29 May, 2008

Big Chief

Government by Laws Rather than by Men. Last Monday, on the Webster Park, during the public meeting to discuss the constitutional reform programme, I thought Brent Davis asked a perfectly reasonable question. I cannot remember his exact words, but it went something like this. He said, “We all know that, at present, if a contractor needs a work permit, and the Immigration Department is refusing it, all he has to do is to go and speak to the Minister personally. If he is a friend and supporter of the Minister, he will get the permit. If he begs hard enough. If he is not a friend, he will not get it. If any Anguillian wants to develop his land in a way the Land Development and Control Committee will not approve, all he has to do is to go to see the Minister. The Minister will tell his Permanent Secretary, who is the Chairman of the Committee, to approve it.

Then, he asked, “How do you expect Anguillians to give you more power over us when you do not have a system in place that is transparent and applies equally to all?

The Chief Minister responded instantly, and, it seemed, from the heart. He was obviously being honest and earnest. He said, “Brent, you know we are all politicians. Civil servants can sometimes be very hard and uncompromising. They do not show flexibility in appropriate cases. We politicians have a softer heart. We listen to our people. We sometimes have to step in and soften the decisions taken by our civil servants.”

My heart sank. The Chief had no idea how bad he sounded. He did not know that his response was the definition of one of the most corrupting systems of government in the world. It is government by big chief, instead of government by law. By defending the system that Brent had just described, he was showing that he was a supporter of it. At the very least, he did not recognise how dangerous and unacceptable it is to a modern, educated people such as the Anguillians of today.

In a democratic, transparent, accountable system of government, it is the duty of Ministers to lay down the national policy. Then, they have to leave it to the civil service to carry out their policy. For appropriate cases, they put in place a system of appeals to an independent board. There can never be allowed a personal appeal to the Minister to reverse an official's decision. The official has a duty to apply government's policy fairly and evenly across the board. To have it otherwise, means that the law and policy are not applied evenly and fairly to all citizens. Victimisation is the inevitable result.

If there is something wrong with the law or policy, change the law or policy. That is what the Ministers can do. That is their role and power. When society becomes accustomed to permitting Ministers to overturn official decisions for their friends and supporters, we begin the long downward slope to arbitrary and dictatorial rule.

The Chief Minister was not alone in not understanding this fundamental rule of fair government. Besides Brent, I doubt there were more than five persons in the crowd on the park that evening listening to that exchange who thought there was something strange about the Chief Minister's response. Most of them seemed to think his response was perfectly normal and correct. In their defence, it is the only system they have known in Anguilla all their lives. They have no knowledge of how government by law is done in other parts of the world.

In defence of our Ministers, it is also true that it is the people who corrupt their system of government. It is not the leaders who start off corrupt. Leaders sometimes come into power with honest and sincere intentions to do good for their people. We then go to visit them, and beg them for special favours. We offer them all sorts of inducements to grant our wish. Sometimes it is our vote, sometimes an envelope of money, sometimes sexual favours. Our leaders know that is how government works in other islands of the West Indies. The risk is that they may come to think it is normal. We live in fear that one day they may give in to the temptation.

We have been fortunate in Anguilla to have had, over the years, men and women in power who were decent and honest. They have stood up to and resisted the temptations. We have not suffered from the type of corruption that has affected so many of our neighbours. We really have been lucky!

Some will say that the island is too small to expect that the standards that exist in the outside world will survive and work here. They shrug their shoulders and say that only in a big country will there be newspaper journalists and radio talk-show hosts who will make it their mission to demand more integrity, transparency and honesty from our leaders. I say that is not true!

No matter how small our community, we are entitled to expect that government will be of law and not of men.


  1. Everyone seems to have caught a fever except Don Mitchell. I know we have been talking about the need for our politicians needing to put their differences aside and lead the country...didnt really expect it to happen. It is creepy... makes me wonder what virus it is going around that has everyone singing the same tune.

    Fellas who couldn't get along even if they tried all of a sudden starting to roam in packs and attacking anyone who would dare to state a different opinion.

    I know exactly what it is, someone is systematically posisoning the ater supply and only a few people who still have their cisterns have managed to aviod it.

  2. Mitch, CM Fleming's answer was almost like saying, "bring candy to class and everyone will be your friend." Davis' question was honest, the reply childlike. When speaking of Anguilla's gov't, the proliferation of scandal can be attributed to two things; a youngster mentality (newer democracy), or the not quite extinct caribbean gov't by "good 'ole boy". Good luck. - Scotty

  3. It is sad that they still beleive in the old system of favoritism in Gov't.I've said repeatedly that it is time for a change of the guard and the CM's response clearly illustrate my point.We need to aggressively go out and educate the older members of our communities as to what is happenening and what changes we intend to bring about.This is the only way to reach them and effect the change we want to acheive.
    I must admit that I am a little bias in all this as I am a die hard supporter of Brent not because he is young and educated but because he has vision and clarity of purpose.
    We must support our young politicians who demostrate that they are willing and able to lead us in the new direction.
    the CMand his breed are a aged and outdated crew who must be replaced.While I appreciate much of the things they have done I have to say that they have run the course and the new era must being

  4. Ya'll only yapping . The only big chief in Anguilla is De Man up Old Ta. Petty favours ain't got nothing to do with real power.

  5. Don, you and your essayists must be aware that there is something called discretion, even in the Law.

    All of you, including Brent, have on occassion requested some Government Minister to address a problem you faced from the Civil Service Staff.To assist you in a situation not to your liking but which may have been in strict compliance with a Law or Regulation. You were all granted your assistance. Its no different now.

    Why the sudden "Virtue"?

  6. The above poster who speaks of discretion misses the point of the entire discussion. Discretion is the very essence of corruption. Discretion is what a master used in dealing with his slaves. Discretion means if I voted for the right people they can excuse me from being governed by the word of the law. And if my neighbour had the misfortune to vote for the wrong people, he gets no favours, or years go by and he is told "we're looking into the matter."

    I want a system where we are treated equally. If the law is unfair to some, I want the ability to go to our leaders and ask that it be changed. And I want them to listen to me because we are all equal, not because they owe me from the last election.

    We are so used to government by favour that we can see no connection between discretion and corruption. Babylon is us.


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