14 September, 2008


Response to Annoyed Friend. Annoyed Friend posted a comment recently on the item titled “Promises”. There are a number of things she wrote with which I could take issue. I want to deal with only one of them here. She wrote,

“The alleged "secrecy" is conducted in the Executive Council. The Chairman of the Executive Council is an Englishman appointed from England by the British Government/Foreign Office to represent Her Majesty The Queen. Seated next to the Governor are the British appointed Deputy Governor and the British appointed Attorney-General. The Chief Minister and three other elected representatives from the ruling political party complete the Executive Council. It is therefore obvious, that there are no "secrets" at all. This is the system of Government which the British gave to Anguilla. We did not write the Constitution.”

The premise is false. The argument is faulty. The conclusion is mistaken. Let us look at some of the fallacies as I see them.

One, the secrecy is not limited to the Executive Council. Nor is the fact that Executive Council knows what is going on in government the answer to the criticism. The Executive Council mistakenly conceals from the public the policy decisions that it takes in the name of the people. The problem has not been caused by the present administration. We have always run our government the same way. This must change. What we want is for the Executive Council to open up its discussions to the press and the public. It can do this in a variety of ways. In some similar colonies, it is done by permitting the press to attend all Executive Council sessions, except executive ones that discuss sensitive matters. Or, it could do it, as is done in other equally colonial societies, by giving a post-Executive Council press conference. Its spokesman can then explain to the public the most important decisions taken. Best of all, government could propose a Freedom of Information Act that would permit the public to find out what is going on when something has not been published.

Second, an objectionable degree of secrecy in government is not limited to the discussions in Executive Council. There is an appalling lack of information coming from every government department. The Education Department should be revealing to the public its thoughts for improving the education of the children of the country. The Immigration Department should be holding public sessions to discuss new immigration policies, as, indeed, it has recently announced. The Labour Department should be publishing statistics and discussion papers on problems in the labour field in Anguilla. The Land Development Control Committee should be publishing planning applications and the results of those applications. One could give a dozen more examples of the offensive system of secret government that we suffer under in Anguilla.

Third, that Anguilla is a colony headed by the Queen and represented by the Governor does not oblige Anguilla to conduct government in secret. There is nothing in our colonial constitution that obliges us to engage in bad government practices. If we do not demand change now, there is no guarantee that the system of government will improve when we take more powers of self-government. The likelihood is that it will only get worse, because there will be no external body capable of suggesting improvements in the system of governance. There are independent Commonwealth Caribbean countries that have equally offensive systems of secret government. So long as our four Ministers of Government remain unaware that secrecy in government is unnecessary and counterproductive, there is nothing that the Governor or the Deputy Governor or the Attorney-General can do to make them open up the government to the scrutiny of the people.

We do not need to wait for the British. We could implement every one of the reforms I have been advocating without FCO permission. We do not need to wait on Constitutional reform. Putting checks and balances in the Constitution merely entrenches them so that a future government cannot shut them down. There is nothing in the present Constitution that prohibits us from opening up our government in the way I have been advocating. Other colonies have done it without changing their Constitutions.

I accept that the Governor et al have no interest in opening up government. Public scrutiny is always a bad thing from any administration’s point of view. Look at what happened to the proposed Planning Bill when the public began to discuss it, they will say. So many errors and faults were found in it that the administration found it easier to simply scrap the whole idea. They did not appreciate the public comments. They were not mature enough to take them on board and publish a revised Bill. That, of course, is what we all expected of them.

The occasional propaganda press release is not the solution. That is all that we have at present, other than the very rare debate in the House of Assembly. We need the policy-making process to be opened up to the public in a more transparent way. We need government decisions and plans to be promptly and efficiently communicated to the public. The benefits to the process of government can be enormous. If the public are more involved in the discussion of national issues and problems, then there is more likelihood that they will buy into the solutions that emerge. Suspicions of wrongdoing are more likely to be allayed. Confidence in the process of government is encouraged. This is one of the meanings of 'good governance'.

The civil service is not going to institute such a change in the way they do business, without leadership from the political directorate. It is ridiculous to think that any of the Governor, the Deputy Governor, or the Attorney-General will stand in the way of a political initiative to open up government and make its processes more transparent. The only persons who can improve the way government in Anguilla does business are the Ministers. They do not need anyone's permission to do this. It takes only political will.

The discussion of this issue has nothing to do with any quarrel with the present Chief Minister. Those who suggest this are mistaken. He is only carrying on with the system he met in place when he was elected. If I have any quarrel, it is that no one seems to be encouraging him to change for the better the system he inherited.

People are always made afraid by any change in the way they do business.


  1. Like the British, our government is run just perfect. We knows none better!

  2. Caymanian Compass
    Information Commissioner panel named
    11th September, 2008

    A five person panel which will make recommendations to Governor Stuart Jack on the selection of the Cayman Islands’ first Information Commissioner has been appointed.

    “The panel is a group of highly capable individuals who I know will use both good judgement and fairness when making their decision,” Governor Jack said. “The Freedom of Information Law and the Office of the Information Commissioner will deliver on the Cayman Islands Government’s commitment to be more open, transparent and accountable.”

    Cayman’s first Freedom of Information Law, which provides open access to certain public records is due to take effect in January.

  3. Of What use is the Freedom of Information Act in Britain?
    Hypocrisy is one of the worst forms of dishonesty. It actually turns people off.

    No one in Anguilla claimed that our government is perfect. And yes, we know of none better. Of course there is always room for improvement in any system, and we are in the process of making such improvements.

    Standing by the wayside and casting stones is not very helpful. Why not join a national think-tank or lend your expertise to a civic organization which believes in promoting good governance AND DEMOCRACY?


  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


    Freedom of Information is a Human Right and we in the Anguilla, support a Freedom of Iinformation Act and we would ask both government and opposition to implement such a law.

    The OAS Resolution seems a good guiding light for Anguilla. It states:
    1. In principle, all information is accessible. Access to information is a fundamental human right which establishes that everyone can access information from public bodies, subject only to a limited regime of exceptions in keeping with a democratic society and proportionate to the interest that justifies them. States should ensure full respect for the right to access to information through adopting appropriate legislation and putting in place the necessary implementation measures.

    2. The right of access applies to all public bodies, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches at all levels of government, constitutional and statutory bodies, bodies which are owned or controlled by government, and organizations which operate with public funds or which perform public functions.

    3. The right to access applies to all significant information, defined broadly to include everything which is held or recorded in any format or medium.

    4. Public bodies should disseminate information about their functions and activities -including, but not limited to, their policies, opportunities for consultation, activities which affect members of the public, their budget, and subsidies, benefits and contracts - on a routine and proactive basis, even in the absence of a specific request, and in a manner which ensures that the information is accessible and understandable.

    5. Clear, fair, non-discriminatory and simple rules should be put in place regarding the processing of requests for information. These should include clear and reasonable timelines, provision for assistance to be given to those requesting information, free or low-cost access, and does not exceed the cost of copying and sending the information, and a requirement that where access is refused reasons, including specific grounds for the refusal, be provided in a timely fashion.

    6. Exceptions to the right to access should be established by law, be clear and narrow.

    7. The burden of proof in justifying any denial of access to information lies with the body from which the information was requested.

    8. Individuals should have the right to appeal against any refusal or obstruction to provide access to information to an administrative jurisdiction. There should also be a right to bring an appeal to the courts on the full merits of the case against the decisions of this administrative body.

    9. Anyone who willfully denies or obstructs access to information in breach of the rules should be subject to sanction.

    10. Measures should be taken to promote, to implement and to enforce the right to access to information including creating and maintaining public archives in a serious and professional manner, training public officials, implementing public awareness-raising programmes, improving systems of information management, and reporting by public bodies on the measures they have taken to implement the right of access, including in relation to their processing of requests for information.

    Signed: The Anguilla Human Rights Unit (Member)

  6. Who or what is the "Anguilla Human Rights Unit"?

  7. Mr. Mitchell- get real. The combined force of the Governor, the Deputy Governor and the Attorney General in the Executive Council is like the tails wagging the dog.

    It is the Attorney General's department which is responsible for recommending, drafting, explaining and piloting legislation such as the deceptively named Physical Planning Bill. You cannot honestly think that the Chief Minister of Anguilla had anything to do with the objectionable provisions of that Bill.


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