“AN IDENTITY IN SEARCH OF A PEOPLE” by Tyrone Hodge

anguillian
By anguillian August 19, 2015 09:05

 

“Upon regarding the West Indies’ position in the middle of the ocean, glancing at the map which shows them almost to be in touch with each other, one cannot help but think that they may well come together some day to form a distinct social body in the modern world… They might well unite in confederation, joined by a common interest, and possess a merchant fleet, an industry, arts and literature all their own. That will not come about in a year, not in two, nor perhaps in three centuries, but come about, it someday shall, for it is natural to be so” (V. Schoelcher Les Colonies Francaises, Paris 1852).

Those words, spoken by French abolitionist Schoelcher, are no truer today, in my opinion, than they were almost 200 years ago when he spoke them. Though we have achieved with distinction some of the lofty goals of which he foretold, we continue to be, in the words of Sir Shridath Ramphal, “…adrift in the Caribbean Sea as if without a chart or compass, making a virtue of being blown by winds of fortune – even when they blow us apart.” That we continue to, as Sir Ramphal points out, ‘labor in the vineyard’ I suppose that there is still hope for, if you recall, Schoelcher gave us three centuries for, in his words ‘it’s natural to be so’ . So knowing what we do, is it any surprise then, when we witness the fragmented regionalism that has and continues to take place?
The recent brouhaha that occurred at the Eastern Caribbean Bank just a little over a month ago, should have been a wake-up call with regard to our two indigenous banks. Given that it is almost two years to the day since our banks, with the unfettered blessing of our then Minister of Finance, the Honorable Hubert Hughes, were placed into the conservatorship of the ECCB in St. Kitts, one would have thought that by now the said bank would have had more than enough time to decide, one way or another, the fate of both banks.

In that there’s so much uncertainty in the region, one can understand the frame of mind that ‘we’, the shareholders of both banks, find ourselves in. There are several questions that need to be asked and answered: Why has it taken so long to resolve the issues in question? Why so much lapsed time between the time when the so called problems surfaced, and the time that the Central Bank intervened? Statements and reports would tend to suggest that nothing transpired in the indigenous banks without the Central Bank’s knowledge, which leads to yet another question: Why didn’t the bank act sooner? You’re thinking what I’m thinking? What comes next?
What’s the plan or, more specifically, is there a plan going forward? You’ll have to admit, we have been very patient in allowing the Central Bank to do its job but, my goodness, almost two years? Why have we not heard from the Governor of the ECCB? The Monetary Council which met here about two weeks ago, in which all concerned were present, including the esteemed Governor of the ECCB Sir Dwight Venner, would, I think, have been the ideal time to lay out a blueprint for going forward. Instead, we were fed nothing more than a lot of doublespeak and some very patronizing comments by both the outgoing and incoming Chairmen of the Monetary Council. I will get back to that later on.
While our Minister of Finance seems to understand the gravity of our situation, James 28 says you will know me by my actions, not mere words. So, what will you do? Mr. Banks, your Chairmanship will last one year. We have no doubt that it has some prestige and perks attached to it so, the question becomes, which way will the pendulum swing? The Anguillian editorial of August 24th put it more bluntly: “Which Master Will You Serve?” In an unpublished letter, I asked similar questions. When the CCB close down occurred, the Honorable Opposition member from District One brought up the fact that your government is stockpiled with talent, yet you continue to have a portfolio that is bursting at the seams. In addition to being Chief Minister of Anguilla, you are also the Minister of Finance, and now the Chairman of the Monetary Council. You Sir, are what we now call, to use the sports vernacular, “a triple threat.” How you will pull this off is anyone’s guess and I don’t think that they’re enough hours in the day for what you’ll be tasked with.

The mark of a good leader is the ability to recognize that something is not working and to take corrective measures without self-denigration. The mark of a great leader is the ability to delegate authority and pull all the pieces together like the conductor of a great symphony. And Mr. Banks, you know this, so what gives? You don’t have to do everything. There is no ‘I’ in team. While all of this is happening we, your constituents are waiting to find out which way you’re going to go. Two years is a long time to wait to find out whether or not our shares are worth anything. It is understandable that when one makes an investment, there is an element of risk attached to it. That we get. What we don’t get is the deafening silence, the not knowing what’s going to happen next, the inability to modify our mortgages. And now this talk of debt asset management. What will happen? Just recently, Puerto Rico filed bankruptcy and, as a consequence, world class properties are being auctioned off for pennies on the dollar. I don’t have to tell you what something like that would do to Anguilla.
It’s easy for the other members of the Monetary Council to pass judgment on us because they don’t know how those banks came about. There is an African proverb that says “When the trees saw the axe coming into the forest, some of them said ‘it’s O.K., the handle is one of us.” At the end of the day, it’s all about the EC dollar and the integrity of the banking system. Do we not get that? They don’t know about our land and what it means to us. If the so-called Resolution Trust is allowed to sell off our assets, the Anguilla that we know and love will cease to exist.

What makes us stand out as Anguillans is the fact that we’re landowners. The fact that we used our lands as collateral should not have been a problem. That practice has been in existence since time began and the mere fact that we now face the distinct danger of losing those properties, through no fault of our own, is cause for much concern. Mr. Banks, I agree with you that this is not a one size fits all scenario here, and it has to be handled very delicately. You are walking on hallowed ground here. If we were to lose those properties, with them go our identities, our independence. That we’ve hit a bump in the road, should not be our undoing for we’re not the only ones who got hammered by the market. It was a worldwide phenomenon, and most countries dealt with it the best they could.
It has long been common knowledge that the needs of the Anguilla indigenous banks and those of the Central Bank were as different as night and day. That tells us from the outset that they were, and continues to be, irreconcilable differences which will ultimately end in divorce- the only question is, when? We know that the Governor and those around him have long entertained the notion that there are too many banks in the region, and now this upstart Anguilla enters the pool with not one, but two indigenous banks. Governor, someone said that we can’t remain in a vacuum, and that is precisely why we had to start our own banks. Governor, demolishing our indigenous banks would be tantamount to taking out Brimstone Hill. Can you envision St. Kitts without Brimstone Hill?
We know that the mission of the ECCB is to stabilize the EC dollar and maintain the integrity of the banking system. That being said, a perusal of the regions newspapers and other media tends to suggest something quite the contrary. We in Anguilla can understand where your priorities lie, and based on what we have seen, and your on record statements, have come to the conclusion that our interests are not the same.

We are expecting our Minister of Finance to come through in the clutch, to use a sports metaphor. While information has been at a premium, and despite the adage that Anguillians don’t read, you’d be surprised to know that we are not a bunch of dunderheads. If our past history is any indication, you know full well we can only remain passive for only so long. Just recently, the EU and the IMF bailed out Greece to the tune of 94 billion Euros, while our struggling Caribbean brothers and sisters continue to drift in a sea without charts or compass, without being afforded the same courtesy. We really don’t know what to expect, for we’ve seen the ECCB defiance of the courts with regard to Ms Benjamin. That act alone should have telegraphed the banks true intent towards us here in Anguilla and, based its your past statements, we could for all intents and purposes, go to hell. Have I missed anything?

In Anguilla, we find ourselves in a very precarious position and, depending on the final resolution, the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed, could be a thing of the past. Picture, if you will, an Anguillian Resolution Trust, euphemistically called asset management, selling off our properties for pennies on the dollar-what do you think will happen? Folks, the powers that be need to understand that this is a situation that we cannot and should not subscribe to. Anyone you talk to will tell you that the wants and needs of both parties are so far apart that a zip line will be needed to broach both sides. And when you hear comments as we did from Dr. Ralph Gonsalves about incestuous lending practices and the like, it becomes clear that yes, maybe, best practices were not the order of the day – but was that not the job of the ECCB to ferret out those sorts of practices and correct them? Was that not part of maintaining the integrity of the banking system? When we hear of some of the statements made by the Governor, one has to conclude that perhaps we won’t get the desired results that we want.

It is ironic that as we celebrate Emancipation, we are still being treated as though we never were. We have a populace whose basic needs have been woefully neglected. If we are to emancipate ourselves from this malaise that we find ourselves bogged down in, we have to throw away the old playbook and rewrite the rules. We start with education and training. We are not going to stand around every year and tell our most recent graduates how proud we are of them and then watch them lose all hope. True, a degree at whatever level does not a job guarantee, but it prepares you for what lies ahead. What you do with it, well that’s a different story but, as a people, we have to give our young people an opportunity to make something of themselves. They are the future. There has to be more to life than just existing. Our parents labored so that we’d be afforded the opportunities that they didn’t have and, believe me, most of us have done exceptionally well. We have to pass on, with the same energy and determination to our young, that which was handed down to us.

One reason Kittitians loved Bradshaw was that he looked out for them. He sent people away to go to school and they came back. Education is one way that we can truly emancipate ourselves. We consistently knock ourselves out to fill the coffers of some boss. We work for the hotels instead of owning them. Don Mitchell in one of his many writings, admonished us about the need to hold on to our land. Rather than sell the land, we could lease it and have the land work for us, and when the lease expires the land reverts back to its heirs. We are unlike anyone on the face of this earth, but yet we consistently shoot ourselves in the foot. Do we know who we truly are? Will the real Anguilla come forward? Are we really emancipated? The late Bob Marley sang: “Open up your eyes, look within, are you satisfied with the life you’re living?”

As we go forward, we have arrived at a time and place when the stars are all aligned where we can achieve the things that we so desperately need. Mr. Banks, as the flag bearer of the AUF circa 2000, your manifesto promised electoral and constitution reform, responsible government, settlement of the belongership, issue a code of conduct for both politicians and government employees, an ombudsman just to list a few. Since that time we have encountered an array of other more pressing problems that need to be addressed. Mr. Banks, the spot is on you, you are front and center. In addition to being our Chief Minister, and Minister of Finance, you are now the Chairman of the Monetary Council. You have been put in the unenviable position of trying to clean up someone else’s mess, and how you go about doing this will be of great concern to all of us.
Whether or not you choose to pull Anguilla out of the ECCB or stay in, it cannot be business as usual. All we can hope for is that you use your new found power to our advantage. We understand the added prestige and perks that may come with being the Chairman, and we sincerely hope that you don’t let personal ambition trump national priorities. You, sir, have the chance to achieve Obama-like praises for doing what needs to be done. The question is: Are you ready to take your place alongside the greats? In the immortal words of President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” So CM Banks, what will you do for your country? What will the history books say about the Honorable Victor Banks, the 5th CM of Anguilla? Remember, we are our brother’s keeper. So till next time, may God bless us all and may God continue to bless Anguilla.

anguillian
By anguillian August 19, 2015 09:05

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