“Every parson christen he own chile fuss!”

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By admin September 9, 2011 08:55

“Every parson christen he own chile fuss!”

It was refreshing to hear former Chief Minister, the HonourableOsbourne B. Fleming, on “To the Point” last evening Monday, September 5, 2011. Mr. Fleming took pains to be calm and deliberate in his presentations and set the parameters for the interview very early in the session.

 

The Host after a very short period of protestation, seemed uncharacteristically willing to cooperate and after a time could even have been considered very cordial indeed. During the “call-in” section of the programme, quite surprisingly, a number of the “usual callers” who would normally be extremely critical of guests who are not AUM supporters — complimented Mr. Fleming on his performance. In fact, one of the callers seemed tearful and came pretty close to asking forgiveness. There are those who found this part of the programme to be quite amusing because many of the callers were pleading for cooperation from the very groups and individuals they had been maligning just a few months ago. Mr. Fleming used such occasions to score valuable political points without rancour or indecorum.

Mr. Fleming used his stature as a past Chief Minister to get his message across and did so with both the dignity and grace befitting that image. It was a soft touch. But it was an effective touch. He was able to make the entire interview an opportunity to clarify a considerable amount of misinformation, which has been rampant in the community during and since the last election, and to educate listeners on certain aspects of Government. The Host, constrained by parameters within which he was unaccustomed to operate,had no choice but to “go with the flow”. In the end (the Host) he also was the recipient of compliments for a well-conducted interview. Of significance was his open criticism of Ministers of the AUM Government who he described as “not having a clue”.
One caller used the atmosphere of cooperation and patriotism, which Mr. Fleming cleverly devised, to suggest that I should be persuaded to stop writing my column in The Anguillian. Clearly showing that for many members and supporters of the Anguilla United Movement, cooperation and patriotism mean unconditional adherence to the policies and politics of the Chief Minister and his colleagues. In this regard, though Mr. Fleming was most effective, it is uncannily obvious that many of them do not, and will not, ever understand the point being made that this Government is using the wrong “style, approach and attitude”to deliver on their promise of economic recovery for the people of Anguilla. And I remain flattered that many of them continue to believe that my column stands in the way of the Government’s ability to function effectively. However, I am also disappointed that so many Anguillians have not yet grasped the importance of constructive criticism in the democratic process, and of how the intolerance of leaders to criticismcan lead to authoritarianism and dictatorship.

Mr. Fleming’s interview on “To the Point” stands in stark contrast to that of the Chief Minister on the same program some weeks ago. In fact, while Mr. Fleming may have been equally assertive in putting his points across he was never abusive or offensive. The Chief Minister, on the other hand, viciously attacked the British Government, the Governor, the Deputy Governor, Permanent Secretaries, Developers, the Opposition and other private citizens. The Host in recognition of this difference asked the obvious question (loosely quoted): “Under your tenure did you have problems with the British Government, the Governor, the Deputy Governor and other public servants?” To which Mr. Fleming responded that he did, but never allowed them to be a part of discussion in the public media. I can attest to the fact that as a Government we handled such issues professionally in full awareness of our various responsibilities under the constitution. Mr. Fleming said as much!

It was my intention this week to make a national address as the Leader of the Anguilla United Front in the face of the many concerns Anguillians have been expressing regarding the plight in which they now find themselves. However, in the wake of Mr. Fleming’s interview I have decided to postpone it. That address would have appeared in my column and aired on the various broadcast media. My reasons for doing so are quite simple. It would be superfluous to make such a presentation so quickly on the heels of what I consider an outstanding performance. And even though Mr. Fleming spoke in his private capacity he made a number of points, with which the AUF associates itself yet would be unable to make effectively as a Party without appearing self-serving. I have therefore decided to write my usual column further encouraged by that caller who saw the tenor of the interview as a great opportunity to “silence the journalist”. My silence can only be achieved when the AUM: acts like a responsible government; adheres to the principles of good governance; abandons the strategy of lies and deception; accepts that they too must abide by the principles of integrity, transparency and honesty; and operates in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I will never accept that Chief Minister be allowed to behave like a “dirt bike” with impunity while everyone else should fall in line.

While there are a number of issues that were common to both interviews, there is one that the Host asked of both the present and former Chief Minister,which I feel moved to expand upon. The Host asked them (loosely quoted): “What are the issues prohibiting the exemption of transfer fees under the Stamp Act granted to the Conch Bay Development Project during the previous administration?” As the former Minister for Economic Development who spearheaded this initiative I feel duty bound to clarify the issues surrounding this matter. Mr. Fleming in his interview deferred to me for a more in depth and informed explanation of the circumstances surrounding the concession. One point must be made, however, and that is that this amendment to the Stamp Act was not specific to the Conch Bay Development, and although they were the first beneficiaries they were not the first local developers who requested such a concession. The concession shows that the AUF Government was concerned with the capacity of indigenous Anguillians to participate in our development and was prepared to do what was necessary to ensure that they have a competitive advantage in their own country. Let me explain!

Our Government in 2001, in the wake of the downturn in the global economy and exacerbated by the events of September 11, 2001, embarked on a deliberate program to restore fiscal stability in Anguilla. This program contained public sector projects including roads, seaport and airport development but also providing incentives for attracting significant investment: a major Golf Course, a Mega Yacht Marina and an Offshore Medical School. The response to our program was of such a magnitude that on November 30th 2005 we had to place a moratorium on foreign investment in large tourism accommodation projects. The purpose of the moratorium was to give Anguillian families the opportunity to participate in that area of tourism development. We felt that if foreign development in that sector continued at the pace it was going it could stifle and close out local investment.

We firmly believed that it was important that local Anguillians with the land resources be able to leverage their way into this sector without having to sell their land. And since expatriate companies owning tourism projects had the advantage of access to capital for financing such projects, because of their international network, Anguillians would be at a disadvantage having land without available sources of capital to finance them. At least three Anguillian families took up the challenge but they immediately realized that to effectively carry out the development of these projects the land resources would have to be placed in a corporate entity owned by the family. Despite the fact that they would not be actually selling the land based on the Stamp Duty Act they would be required to pay transfer fees of five percent. Such a cost even before a developer is identified by a family which is “land-rich but cash-poor” could be a real impediment to realizing their development objectives”. In fact, it would effectively force them to sell their land outright rather use it as an empowering asset.

In recognition of this obstacle to Anguillian empowerment, our Government pledged to amend the legislation to facilitate the conveyance of such properties into corporate entities (companies) without the burden of stamp duty. On May 20th 2008, in the circumstances of assisting the Lake Family of the Tanglewood Estate in achieving such transfer of lands in a timely manner, our Government through Executive Council agreed to temporary arrangements until suitable amendments could be made to the Stamp Act to address the general concern. Executive Council instructed the Attorney General to “craft a suitable amendment or amendments to grantof stamp duty (full or partial) on transactions designed to facilitate the conveyance of property from undivided family estates to corporate entities one hundred percent owned by the same families for tourism and other development purposes.”

In accordance with Executive Council’s request the Attorney General’s Chambers drafted the appropriate legislation which, after the required period for publication in the Official Gazette, was taken to the House of Assembly and passed on January 5, 2010. Governor W. Alistair Harrison gave his assent to the Bill on January 8, 2010. The Bill entitled the Stamp (Amendment) Act 2010 is very specific in its intention as follows: (1) Where beneficiaries who are relatives of each other have inherited real estate and that real estate is owned in common by the relatives who intend to use that real estate for the development of a project, the administrator or executor of the real estate may apply under subsection (2) to the Executive Council for the waiver of Stamp Duty. The Act goes into considerably detail to ensure that all conditions of the application are met, and if Executive Council is satisfied that the application “enhances the economic development of Anguilla”, it may waive wholly or partially the payment of Stamp Duty. The penalty is equally strong: “any person who fails to comply with subsections (5) or (6) commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term of 2 years or to a fine or both. The conviction shall not preclude the payment of the waived stamp duty.

Following the passage of the Act in the House of Assembly, the Ministry of Economic Development brought the specific waiver for Conch Bay Development Ltd for approval at the very last meeting of Executive Council under the past AUF Government. Executive Council approved the waiver of the stamp duty in full. The calculation of Stamp Duty for 361 acres, based on a very high valuation of approximately US$800,000 per acre at 5% stamp duty, would yield an estimated US$14,000,000 in revenue. It would, however, be prohibitive to most Anguillian landholders who are simply restructuring the ownership of the family estate into a 100% family owned entity. Government recognized that their desire to empower indigenous investors would be improbable without such support, and felt that the revenue in question though waived in the short term could result in the creation of jobs, business opportunities and an increase in future revenue flows contemplated in the MOA. ButAnguillians would then have the opportunity to retain ownership of their land while participating fully in their island’s development.

I have gone through this level of detail to make two important points. Firstly, that the AUF Government had a clear vision of how to empower Anguillians for participation in their own development meaningfully; and secondly, that all the legal procedures for achieving that objective were followed. The questions being raised by theHost of“To the Point” suggests that the granting of the waiver is being held up by the present administration. Based on the Chief Minister’s comments it appears that even though he has expressed public support for the initiative he seems to be viewing it as a facility specific to the Lakes family rather than a general incentive to all qualified indigenous land owners who wish to restructure their holdings for developmental purposes.

In the face of the unfounded criticism that the previous Government gave away everything to foreign developers it would be important to highlight such concessions as well as the favourableMOA’smade to all indigenous developers. The AUF was certainly true to the credo that “charity begins at home!” Every nation, including our mother country, makes concessions which position their nationals at a competitive advantage. The AUM Government must now demonstrate that it is paying more than lip service to their call for national development. The Parliamentary Secretary negotiated an MOU for a foreign investor in three days, yet for eighteen months the Government cannot sign off on a document already approved in Executive Council and passed in the House of Assembly. As the older folk used to say: “every parson christen he own chile fuss!”

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate

 

admin
By admin September 9, 2011 08:55

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