09 July, 2008

FAC Fallout

Mitchell and Wiggin unjustly accused of being traitors to Anguilla. The Foreign Affairs Committee has recently published its long-awaited report into the governance of the overseas British territories by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The FAC makes a number of recommendations for Anguilla. One of them is:

“We recommend that the [British] Government should encourage the Anguillan government to establish an independent inquiry into allegations that Anguillan ministers accepted bribes from developers in the Territory. We also recommend that the [British] Government should urge the Anguillan government to use the opportunity of constitutional review to introduce stronger anti-corruption measures in the Territory.”

The Hon Chief Minister and the Hon Minister of Finance have given a press release. They have said that Harry Wiggin and Don Mitchell are responsible for the allegations of corruption. The suggestion has been made that Mitchell and Wiggin do not have the best interests of Anguilla at heart.

So, my question is, what justification is there for Harry Wiggin and Don Mitchell to be accused in this way?

Just for background, the FCO is a department of the British Government. It is responsible for appointing governors of the overseas territories, and generally for keeping an eye on how the islands govern themselves.

The FAC, on the other hand, is a committee of British politicians who report directly to Parliament. It is the committee of the British legislature that keeps watch on the Foreign and Commonwealth department of the British government. It is similar in some ways to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the US.

The FCO and the FAC are, so to say, on the opposite sides of the fence from each other. One is part of the executive branch of government. The other is a part of the legislative branch of government. In any system of good checks and balances, one branch of government keeps watch on the other. It criticises as necessary. That is what the FAC was doing when it invited persons to make submissions, and later produced its report.

Before we come to the recommendations about Anguilla, a little more background is necessary. On Tuesday 26 June 2007, some of the Indian contract workers at the Viceroy project at Barnes Bay laid down their tools and went on strike. I published a story on their complaints over pay and working conditions. The Anguillian Newspaper published a story on it. The Indians and their Anguillian supporters were still demonstrating outside the Labour Department Office the following day. Many Anguillians joined in the demonstration. They brought them water and food as the Indians sat in silent protest. Questions began to circulate in the island about who had authorised slave wages and conditions in Anguilla.

At the end of the second day of protest, the Chief Minister announced a settlement. We thought the grievances of the Indians had been met, and the trouble was over.

Then, on Tuesday 3 July the Indians marched on the Chief Minister’s office in protest again. The Anguillian Newspaper published a story about this march on 6 July. Emotions were running high. Maclean Webster published a very stern letter on the subject. Ijahnya Christian published a biting commentary on it. Colville Petty made suggestions for immediate improvement in the governance of our island.

Meanwhile, on 4 July, I had published on the blog a follow-up story on this latest demonstration. That posting has landed me in hot water. I have been sued for libel by the Ministers over some of the things I said in it. I am not denying that the letter went too far, and I should not have repeated what I did. I have apologized, offered to make a payment to charity, and withdrawn the piece from the blog. They are still pursuing me for damages!

Then, on Friday 20 July 2007, an almost unprecedented demonstration of Anguillians took place. They marched en masse on government house. The members of the Concerned Citizens Group met with the governor. Merlin Duncan read out a letter signed by Percy Thomas on behalf of the marchers. I published a story about the march on 22 July. The Anguillian Newspaper published a story on the march and the letter on 27 July. Their photographs give a good flavour of the mind of the marchers. The final paragraph of the letter, as read out to the governor, says:

“Anguilla’s reputation has been tarnished as a result of these reprehensible events and coupled with the fact that the Anguilla Government has on numerous occasions sought to bring into effect legislation which is harmful to the wellbeing and security of the Anguilla public. The People of Anguilla have lost confidence in the Anguilla Government’s representation of their interests and in the interest of good governance, transparency and accountability we hereby request an independent Judicial Inquiry comprising of an impartial body to investigate these and other matters of ethical conduct between Government, Foreign Investors and the extent to which it impacts on individuals and entities in this country.”

So far as I am aware, that was the only time anyone in Anguilla made any representations to the British Government concerning specific claims about lack of ethical conduct between government and foreign investors. [Unless you count the failed attempt of the Hon Edison Baird to raise the issue of the serving chairman of one of Anguilla’s premier indigenous banks, the CCB, serving contemporaneously as the Chief Minister of Anguilla. Only to be rebuffed by the Governor. Gov Peter Johnstone shamefully replied to Mr Baird saying there was nothing unusual about this. Can you imagine Gordon Brown being permitted to be Chairman of Barclays Bank while being Prime Minister of the UK? In what way does Anguilla deserve lower standards, you might ask?]

Meanwhile, back in London, On 5 July 2007, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee announced on its website that it was about to begin its first investigation in ten years into the management of the overseas territories by the FCO. The FAC invited persons interested in the good governance of the overseas territories to make oral or written submissions to the committee.

On 11 July, I published a story about this new development on this blog. I encouraged persons who had a complaint to write. I wrote:

“Anyone can volunteer to submit evidence to the FAC, either orally or in writing. The FAC can request or send for UK government officials to attend sittings of the committee to answer questions. The FAC can also consult any individual or organization on issues relevant to their inquiry. The committee decides what use to make of any information it receives. For more information on submitting evidence, visit the committee's website.”

On 3 December, Anguilla’s Hon Chief Minister appeared before the FAC in London. He and other Chief Ministers were there in response to a FAC invitation to make any representations they wanted to make. On 15 December, I read his testimony to the committee. It was fatuous to an extreme. I was so upset at his testimony that I published a story about it on the blog.

I became concerned that no one in authority might show the FAC a copy of the Report of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission. This had been presented to government since August 2006. Since its delivery, it had lain dormant and ignored by the local authorities. The plea for stronger anti-corruption measures in the process of constitutional review had been one of the principle elements of the Commission’s Report. Most persons in Anguilla, even the Ministers of Government, agree that these should be included in the checks and balances proposed for the new constitution. My fear was that the FAC would produce recommendations concerning Anguilla without being aware of the Report.

So, on 23 January 2008, I wrote the FAC a letter. The contents are published in full on their website. You can read it for yourself by clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph. In it, I enclosed a copy of the Report. I referred the members of FAC particularly to the historical section and to the section with Recommendations. I nowhere mentioned the word ‘corruption’. That letter was the sole contribution of Don Mitchell to the FAC process. I wrote no other letter, nor had any other communication either to or from the FAC whatsoever.

On 31 January, Harry Wiggin made a submission to the FAC. This submission calls for an independent inquiry into allegations of corruption in Anguilla. It is one of the most restrained of the many submissions made to the FAC that I have read. Mr Wiggin gives his reasons for making his submission. They are:

“I and very many others (native Anguillians—not just expatriates) are deeply concerned:

(a) that Anguilla's birthright is in the process of being destroyed on the altar of short-term gain;

(b) that there are no adequate controls in place designed to ensure good government; and

(c) that the recommendations of the Anguilla Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission, which were painstakingly and expertly assembled following a wide-ranging consultation process, are being sidelined for political purposes.”

Who in Anguilla can honestly protest at what Mr Wiggin says above? He complains, as we all do, about the lack of transparency in almost everything the government does. He repeats the complaints made by the Concerned Citizens Group, and almost every other person calling in on the many radio talk-shows, over the past year:

“The Government has had, but has not taken, the opportunity to answer straightforwardly the very simple question: why have they placed the country at the mercy of a few dominant investors? The fact that they have refused to answer perfectly reasonable questions, and have said only (to use the exact words of the Chief Minister) that they have "made mistakes" but they will "make amends", serves only to raise more questions. This is not good for them and it is not good for Anguilla.”

Mr Wiggin then goes on to recommend that there be an independent inquiry. He makes it clear that he is not meaning to suggest by this that there is any question of culpability:

“In my view the Ministers should be strongly encouraged by the UK Government to institute an official and authoritative independent enquiry into the events that have led to these troublesome questions, in the best interests of Anguilla and its people. My view that this is needed does not stem from any conviction that culpability is involved. But it does stem from a conviction that it is thoroughly unhealthy and corrosive that suspicions have been widely aroused and that those who are suspected apparently see no way to allay those suspicions. If, as I sincerely hope, they are innocent, then it should be seen as in their own best interests no less than the interests of Anguilla as a whole that an official independent enquiry should resolve the concerns which the explosive economic upsurge in development activity, and its adverse consequences, have engendered.’

I entirely agree. The main purpose that a public enquiry will serve is to clear the poisonous air that our Ministers have created around them. By their secrecy, their lack of consultation, and their having so frequently in the past ignored proper procedures, particularly in planning and work permit applications, they have caused all kinds of unhealthy suspicions to wash up around them. They should welcome the inquiry, not fear it.

Of course it is never possible to know how accurately the press have reported an issue. If the Wednesday July 9 edition of The Daily Herald is to be believed - and I have no reason to disbelieve it - The Chief Minister continues to labour under the impression that simply saying that his Government "is prepared, as it always has been, to address these issues transparently and effectively" is a substitute for actually doing so. Promises of explanations are worthless if the explanations are never forthcoming. So far they have not been forthcoming. Is this a lack of intelligence on his part? Or is it his political calculation that the Anguillian people lack the intelligence to recognise that what he is dishing out to them is nothing more than empty promises?

I have confidence that Anguillians are intelligent people. They will know cheap politics when they see it. They will recognise ‘politricks’ when they meet it. They will be aware that, in Anguilla, politicians regularly blame “foreigners” when things go wrong. They are unwilling to attack the Anguillians who organised the march of 20 July calling for an independent judicial inquiry into the allegations of unethical conduct. They are not brave enough to pursue influential Anguillians who stand up for what is right.

They think they have an easy target by going after “outsiders” who they characterize as tarnishing Anguilla’s good name.

We shall see how many fall for that one.


  1. "Sheep can run Anguilla better."
    --Hubert Hughes

  2. An independent inquiry would be a good first step, as it would answer many of the outstanding questions on past actions.

    However, in order to prevent these questions from popping up again and again, as you have stated in this blog many times in the past, structural changes are necessary to ensure proper statutory checks and balances are brought into existence.

    Executive accountability and transparency are not just "buzz words" to be conventiently used and then forgotten. They are essential principles of a functioning democracy. As long as questions and concerns central to the well-being of Anguilla are treated as illegitimate; as long as citizens have no enforceable rights to inform themselves about (their) government's actions; as long as we are told it is none of our business how, what and why decisions are made, the odium of corruption will linger, whether justified or not.

    Why is it that these arguments are always (around the world, as in Anguilla) popular with the opposition, but harldy ever with the sitting government - even when today's government is yesterday's opposition? Isn't it the duty of all politicians, wherever they sit in the pecking order, to make democracy stronger for future generations?

    Yes, our political system is a representative one - we don't have a direct democracy and not all decisions should be taken by direct involvement of the citizenry. But there is no excuse not to involve and inform citizens to the greatest extent possible, and enshrine this approach in the form of enforceable rights.

    What could form a better backbone for the political programme of a united opposition than just such a "new deal", a new contract between government and the people based on a clear agenda for the introduction of statutory checks and balances for greater transparency and accountability?

  3. Today, Thursday, the Commission of Inquiry for Turks & Caicos has already been announced.

    How long before the same is announced for Anguilla?

    Foreign Affairs Committee
    House of Commons
    London SW1A 0AA

    PN 37 (Session 2007-08)
    10 July 2008


    Responding to the announcement by the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands that he had appointed a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of corruption in the Territory, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike Gapes MP, said:

    “We are delighted that the Government has responded so quickly to our recommendation that there should be a Commission of Inquiry into serious allegations of corruption on the Turks and Caicos Islands. As part of our inquiry into the Overseas Territories, the following Members of the Committee visited the Turks and Caicos Islands in March 2008: Mr Paul Keetch MP, Mr Greg Pope MP, and Sir John Stanley MP. In the Committee’s subsequent report, published on 6 July, the Committee concluded:

    ‘We are very concerned by the serious allegations of corruption we have received from the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). They are already damaging TCI's reputation, and there are signs that they may soon begin to affect the Islands' tourism industry. There is also a great risk that they will damage the UK's own reputation for promoting good governance. Unlike the Cayman Islands, where the Governor has taken the initiative in investigations, the onus has been placed on local people to substantiate allegations in TCI. This approach is entirely inappropriate given the palpable climate of fear on TCI. In such an environment, people will be afraid to publicly come forward with evidence. We conclude that the UK Government must find a way to assure people that a formal process with safeguards is underway and therefore recommend that it announces a Commission of Inquiry, with full protection for witnesses. The change in Governor occurring in August presents an opportunity to restore trust and we recommend that the Commission of Inquiry should be announced before the new Governor takes up his post.’ “

  4. Anonymous said...
    An independent inquiry would be a good first step, as it would answer many of the outstanding questions on past actions.

    I agree. A completely independent group should initiate this inquiry, say a bunch of lawyers and accountants; indifferent of the British/OECS way of thinking?

    - Scotty

  5. I would like to see a complete copy of Harry Wiggin' letter please.


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