Opposition leader and governor exchange letters

anguillian
By anguillian January 25, 2016 09:58 Updated

 

 

Her Excellency Ms Christina Scott
Governor of Anguilla
Governor’s Office Old Ta, AI-2640
Anguilla

1st January 2016

Dear Governor

Interim Stabilisation Levy (Amendment) Act, 2015 (Bill) Control of Employment (Amendment) Act 2015 (Bill) Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2015 (Bill) Property Tax Act 2015 (Bill)

As you will know, at the sittings of the Assembly on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, 29th and 30th December 2015, I objected persistently to the House debating and purporting to pass the above mentioned Bills, on the grounds that to do so was contrary to paragraphs (a) and (b) of sub-section (2) of section 55 of the Anguilla Constitution order 1982, which provide as follows:
(2) Except on the recommendation of the Governor, the Assembly shall not-
(a) proceed upon any Bill (including any amendment to a Bill) which in the opinion of the person presiding in the Assembly, makes provision for imposing or increasing any tax, for imposing or increasing any charge on the revenues or other funds of Anguilla or for altering any such charge otherwise than by reducing it or for compounding or remitting any debt due to Anguilla;
(b) proceed upon any motion (including any amendment to a motion) the effect of which, in the opinion of the person presiding in the Assembly, is that provision would be made for any of the purposes aforesaid;

No “recommendation of [Your Excellency] the Governor” was brought before the House and the fact that the above Bills fall within the prohibition of paragraph (a) is surely incontrovertible. The Speaker did not provide or attempt to provide any valid argument to the contrary. He did, however, at the urging of the Government, allow the debate and votes to proceed, in contravention of the Constitution and in disregard of my objections.

In the circumstances, I urge you to decline to assent to and sign these Bills until this issue has been properly and constitutionally rectified. I make this request not with any expectation that, if the Bills do have your approval (and by extension the approval of the UK as administering power), their passage will nevertheless be blocked. That would be a destructive motive which is quite the reverse of my intention. I make the request for very important constitutional reasons.

If you choose to assent to Bills which have been progressed unconstitutionally:
• you signal that the United Kingdom sets no store by the terms of the Constitution of Anguilla. It condones a fundamental breach of the terms of the Constitution and can be presumed to be willing to condone further breaches which the Anguilla Government of the day may seek to put over in the future;

• you encourage the Government of Anguilla in its self-acknowledged disregard of the wishes of the people;

• you ride roughshod over the strong desire of the people of Anguilla to break free from the damaging consequences of years of laissez-faire governance;

• you send a message to the governments of other UK overseas territories that they too can expect to have a blind eye turned towards autocratic practices that breach the rules of good governance;

• you devalue the relevance of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee, who are likely to see such a disregard for the constitution as a message that, whatever revised constitution their efforts may result in, in crucially important respects it will not be worth the paper it is written on;

• you say to the people: “You may have fundamental rights under the Constitution, but don’t look to me, as representative of your Sovereign and Defender of the Faith, to shoulder any responsibility for seeing that the Constitution is complied with. Your proper remedy, which will take too long, and is in any case beyond your economic reach, is to seek relief from the court”.

• Britain’s role as administering authority is highly regarded by prospective investors in Anguilla as a safeguard against laissez-faire governance and much much worse. Take away the credibility of that safeguard and what are you left with?

• Finally, Britain may, as Prime Minister Cameron has said in his New Year message, claim to be a beacon in the world in terms of its values: freedom, tolerance, responsibility, loyalty. If it demonstrates that one of the cardinal safeguards written into the Constitution, for the benefit of the people of Anguilla, is of no greater value than a dud cheque, all of Britain’s claims to value and uphold good governance will be exposed for the whole world to see.

Quite apart from these considerations, I submit that, as a matter of law, the Bills in question are not even open to assent pursuant to section 57 of the Constitution. Their purported passage in the House was invalid and, until and unless they are validly passed in the legislature in conformity with the provisions of section 55 of the Constitution, they do not qualify for assent in the ordinary course.

With these considerations in view, I urge you to stand firm on this issue. I do not believe for one moment that strict adherence to the provisions of the constitution need derail the Government’s budget objectives, if those budget objectives do indeed have the United Kingdom’s approval. I believe that a simple and swift procedure for putting the matter right, constitutionally, could easily be devised and implemented. Insistence on the issue being rectified before assent would send a strong message, not only to the Government but also to the Speaker, that defiance of the constitution will not be tolerated.

To ensure that there is no misunderstanding of my position, however, I should add that it would be my devout hope that the United Kingdom Government would have a more compassionate budget strategy to propose to the Anguilla Government. In that case I would obviously support any steps that led to assent being withheld from the Bills in question altogether, and a more compassionate and creative budget introduced in its place. That may be a pipe dream, but it is one which I shall continue to target.

I wish you a very happy 2016. Yours sincerely,,

Palmavon Webster
Leader of the Opposition

cc: Steve McCready Esq., Chief of Staff Governor’s Office.
James Duddridge Esq., MP. Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Andrew Rosindell Esq., MP., Chairman, United Kingdom Overseas Territories All-Party Parliamentary Group
Ms. Fiona Mactaggart MP., Vice Chair, United Kingdom Overseas Territories All Party Parliamentary Group
Michael Potter Esq., Assistant Head of Caribbean and Bermuda Section, Overseas Territories Directorate, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Don Mitchell Esq., QC, Chairman, Anguilla Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee

(Published without editing by The Anguillian newspaper.)

anguillian
By anguillian January 25, 2016 09:58 Updated

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