“…. against spiritual wickedness in high places”
I continue to say that the things that have been happening in Anguilla over the past three years would be difficult to “make up”. In other words, they are even stranger than fiction. Just a few weeks ago I mentioned that over almost three years of writing my column I have never run short of material. To be more precise, I said that there was a “mother lode of issues” to write about each week. I also spoke about a pattern of behaviour that the Chief Minister has been exhibiting over the years, namely, that whenever he is in trouble he runs to the Churches. And I am not talking about trouble for Anguilla — but rather threats to his ability to hold on to power. It is obvious that it is only since the challenges facing his Government, with regard to the uncertain future of one of his Ministers, that he suddenly shows up in two Churches, at their time of worship, asking for their prayers. And at each service he used the opportunity to make lengthy political speeches that were replete with the usual conspiracy theories and misinformation.
Last week however, “took the cake”. The people of Anguilla were in disbelief that the Chief Minister should invite a Kenyan Minister to hold a prayer vigil in Coronation Park. The announcement for the event, as recorded in The Anguillian newspaper, read in part as follows: “The Honourable Chief Minister and Minister of Finance is very concerned with the level of crime and violence on the island. He believes that there needs to be a spiritual intervention so that the island can progress amidst everything that is happening including the economic woes of the country. Therefore in an effort to address the situation from a spiritual standpoint, the Chief Minister has invited Rev. John David Mantengo from Kenya to have a prayer session for the people of Anguilla. ”
There were a number of questions raised in the report in The Anguillian regarding this event, before it took place. And I am sure that there will be many pictures and further commentary this week now that it has taken place. But the feedback that I have received, having not been privileged to be a part of the gathering, was that it was scantily attended and somewhat amusing. I was told that it seemed to be more about the Chief Minister and his colleagues than about crime and violence and the general situation of the island. Indeed, it is reported that the Chief Minister was anointed with special oils and presented with a staff and a bracelet, to ensure his continuation in office. One onlooker relating what he witnessed said: “Boy, dey anointed the Chief Minister wid oil and give him a hook stick to beat down his enemies and hook back he supporters!” Unfortunately, the entire event has become a topic of comedic interest to many persons and, as a consequence, the spiritual aspects of the vigil may have been undermined.
I have had conversations with a number of Pastors and Ministers of Religion regarding this event over the past week, in most cases not provoked by anything I said, but rather as a result of their strong views on the matter. None of them was happy with the nature of the ceremony but they were especially upset about the fact that neither Chief Minister nor his colleagues had bothered to invite them or involve them in the event. They also used terms like “insulting”; a slap in the face; disrespectful; and so on, to describe what they felt as a result of that treatment. Yet none of them seemed to approve of what was actually done on Coronation Park on Thursday, March 14, 2013.
While I do not intend to cast judgment on the purpose or content of the service itself, which went on until after midnight, there are a number of questions which have been raised by several persons in the community as follows: a) What was the basis on which this particular Minister was selected? b) What denomination or religion does he represent? c) Who financed his visit to Anguilla? d) Why were the Elected Opposition not invited to be involved in the service? e) When will the Chief Minister use his “hook stick”?
Without any real answers to these questions the Anguillian public has been led to speculate. And as usual the terms “witchcraft”; “obeah”; “African voodoo”; “Shango”; “false prophets”; and “blasphemy” are being frequently used in those speculative comments. In fact, one Pastor brought my attention to the curses brought upon a number of kings and rulers in the Old Testament who sought to consolidate their power by joining forces with false prophets who brought them symbols by which they could be empowered to destroy their enemies; control the people; and protect themselves. This is indeed a slippery slope down which we are heading as a nation when, from the highest echelons of Government, religion seems to be used as a weapon to maintain political hegemony and annihilate one’s enemies. And in fact, there are AUM supporters who firmly believe that the failure of this Government to function is a factor of evil forces working against them. Indeed, the AUF will never forget the AUM Cleric who declared that: “Anyone who votes for the AUF commits an act against God and will be punished.”
Speaking about punishment, there is another issue that became a part of the political discourse this week, namely, the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility (FFR). I use the term punishment here because the narrative coming out of the AUM camp on this issue is that the British Government is punishing us for not signing the FFR. The punishment being that they will not grant their assent to the Budget until we do so. For the benefit of my readers, the FFR is a document to be agreed and signed by the United Kingdom Government (UKG) and the Government of Anguilla (GoA) for the purpose of creating an environment wherein sound economic and financial principles will prevail. Encapsulating these principles into a new public financial management law will ensure that this happens. It will also address borrowing guidelines – as well as best practices for economic and financial management.
The AUF has been in full support of the views expressed by the Chief Minister, in his letter to the UKG Minister, Hon. Mark Simmonds, regarding the FFR. Based on the concerns raised we felt that this was an excellent negotiating strategy and we indicated to the Chief Minister that we would be willing and ready to stand with him in pursuing these positions. While it took the UKG almost three months to respond, we believe that its response represents a reasonable way forward to settle the impasse on the budget – and that the Chief Minister and his Government should now sign off on it with the inclusion of some review clauses.
On Monday March 18th, however, I was most surprised to hear that the Chief Minister had called for a public consultation to discuss the FFR. But because we had made a written pledge to stand with him on this matter I decided to attend. A team from the Ministry of Finance led the technical aspects of the presentation making the case for putting the matter to rest by extracting some further reasonable concessions from the UKG. They did an excellent job in making the case and providing a set of recommendations for consideration by Executive Council (EXCO). I believe that allowing for questions from the audience would have been an excellent time to wrap up the presentation part of the consultation. However, true to form, the Chief Minister rose to make his contribution. His presentation wasted an excellent opportunity to give the audience a better understanding of the FFR. Instead, he returned to his usual comfort zone by taking us on a historic and geographic excursion through Africa and the South Atlantic while “cussing” the British Government and the Governor. This lasted for more than thirty minutes during which period I fidgeted — disgusted with myself for having decided to attend.
But at long last the question and answer period came and after an uncomfortable silence I ventured to make the first set of comments. I must confess that I was still agitated by the purposeless rant which I was forced to endure. However, I took a deep breath and gave my suggestions as to the best way forward on this issue. The brunt of my argument was that the negotiation process had taken its course and it was not reasonable to expect any further accommodations/concessions. That, in fact, there was only one remaining point of contention with the UKG and that could be dealt with in another way. I therefore recommended that since the Government was in its fourth year of a five-year term it was ridiculous to haggle over this matter any longer, but rather they should accept the concessions offered – get this matter behind them – and try to finally make things happen in the country. I have the sense that most of what I said was well received — but inevitably a diehard AUM supporter took the mike and basically implied that I had “hogged” the show at which point I was happy to make my exit.
After I left the auditorium I continued to listen on radio and was most pleased with the manner in which the technical team dealt with the remainder of the consultation. In fact, I would venture to say that it seemed that they finally convinced the Chief Minister that this matter needed to be put to rest, and he should now proceed towards making things happen on the island. So, all in all, I believe that this will lead to a good outcome for all concerned. Today, after another history lesson in his radio address, the Chief appears finally ready to sign the FFR and get his budget assented to. Can it be that someone’s prayers are being answered?
Again, speaking about prayers, the comments on the Coronation Park vigil abound. And speculation is on the rise. Is the Chief Minister the architect of this unsettling and dubious ritual? Who and what are we really up against? As I pressed the question one of the Pastors turned to me almost reluctantly and said: “You should read Ephesians Chapter 6 verse 13! You may find an answer!” I looked it up and was particularly taken up with the last part of the verse, which reads: “Against spiritual wickedness in high places!” But, like the Eunuch of Ethiopia, I still need guidance.