DEBATE LOOKS AT SELF-GOVERNANCE IN ANGUILLA…
With constitutional advancement in Anguilla continuing to be a topical issue, the Anguilla Bar Association has been commended for organising a high-powered debate on governance issues by two distinguished Caribbean jurists.
The topic of the public debate was: “Self-Governance – Is this a Solution or a Problem for small states like Anguilla?” The debate, on Thursday, July 10, at the Wallblake Conference Centre, was presented by Mrs Dancia Penn, OBE, QC, of the British Virgin Islands, and Dr Francis Alexis, QC, of Grenada. The event, which was well attended by legal practitioners and representatives from various branches of the public and private sectors, was part of a series of activities held in May this year to mark the Second Annual Law Week of the Anguilla Bar Association. The debate was however postponed until late last week due to other engagements by Dr Alexis.
Mrs Penn pointed out that, despite all the talk and urgings of constitutional reform, and despite the white papers and green papers of successive UK Governments, constitutional reform had always been limited to Anguilla and the other Overseas Territories. She stated that such reform was only possible if a particular Overseas Territory wished to pursue full political independence.
Mrs Penn quoted Mr Bill Rammell, a former Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, as saying the following in 2003: “Overseas Territories Governments should not expect that, in the constitutional review, the United Kingdom will agree to changes in the UK Government’s reserved powers, or matters which would have implications for the independence of the judiciary and the impartiality of the public service.” She continued: “So it seems that part of the consideration as to whether self-governance is an option for Anguilla or, indeed, for any other Overseas Territory – whether it is a problem or a solution – it must of necessity take into account the fact of the limitations that would exist in any ongoing relationship with the United Kingdom…The truth is that, notwithstanding white papers and green papers, what Bill Rammell said in 2003 remains the position.”
The Queen’s Counsel observed that a question to be asked was whether the constitutional reality and governance arrangements, as they exist now in Anguilla, and the other Caribbean territories, were in keeping with the UK’s vision set out in the white paper and the green paper. She stressed, however that, more importantly was the vision that the people of Anguilla and the other territories should have for themselves.
“I hold to the clear belief that it is for the people of our islands, and not for anyone of us, as individuals, to say what should or should not be the position with respect to self-governance,” she went on. “I share, however, some of the elements which, in my view, should be integral parts of whatever governance arrangements we decide on ultimately and have implemented. To my mind, these are some of the fundamental principles which must be part of our vision and become our reality. Firstly, I speak of robust systems and mechanisms for transparent, open and accountable government. Simply put, those persons, officers and institutions, including statutory bodies, charged with responsibilities, must be held to account and must give account. A key element of governance is the establishment, maintenance and functioning of independent systems of, and for, accountability. It is the existence and sustaining of these mechanisms that will lead to strong sustainable societies, robust economies, integrity and efficiency. Integral too, is a responsible and independent judiciary; preservation of the principles of the rule of law in a real, tangible way – and not just talk; and standards in public life.”
Other matters which Mrs Penn included in good governance were the public service, the education system, gender equality; a responsible and vibrant media as well as the functioning of a strong NGO community; immigration and labour policies; registration of voters and voting.
Meanwhile, Dr Francis Alexis, the other participant in the debate, was of the view that the term of self-governance was not defined. “It can relate to internal self-governance, and if we confine it to internal self-governance, it is evident that from the contribution of Dancia Penn QC that we do not have full internal self-governance in Anguilla,” he remarked, referring to the wide powers of the governor under the constitution.
Dr Alexis spoke on full self-governance which he said was the second aspect of self-governance leading to independence. Speaking from a theoretical point of view, and not interfering in the internal affairs of Anguilla, he went on: “Just how the term independence is not cast in concrete, you don’t have to use the word independence to mean independence; so, too, you can have independence with differing approaches. For example, take the question of external affairs. You can have an arrangement in which, if you are talking about external affairs within the Caribbean, Anguilla can have more autonomy than if you are talking about external affairs outside of the Caribbean…
“You can define independence in a manner in which – and you can put it to the British – when you are relating to your brothers and sisters inside the Caribbean you may have a leeway which you may not need if you have to relate to Afghanistan, or Syria, or Iraq or Georgia, close to Russia, for example. You can define the term to suit your needs and realities. External affairs may mean one thing inside the Caribbean but another thing outside the Caribbean.”
Dr Alexis was of the view that there was enough brain power in Anguilla for persons to “sit down and analyse the discordant sounds about governance and decide whither goes Anguilla.” He added that when Anguilla and the other territories discussed self-governance, they should do so in manner that would suit themselves.
The debate might not have been conclusive in its entirety, but both sides of the presentations were well received by the audience, some of whose members fielded searching questions to Mrs Penn and Dr Alexis.
Both debaters, and other persons at the event, commended the Anguilla Bar Association for its selection of the topic at a period of heightened interest in constitutional reform and self-governance on the island.
Mrs Penn and Dr Alexis were welcomed to Anguilla by Ms Yvette Wallace. The Moderator was Mr Keithstone Greaves, Programme Manager at Radio Anguilla.