02 March, 2008


Almost There: Falklands Should Have a Constitution by Mid-year. That was the headline that caught my attention. As I read the story by Juanita Brock in SARTMA.com, I realised again how much we in the British Overseas Territories have in common. Our expectations regarding self-determination; integrity, transparency, and good government; and who and who is and who is not a “belonger”; are deeply shared. Billy Adams and his colleagues in the Cayman IslandsPeople for Referendum movement struggle over these issues in their own territory. Montserrat is understandably not very organised at the moment. But, generally, our struggles are shared.

So, I was interested to read the issues that consume the Falkland Islands representatives in their present negotiations with the British over their new Constitution. There are some sticking points that they have yet to resolve. The Falkland Islanders refer to them as “anomalies”. What is the definition of who is eligible to Falkland Islands Status? What is to be the relationship between the Governor and ExCo and LegCo? Under what circumstances can the Governor go contrary to their decisions? How can we improve the functioning of our parliament? What role will locals play in the appointment of senior British officials to the Falkland Islands? Can we preserve the integrity and independence of the civil service while at the same time localizing decisions on their appointment and terms of service? Will we permit non-government persons to look into public accounts? Will we introduce muscular integrity legislation and a properly funded complaints commission? We share these concerns with the Falkland Islands and the Cayman Islands.

We in Anguilla have yet to hammer out our own stance. We need to satisfy ourselves that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. The 2006 Report of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission provides an indigenous hymn sheet. It is a summation or distillation of the views of those Anguillians who expressed an interest in the subject. No doubt, there are some points that were missed during the island-wide discussions that led up to it. There are, undoubtedly, some points in the Report that are even misguided. But, all in all, it represents a major achievement in formulating an advanced, locally produced, bundle of constitutional proposals. That entire process is now at risk.

There are influential nay-sayers who seek to undermine the Report. They have agendas of their own. They have no interest in promoting the proposals of the people of Anguilla as advanced by the Commission. The fear must be that they may succeed in the long run in sabotaging the Report.

But, what they cannot take away is the integrity of the process that produced the Report. It was formulated out in the open, in a transparent process, where everyone who was interested could see for themselves how the proposals were being developed and were being transformed by public discussion and intervention into the final Report. Each discussion paper was put up on the Commission’s website. Thousands of copies were printed and circulated throughout the island for the benefit of those who did not want to go on-line. Each revised edition of every discussion paper went through the same process. The Commission met with each and every organ of civil society to discuss the issues that concern the members of those bodies. The public was saturated with the discussion on constitutional issues over a six-month period.

Then, the politicians took over. Discussions now go on in secret, one year and six months after the final Report was delivered to the government. There is justifiable public suspicion over the present discussions on “full internal self-government” that are going on behind closed doors. These discussions are private, almost conspiratorial, creating heaven knows what new proposals in the “smoke-filled back-rooms” that we all despise so much.

Will these new proposals be dropped on a stunned and unsuspecting Anguillian public some day in the future?

Will any new proposals be rushed past the noses of an uncomprehending and unresponsive Anguillian public, with an announcement that we are all in agreement?

Will Anguillians who are genuinely concerned about transparency and good government be able to tell the substance from the froth and rise up in protest?

Or will it be the usual smoke screens and optical illusions that lull us into acquiescence?

Will all our efforts to secure a better system of government for Anguilla prove to have been wasted?

If we are not vigilant, then there is every chance that this is just what will happen.


  1. On the government web site http://gov.ai we find a message from the smiling Chief Minister. He has a great smile. Up until a few months ago, there was a message above his picture that said "Openness, Transparency, Good Governance and Accountability". It has been removed.

    What does this mean?

  2. Mr Mitchell, once again I commend you and the rest of the team for the Report which put together, but what is happening now is the reason why so many Anguillians did not bother with the whole process. Over a year and a half since the report has been submitted and the Government seem to be dragging its feet. They have their own ideas for what they feel should be in the constitution and are completely disregarding the wishes of the few persons that participated in the process.

    If this is the way they are going to behave they have confirm people's beliefs of the process and it is going to be extremely difficult to get Anguillians to participate in such an exercise again in the near future.


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