Radio Address by Leader of the Opposition The Hon Pam Webster Friday, November 13, 2015

anguillian
By anguillian November 23, 2015 10:02 Updated

 

 

Fellow Anguillians, wherever you are. I address you in my role as “Leader of the Opposition” or, as the young people of Anguilla refer to me, as the “Voice of the People”.

It is of great concern that, in the last week starting with last Monday’s proceedings in the House of Assembly, we witnessed repeatedly a high-handedness and political insensitivity of insecure persons in leadership roles. The government’s handling of the banking issue must be the worst example of governmental ineptitude in the annals of Anguilla. I am so concerned for Anguilla’s future at this time.

You, the good people of Anguilla, you rightly demand to be consulted in advance before a piece of legislation is enacted. Some argue that the Banking Bill is unconstitutional and others oppose the Bill on different but also very serious grounds. What has become clear to me in the last few days is that the government, our government, has, for weeks and months, had a vast amount of information which it could have shared with us, having falsely claimed when I repeatedly asked the Chief Minister for information, that there was no available information that was not confidential. They have only seen fit to disclose that information far too late and in the face of militant action by you, the good people of Anguilla. They have also chosen to put our country’s divisions on public display at the very worst possible time of the year – the beginning of the tourist season. What stupidity!

The only explanation I can come up with for the government’s silence until a few days ago is that its members are beholden to the Chief Minister and that the Honourable Chief Minister’s decision making powers have been paralysed for these past months by the enormity of the banking problem. He has pretty much said that himself.

What I find disturbing is that, having been forced to back down over the initial tabling of the Bill on Monday, the Chief Minister is now deploying political posturing in an attempt to cover up this incompetence. I shall give you just two examples:

• the Chief Minister, who as you know is also Minister of Finance, has admitted, under duress, that his party’s promise to abolish the Stabilisation Levy cannot be honoured; can you imagine? Why didn’t he tell us that sooner, when it first became apparent to him, so that the consequences could be assessed methodically and rationally, instead of under duress in the midst of so many problems?

• The Chief Minister tells us too that no jobs will be lost at either of the banks, whatever solution is adopted. That is undoubtedly a very desirable aim, but it is nothing like as desirable as telling the truth and aiming to provide replacement jobs in a reviving economy for those displaced and an increase in productivity, efficiency and economic viability for the surviving bank or banks. Whoever heard of a rationalisation of banking institutions that did not entail some loss of jobs? The very concept must make Anguilla a laughing stock to those who we would like to have on our side. Is it that the Chief Minister is selling us another campaign promise that is pie in the sky?

• I hate to think what other empty promises the government will make to curry the favour of the electorate; favour which, at this time, they sadly do not deserve.
But let me turn now in the direction towards which the government must aim, if it is to rescue not only its own reputation but also, and far more importantly in my view, the future of Anguilla.
The government has had weeks and months to consider the issues in the banking crisis, and they have not even scratched the surface yet in terms of building a consensus of the people. Last night’s proceedings at the McArthur Rey Auditorium confirms that. That should have been their aim all along to build consensus, and now it MUST be their aim, because “united we stand, divided we fall”. I repeat: “united we stand, divided we fall”.

Our history has always been one of fighting for the rights of Anguillians to participate and shape their destiny. That is who we are; that’s our history. What happened in the House reminded me of Animal Farm, where some people are more equal than others. Even last night’s “consultation” confirmed that this is the reality that our government is promoting. I believe Anguilla now needs political leadership every bit as much as it did in 1967. I pray that leadership will emerge and will prevail. I reach no conclusion as to what the right solution is for Anguilla in this crisis, especially at this early stage of what is currently a mockery in terms of consultation. I say “mockery” because not even the Chief Minister can be so naive I believe as to imagine that a few days is long enough for proper consultation or conclusions. Furthermore, the dictatorial tone struck by at least one of Mr Banks’s ministers makes it very clear that the government is pretending to consult, and at this point it has no intention of listening. I am sorry to say in my view this “consultation” is a pretence. And what I say further is that you the people MUST be given time to seek a way forward for the banks. And while I appreciate that no solution can satisfy everyone’s interests, hopefully the decision will serve the best interests of Anguilla as a whole.

The arguments of some seek a solution that would isolate Anguilla from the mainstream of banking regulation and would lead to Anguilla’s characterisation as a pariah in terms of international financial services. We must ask ourselves: would that strengthen Anguilla as a nation? Would that support the aspirations of our youth? Commonsense suggests otherwise.

Those who advocate that Anguilla should go it alone contend that the Banking Bill would be unconstitutional and subject to challenge if enacted. The better view seems to me to be that this is not the case. The proposed new Banking Act is a product of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Agreement (an international Treaty) and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Agreement Act (which made the Treaty a part of our law since 1987). We are already bound by the Treaty, and by the law, to enact model legislation to give effect to the decisions of the ECCB Monetary Council, which sets policy for the Central Bank to carry out. It is not a surrender of sovereignty, or unconstitutional, to agree to act together for the common good of the people of our Region. On the contrary, I believe it is an affirmation of our sovereignty when we enter into international treaties with other countries with our own will.

Taking this theme one stage further, the BVI has been able to take a somewhat independent line in terms of its currency and regulation, but how can we be sure that an attempt by Anguilla to do so at this point would lead to any other result than our becoming an inconsequential pariah in terms of our banking and financial services industries, with the horrendous additional financial consequences for Anguilla that that would entail?

I suggest these potential problems by way of warning only. As I have said earlier, it is too soon in our disastrously truncated consultative process to reach conclusions. But the potential consequences I have mentioned only serve to illustrate how important it is that all those with an interest in seeing Anguilla as a whole prosper – as distinct from promoting their own sectional interests – should be given the opportunity, through FULL, RATIONAL and RESPONSIVE consultation, to form a considered view of the options, based on reason rather than on pressurised emotion. Anything less will be in my view a recipe for a divided nation and potential attrition for many many years to come.

Don Mitchell QC has summarised the issues for the Chief Minister in what I believe is a well reasoned paper, entitled BANKING REFORM IN ANGUILLA, dated the 9th of November 2015. I shall quote just its last paragraph, and I quote:

On 22 September 2015, the House of Assembly passed a resolution that “the Honourable Minister of Finance appoint a committee of the whole House to deal with the issues which affect the indigenous banking sector and ensure that all relevant information including proposals for the resolution of the issue be made available to the committee.” Yet, the government has now attempted to introduce a new Banking Act in the House of Assembly without even a hint of an attempt at carrying the people with them. This may well be seen as an example of arrogant paternalism, and a failure to build trust and community of purpose, the very essence of which is missing in Anguilla, and why so much is going wrong. Hopefully, the Chief Minister’s withdrawal of the First Reading of the Bill in the face of public hostility from the gallery of the House is the start of a real discussion on the future of the banking system of Anguilla. It is essential that he honour the resolution of the House as well.

The CM contacted me early this morning to invite me to a meeting at the ministry, suggesting that he was convening the Select Committee, and I intend to attend of course. At this meeting I intend to repeat what I have said and what I have been saying to the Chief Minister throughout, from as long ago as 1st June in that address on The Ronald Webster’s Park. I said to him then “you need to tell me whether you and your ministers intend to do the right thing by the people of Anguilla and give us the opportunity to do Anguilla proud by pulling together”. I say to the Chief Minister now: “your answer to that question will determine whether or not we, the people of Anguilla, can support you in the decision making process ahead of us”. My good people, I will continue to advocate for an open door policy. No need to break the doors of the House of Assembly down. I will advocate for an open door policy in respect of not just this piece of legislation but every piece of legislation that comes in front of the House. And for my part, I pledge to you that I will do everything possible to encourage unity of purpose throughout the length and breadth of Anguilla.

Thank you very much for listening. May God bless Anguillians and may God bless Anguilla.

(Published without editing by The Anguillian newspaper.)

anguillian
By anguillian November 23, 2015 10:02 Updated

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