of reason to ethics and experience. It arises from an understanding of human frailty, from an acceptance that there are no perfect solutions, from a willingness to compromise, from the sublimation of the ego, from respecting those one claims to serve, from forgiveness and compassion. Anguilla has been going through difficult times since the arrival of economic prosperity. Many of us are ambivalent about the future. What is needed now are character and vision to help us understand what has happened and to chart a way forward.


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