“WOOSH!”

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By admin September 2, 2011 10:12

“WOOSH!”

Many persons waited in anticipation for the “much talked about” massive rally which the Chief Minister publicized for the epicenter of his Constituency, Blowing Point, on Saturday, August 27th, 2011. It was touted as an important meeting to inform the people of Anguilla how his efforts to deliver on the promises he made to them eighteen months ago have been thwarted.

 

The Chief Minister was passionate and animated, on the several talk shows and interviews leading up to the meeting, about what he described as deliberate schemes by the British Government, with the complicity of the Governor, the Deputy Governor, the Opposition and a number of Senior Public Servants, to sabotage his plan for Anguilla’s development. I was told that the attendance did not reflect the high profile which the Chief Minister and his supporters attached to the meeting. However, in all fairness, it may well have been the case that the radio audience made up for the low turn out in the very heart of his traditional political stronghold.

A number of persons who had the opportunity to listen to the Chief Minister in his presentation have expressed to me their frustration in not being able to determine exactly the purpose of the meeting. Apparently, many persons, his supporters included, expected to hear something concrete about his plans and strategy to improve the economic situation in Anguilla despite his complaints about sabotage. There seems to be a general consensus among persons from all sides of the political spectrum that after eighteen months of the “blame game” it is time for the Chief Minister to do what he was elected to do, that is, take responsibility and lead. In fact, I was told that the entire meeting did not take on the “flavour” of a Government in control. On the contrary, both the demeanour of the speakers and the offerings from the podium exuded the feeling of a Government in crisis.

It seems that the entire population has become inured to the rude, abusive and rancorous conduct of the Chief Minister in his Press Conferences; Interviews; Speeches and other presentations. In fact, there is a tendency to dismiss his most outrageous comments with a shrug and a casual riposte: “You know Hubert!” As a consequence of that widespread attitude the Chief Minister has been able to construct monuments of lies and half truths which have not only led to the distrust and denigration of his opponents but have also created an illusion of himself as being an honest and sincere leader. To build this false image, anyone and everyone, including family and friends are dispensable. “I am clean!”He proclaims. That seems hardly a characterizationof a self-admitted liar.

The recent arrangements/agreements between the Government and the Temenos and the Viceroy Projects have been the subject island wide discussion. The transparency with which this Government purports to cloak itself needs to be disrobed — and a number of questionable matters may well justify investigation. For example, the question has been raised to me as to why it is that the Chief Minister’s sons allegedly appear to be receiving an inordinate share of the limited opportunities in the construction sector? Or what is the story on the land leased by Government to one of the CM’s tenants to build a shopping mall in the Spring Path area? Who is the actual owner of that shopping mall? Who is building and/or financing it?

The number of conspiracy theories, which the Chief Minister has woven with circumstantial and/or contrived evidence, should not evoke his surprise that such insinuations could be leveled at him and his family. Quite recently he has made libelous comments about the Chairman of our Party, Mr. Fritz Smith, to imply illegal conduct in his role as Project Manager of the Airport Expansion Project. But I have noticed that neither the Chief Minister nor his offspring respond kindly to any allegations of corrupt practices pointed at them. The Parliamentary Secretary was both incensed and defensive when questions were raised about his participation in a fast ferry service agreement with Viceroy. Yet he is quite comfortable when he casts aspersions on other persons, in a most cowardly manner, on the blogs or in the shelter of the House of Assembly. Nevertheless, I will not shirk from my responsibility to raise a number of questions in connection with the Temenos and the Viceroy negotiations. And in keeping with my principle of not using anonymity or sheltering behind any cowardly contrivance — I now put these questions on the record in my column and under my name.

Last week the Chief Minister got on the airwaves and insulted Mr. Rizzuto by suggesting that by virtue of having social engagements with the Governor he was influenced to renege on his agreements with the Government. In the same interview he spoke about the inability of Mr. Rizzuto and the Government to come to an agreement on the MOU for the development of the Temenos Resort and Golf Course and commented that he had sent a letter to the receiver informing him of that situation and requesting that the receiver terminates any agreement with Mr. Rizzuto arising out of that auction. That was the last official position from the Government. However, it appears that since that time things have changed.

Over the weekend we heard that there has been an agreement with Mr. Rizzuto. And despite the fact that the Chief Minister read out a letter indicating that he had written to the receiver requesting that any agreement with Mr. Rizzuto be terminated it is reported that this has not happened and the sale has been consummated. I have also been reliably informed that some of the elected and appointed officials, as well as the technicians, are not privy to these arrangements. Furthermore, it is widely circulated on the basis of his own declarations that the Parliamentary Secretary is not in favor of an agreement being made with Mr. Rizzuto on the terms provided.

It is my view that there is need for closure on the Temenos Project and I raised the important considerations, which Government should take on board in arriving at a reasonable agreement, in my June 17 article: “And wid a lotta sauce!”as follows:
1. Will the Government in its negotiations ensure that the Golf Course remains a critical aspect of the GOA’s business plan and promotion strategy such that it remains a public facility to be enjoyed by visitors from all properties as well as local Anguillians.
2. Will the Government ensure that a strict timetable for the completion of the project is in place so that there will be a swift injection of jobs, business opportunities and revenue streams to Government?
3. Will Government ensure that the interests of local creditors, vendors and contractors are negotiated as an aspect of the granting of the Alien Land Holding Licence?

The point that must be made is that the sale of the Golf Course Project at any price is just the beginning of the process. The Government must now negotiate a business plan with the developer that is contingent on the appropriate responses to the issues raised above as well as others. It must be remembered that Mr. Rizzuto has acquired an asset legally free and clear of all encumbrances. He is not obliged to recognize any of the other creditors. However, Government must use its leverage along with moral suasion to achieve the best outcomes for its people. The Chief Minister must adopt the “wait and see” approach that “the victory is not yet ours!” He should be careful not to shout: “Mission accomplished!” Let the Salamander experience, be his guide!”

The foregoing admonitions have not changed and the events of last week proved my point as the Chief Minister’s ventilated his frustrations with cries of sabotage —confirming his credo that if anything goes wrong it could not possibly be his fault. After relating his disappointment, he then went on to read a letter from Executive Council under his own signature calling the deal off. My question is what were the assurances given Mr. Rizzuto, which caused him to express surprise at the Government’s position? It is quite reasonable,based on the Chief Minister’s characterization of Mr. Rizzuto as “a good friend”, to assume that there were no impediments to cordial negotiations. In fact, in Mr. Rizzuto’s letter of November 15, 2010, there seems to be some “quid pro quo” arrangements being made by the CM to Mr. Rizzuto long before the auction process took place. I now quote a small section of that letter for your own interpretation as follows: “On a side note you asked me to remove Joe Hylton from Anguilla and in a short time I achieved this. I now need you to finalize the property transfer and award it to CuisinArt Resort & Spa and you will have my personal word that I will complete the project and utilize local workers and create the resort as a great addition to what CuisinArt already has.

The Chief Minister was very strong in condemning the Governor for having a social meal or drink with Mr. Rizzuto but in case of his insistence on the removal of Joe Hylton as Project Manager of the construction site for expansion of the Resort raises a number of questions. How does the CM’s request for the removal of Joe Hylton relate to the involvement of his sons in the construction of the six new villas at CuisinArt? Were any promises made by the CM to Mr. Rizzuto as an incentive for Hylton’s dismissal as Project Manager? Where were these discussions held? On the other side there are also questions regarding the Parliamentary Secretary. Why is the Parliamentary Secretary so adamant that Mr. Rizzuto should not be allowed to acquire the property? Does the Parliamentary Secretary still harbour resentment against the Resort for not giving him an executive position? Why are members of the Government making public statements claiming that they are not aware of what is happening with the Temenos deal? I believe that there are strong grounds for an investigation into these matters.

A few weeks ago I raised the issue concerning the fact that because of the Parliamentary Secretary’s solo negotiations on a three-page MOU for Viceroy written on Starwood Capital Group stationery, we lost upwards of EC$18 million in direct revenue for 2011. The negotiations for this notorious MOU, according to the Parliamentary Secretary (Parl. Sec) in an international media statement dated July 30, 2010, started in New York and culminated in Anguilla. In the Chief Minister’s own words his son, the Parliamentary Secretary, “was given the task to redeem some of the taxes lost under the previous MOA”. In the statement, which was also carried in The Anguillian, the Parl. Sec used the occasion to gloat and make inaccurate statements about the previous MOA.

The media statement shows a smiling picture of the CM and the Parl. Sec, and the three-page MOU carries the signature of the Chief Minister witnessed by his Permanent Secretary. The Parl. Sec’s statement read: “Last week the property was up for sale this week it has been sold.” It is obvious that in his youthful exuberance and inexperience the Parl. Sec was anxious to prove his ability to achieve what the past government had painstakingly achieved using a model, which has become a “best practice” for the OECS. He ignored the objective input of the Tourism Investment Committee (TIC), which the AUF Government established as a negotiating tool, but most of all he neglected to follow the established procedure for good governance, that is, getting Executive Council approval before signing off on any Government agreement with a developer. To further exacerbate this impropriety, the Parl. Sec was able to get the CM to sign the document and it seems that one of them was able to get a Senior Government Official to witness the CM’s signature as well.

In writing about this incident in his Confessions entitled: “Who runs Anguilla?” the Minister of Social Development, Mr. Eddie Baird, had this to say: “Only the Executive Council possesses the authority to issue a licence and to approve a Memorandum of Understanding. Not even the Chief Minister, and definitely not the Parliamentary Secretary, acting outside the walls of the Executive Council, can approve an Alien Landholding Licence or a Memorandum of Understanding. At the time of the Parliamentary Secretary’s announcement, the Executive Council had not even discussed these matters.”

This action by the Parl. Sec was obviously condoned by the Chief Minister, which illustrates what I have been saying continuously that: “the Chief Minister leads by bad example.” What is also evident, and which can be gleaned from the CM’s ongoingargument aboutMOU’s and MOA’s, is that he does not understand that any document signed by him in his capacity as Chief Minister is a legal instrument. In this context, despite the fact that the Parl. Sec negotiated an MOU, which was seriously flawed and unauthorized, it was used to tie the Government’s hand to a fixed return on Stamp Duty and ALHL fees. In fact, to meet the terms of that MOU and remain compliant with the Stamp Duty Act, Government must now amend the MOU retrospectively to reflect ALHL fees of less than 4%. Just because the Parl. Secnegotiated this MOU without the benefit of experienced technicians — alone it is reported, at such respectable restaurants as DaVida’s in Anguilla and perhaps equally pleasant environments in New York.

The questions continue! Why did the CM give the Parl. Sec the authority to negotiate an MOU on a 500 million US dollar property on his own? Why did the Chief Minister sign the MOU without Executive Council approval? Why did the Chief Minister decide to move this MOU forward without sharing the details with his colleagues? Will the boasts made by the Parl. Sec about the employment of Anguillian contractors be realized in the upcoming construction works at Viceroy? I believe there are strong grounds for an investigation into these matters.

I listened in on a “lament” between two guys just outside Ashley’s Supermarket. One of them remarked: “Boy tings brown! Tis like a Hurricane hit we country!” The other responded: “Not one, two! Hurricane Hubert and Hurricane Haydn! According to Pantha: WOOSH!”

Victor F. Banks
Sachasses Estate

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By admin September 2, 2011 10:12

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