18 September, 2007


Full Internal Self-government: Members of the Concerned Citizens Group on the Chief Minister’s Negotiating Team have raised this issue of “going for full internal self-government”. They have argued that it is fundamental to their involvement with the Team. Members of the Team have shown a willingness to embrace the proposal. I have objected to the proposal as a mere cliché, meaning it is not really helpful to our present exercise for constitutional advance. On further reflection, I realize my objection is more fundamental. I want to set out some of my thoughts here.

Full internal self-government in a British colonial context means having the people be responsible for all aspects of their government, save, traditionally, for security, defence, and diplomatic relations. This was the constitutional relationship that we had when we were part of the Associated State of St Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla in 1967.

Members of the CCG have argued that we cannot go to the British to negotiate unless we have settled the fundamental issue of the type of relationship that we want to have with them. They have suggested that the issue must be spelled out clearly first. Only then can we sensibly begin to design a Constitution that reflects our true needs. They have urged that, short of independence, the only realistic constitutional situation for Anguilla is full internal self-government. Their position, if I can paraphrase, is that the piecemeal approach in the Constitutional Commission's Report is flawed and needs to be abandoned. This can be called for short-hand, the Concerned Citizens' Group's position.

The Hon Chief Minister was motivated to postpone the planned discussions with the British. Not all of us were happy with this development. Some of us have major reservations about the postponement.

Some members of the team have argued that we cannot begin to draft a new Constitution providing for full internal self government unless we first put to the people the choices they have. Do they want to remain a full British Colony? Are they ready for full independence? Or, would they want to advance to an intermediate stage of full internal self government? This, for shorthand, can be described as the Hon Eddie Baird’s position.

Others on the Team have argued that since the government and the opposition are in favour of full internal self-government, and since the people have in the views reflected in the Constitutional Commission’s Report essentially expressed themselves in favour of this advance, it is appropriate that we draft a suitable Constitution and put it to the people in a referendum. This can be described as the Hon Hubert Hughes’ and the Hon Chief Minister’s position.

Others have urged that we cannot proceed further unless we see separate draft Constitutions for Anguilla demonstrating all the features of the various options. Only then will people begin to appreciate what the options are. This can be described as the Rev Dr Niles’ position.

All these different suggestions involve postponing the advances that were recommended by the Constitutional Commission’s Report. This postponement may last for years. This delay is not acceptable to some of us.

There are major problems with this idea of delaying constitutional advance until we have got full internal self-government enshrined in our Constitution. There is no doubt that Anguillians are ready for full internal self-government. That is what the Commission found. That is reflected in the Commission’s Report. What the Commission also found was that this advance will only be acceptable to the people if it is balanced by a complete plank of checks and balances on the powers of the government. This condition or reservation was deep-seated and widespread, and came up in one forum of discussion after another.

Full internal self-government does not just mean more power in the hands of Ministers. It also means that the people and their democratic institutions share power with Ministers in exchange for the British giving up their previous supervisory powers. It means that we will no longer rely on the energy and courage of an individual Governor to restrain Ministers. We have learned to our cost that does not work. We will replace that failed system by an improved one of increased accountability and transparency on the part of Ministers.

Full internal self-government does not only mean excluding the Governor from Cabinet. It also means:

1. Ministers having to expose their workings more to the people;

2. an independent Civil Service Commission, and Police Service Commission taking the place of the Governor’s discretion;

3. having a Freedom of Information Act so people can find out more easily what is going on;

4. putting in place anti-corruption and integrity legislation and institutions;

5. having an Ombudsman to help the people get justice when the administration behaves improperly;

6. making Cabinet meetings generally open to the public;

7. prohibiting sale of government land without a resolution of the House of Assembly;

8. making the Planning Committee independent of Ministerial over-rule, but with provisions for the citizen to appeal unreasonable decisions to an appeal tribunal and to the court;

9. entrenching the grant of work permits and Belonger certificates in professional boards and tribunals, and not subject to political influence.

Without these checks and balances, full internal self-government could result in increased abuse of the people. It has done so nearly everywhere else.

What is required is a trial period of effective internal self-government. The Report of the Constitutional Commissioners recommends a series of reforms that place practical self-government in the hands of Ministers and other Commissions and institutions. If it works for a period of time, then the people will almost certainly have developed sufficient confidence in our politicians. They may then be ready to entrust them with the responsibilities that go with full internal self-government.

It is not that Anguillians are not ready for full internal self-government. On the contrary, Anguillians consider that it is long overdue. It is that the people are not sure that Ministers are ready for the responsibilities that full internal self-government will bring. Anguillians have more reason to fear political abuse from their own Ministers than from British neglect or abuse. That is one of the reasons why neither the people nor the Commissioners advanced the idea of proposing “full internal self-government” in the Report. The Commissioners were satisfied that a majority of Anguillians want a reduction in the powers of the Governor, with more powers and responsibilities given to Ministers, but with checks and balances in place to ensure those powers are not abused.

This last can be called Rev Cecil Weekes’ and Don Mitchell’s position. I believe that is the position of all thinking Anguillians.


  1. I would add to your excellent list of check and balances an open meeting law, providing that no decisions by any body meeting in secret are legal and binding.

    There are many exceptions, of course -- good reasons why I don't want the medical difficulties of my pregnancy discussed in a public meeting, or matters affecting a pending police investigation or pending litigation involving government. These exceptions have been listed in open meeting legislation elsewhere and we can do the same. But there is no good reason why my application to hire a Bulgarian electrician or to add a garage to my house needs to be heard in secret.

  2. Excellent work! With regard to the sale of public land, may I suggest changing "sale" to "transfer," thus including leases of more than one year, exchanges, mineral extraction rights, etc.

  3. Don,

    Great Points! Our small group has also being advocating that there is no diference between Full Internal Government and Free Association. I would like to ask the CCG to name one country in the world that had a referendum on a Constitution before that COnstitution was drafted.

    Another classic case of why we need a complte change in leadership for ANguilla. None ofe those elected can think without being led by the collar.

    Even the Iraqis got to vote in a referendum on their COnstitution after it was drawn up. My people don't allow delyaers to handicap your freedom to think clearly.

  4. St. Helena, an Overseas Territory that's run as if the people still live on a plantation, had a referendum on a constitution before it was drafted. This was about three years ago. Asked whether they would be able to approve it after it had been written, they were told no. They wisely voted against it.

  5. Seems to me Cayman ISlands, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos and all the other small islands are doing great with their own court system. Eastern caribbean Supreme Court has failed these little island. NO wonder the Privy Council has to rule against them in so many cases.

    I am now totally against the ECSC and ECCB. Anguilla needs to charter its own legal and financial path.

  6. honorable Mitchell as always you are on point with your thinking and your objective view points are commendable.That our Constitution need over haulling is obvious but our people are still hesitant to take a position towards this.We need not be afriad to venture down this path be cause we have capable guardians such as yourself ,Dame Lake and other who I am positve will make certain constitution has the necessary checks and balances imbedded in its core.I applaud your efforts to enlighten us on this critcal issue.
    When all is said and done honorable citizens as you all will never be forgotten.We all are proud to be Anguillians and want to ensure that our fundamental rights and freedoms are protected and guaranteed by our constitution.I also applaud all who contrbute or will contribute to its creation.We must stand united in this quest and draft a constitution for the people.Both sides of the social spectrum must make worthwhile contributions in its construction.This must be done with care and thoughtfulness to prevent destruction of our way of life.

  7. "crying soul." posts tiresome and uninformed platitudes. Dame Bernice, who is contending to be the biggest obstructionist since the Golden Age of Hubert, has shown little interest in checks and balances. We are not united, and preaching that we "must be" will not change this. I have heard a thousand viewpoints on our constitution but not a one has expressed hesitancy in "over haulling" it. There is every evidence that many young people are NOT "all proud to be Anguillians" and in fact this seems to be a root cause of their negative behaviour. I have no idea what the two side of the "social spectrum" are, or even what this means. Neither do I know how a constitution can prevent the destruction of our way of life, especially since most of it is already dead and gone.

    "Only the educated are free." --Epictetus


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