The Plight of our People is What Matters NOW by Sutcliffe Hodge

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By admin October 13, 2011 13:38

The Plight of our People is What Matters NOW by Sutcliffe Hodge

As the global economic crisis continues, without an end in sight, it is taking quite a toll on us here in Anguilla. Our survival during this very difficult economic time calls for nationalism and patriotism. A group of us concerned Anguillians (including businessmen, clergy and politicians) have requested meetings with the political directorate and government officials and have offered to help develop concrete initiatives to grapple with the country’s challenges.
At the times that we have been lucky enough to be graced with an audience with the Chief Minister, or his representatives, our advice has been largely ignored and the outcome has usually been to invite us to some ‘consultation’ or other where inadequate, pre-fabricated plans are presented to us under the guise of ‘participation’. Notwithstanding, we have continued to work behind the scenes to lobby and suggest the way forward, to little avail. But if the Mr. Hubert Hughes Administration is serious about easing the pain that the people are going through, it requires our Chief Minister, Mr. Hubert Hughes, to accept more input from people who can be of assistance. On the other hand, the Opposition and all other politicians need to step up and work with the Government of the day. This is no time for politics as usual!

I listened to the public meeting of the Anguilla United Front which was held outside the Landsome Bowl Cultural Centre on 8th October. Instead of presenting solid ideas to ease the SUFFERING that is going on all over the island, most of the meeting was the same old style of vicious personal attacks on the Ministers of Government and the Parliamentary Secretary. It seems like the quest for political power overrules all the other challenges that we as a nation face. While I am neither a friend nor an enemy of the current Government, I am disturbed by the polarisation that continues to be stirred up on this island. Not only does it turn brother against sister and jeopardises our capacity to work together – on a macroeconomic scale it also erodes investor confidence. To my mind, the objective at this time should not be to see how we can bring down the current administration. Political instability is not what Anguilla needs right now.

However, I must say that the behavior of the current administration leaves much to be desired. There is recklessness and an unapologetic abuse of power on a number of fronts, leaving the electorate disappointed and disillusioned that the change they were seeking by voting the Front out of office has only amounted to a change in administration but no change in approach. Here we are messing up and missing opportunities while planning on increasing the burden on the people of this island with additional taxes. At the time when the majority of the people on this island are really hurting, we need to be looking at ways to expand the economy rather than taxing it into the ground. You can’t squeeze blood out of stone.

The Mr. Hubert Hughes administration may feel impotent because its focus seems to be on the ‘mega-project’ approach (so similar to the Front) which boils down to wooing a single big investor or two and hoping that they throw money willy-nilly into a property or two. But recent history with the AUF and the AUM has shown that lack of proper negotiation on the part of Government, followed by Government’s poor monitoring and management of such ‘mega-projects’, is no cure-all. Anguilla has been left worse off with the alienation of land and loss of revenue for Government under the pretext of incentives for investors.

However, there are other approaches that should be tried. For example, why not get a number of initiatives outside of or in addition to major projects going? Ten small projects might have the same impact as a single large one and, what’s more, it reduces the risk and increases the distribution of benefits across the economy. For instance, Anguilla’s current tourism plant is running at less than 40% capacity on average annually. What’s the point of pushing for construction of more rooms when so many rooms sit unused most of the year? Plus our traditional market (the North Eastern United States) continues to be depressed economically, and is likely to be so for sometime, so we need to be focusing our effort’s and the limited funds, we do have, to entice tourists from non-traditional markets which appear to be less incapacitated; markets like Canada, Brazil and maybe even Asia. Furthermore, we should be implementing local initiatives that could reduce imports. ANYTHING that can be done where there is value-added in Anguilla is a good idea and its even better if it reduces our dependence on imports. Government could even tax these good to ensure that there is no loss of revenue from duties. Government can also take steps to ensure that the price and quality of such goods are competitive with the price and quality of imports in an effort to protect the public. Taking steps like these keep money in our local economy and create much needed job for the people of this island. We should be paying attention in a very practical way to our environment, energy consumption and our way of life. For example, at this time we are all very concerned about the high cost of electricity. But the election of the new ANGLEC Board does not inspire confidence. We need to be looking seriously at alternate energy as one of the ways forward. It would be better for the environment and in the long term could be our answer to spiraling energy costs.

In addition to looking at opportunities to expand the economy, we have to also look at ways to eliminate wastage in a proactive way. We have to consider efficiencies with respect to how we allocate Government’s scarce resources. We need to ask ourselves how we may be able to centralize and consolidate services so that there is less drain. We need to ask the hard questions: Do we have more country (i.e. more cost of running this country) than we can afford? And are we going to continue to burden the people of this island with taxes while the money in the public purse continues to be used inefficiently?

On a micro-level, people require assistance to seek out and pursue new opportunities, and they also need to be supported with regard to managing the stresses that surround economies facing financial challenges. We must be mindful that alcohol abuse and other negative ‘coping’ mechanism further lower productivity. And that re-tooling and education set the groundwork for improved competitiveness for the local population. Paying attention to things like these (seeking out new markets, alternative energy, increased Government efficiency, social/health awareness and education) all seek to keep money on island, create opportunities for employment, pay attention to our environment and address the social welfare of our people.

As we look to 2012 the outlook is for an even more challenging year. I don’t need to tell you about the challenges in Europe and the kind of economic contraction that is likely to occur there, neither its impact on the US economy nor the fact that we are downwind from the United States and it’s likely to impact us. Therefore, we need to be proactive and creative and seek out non-traditional solutions to ensure our collective survival.

Almost unbelievably, with these huge challenges facing our country, I am forced to ask if we should be taking up so much time and effort touting political independence? Why are we going to war with the British at this moment in time? Political independence is a conversation that we do need to have, but we need to timetable it in such a way that allows us to plan for it adequately and set a strong foundation for our future. I don’t think that the people of this island are in the frame of mind for such a conversation now. We are more interested in paying our bills, having food to feed our families and seeing our businesses and investments recover. At a macro level, the disruption of such a move to political independence would not reap benefits in the short term. In other words, political independence will not solve our fiscal irresponsibility and stuttering economy; it is like putting a band-aid on a festering sore.
Most of us recognize Britain’s increasingly dogmatic approach in assisting us to manage the business of our country. It is not acceptable. We need to engage with them on this. We must demand respect from the British Government but, on the other hand, as a country we need to behave in a responsible manner that warrants respect. And for the political directorate, it needs to respect the people who voted it into leadership. Leadership requires that Government must face the challenges NOW. It cannot hide behind Britain’s petticoat. Our Government needs to take advice, try new initiatives and encourage collaboration as a united people. The Government of Anguilla, the Opposition, all politicians and the electorate need to put aside our pet peeves and our strictly personal gain for the greater good of ALL.
May Gods guide us as we face the challenges ahead.

admin
By admin October 13, 2011 13:38

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