REFLECT AND REBOOT

anguillian
By anguillian January 11, 2016 09:02 Updated

 

 

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch,” (James Bovard).

As we look forward to 2016, it would be remiss of us to not look back to see where we’ve been, to understand where we presently are and where we need to go. There is no doubt that we face an uncertain future, and it’s anybody’s guess what will happen. The overarching question that needs to be asked is, how did we get here?

Charles Wilkin QC, writing in his book “Breaking the Cycle,” attributes this phenomenon of a broken political system to tribal politics, a porous electoral system, a weak governance system, a widespread entitlement mentality, declining social discipline and low productivity. Though Mr. Wilkin was talking about his own homeland of St. Kitts, one can safely say replace St. Kitts with Anguilla and nothing would have to be changed.

Although tomorrow is promised to no one, as the saying goes, we wait with bated breath to see what it will bring. We can’t help but wonder, where did we go wrong? How could we have missed the signs? The pundits will be more than happy to posit their theories, but the fact of the matter is that it can all be chalked up to what Mr. Wilkin calls political tribalism, weak constitutions, which then creates an ‘elective dictatorship’ or one party rule the Westminster model in all its glory.

So the question that’s being asked once more is how did we get here? Who gets the blame? Here we are, at the beginning of 2016, and we don’t have a clue as to how or where we’re headed. For a people who were shipwrecked all their lives, according to V.S. Naipaul, we all of a sudden can’t seem to find our way out of a paper bag with neon lights flashing ‘this way out.’ That’s not us. Isn’t it time that we were dealt with on our own merits? That is why we have a government, or should I say an oligarchy?

We have always seemed to be not the main card, but an afterthought. We were always the relative who got the remnants, the left-overs, and most of the time we’d be lucky to get those. Does anyone remember the projects that were started and left half finished? Does anyone remember the roads that they would prepare for blacktop only to not finish the original footage because they either ran out of money or supplies? Does anyone remember the different colors of loose dirt that we had to ride through to get to school, only to have to clean ourselves once again before classes started? How soon we forget.

So again, how did we get to this point? Well, let’s take a look. We didn’t just get here by ourselves – we had help, lots of help. Our so-called protector, good old mother England, now suffering the effects of WWII had no choice but to cut loose her former colonies by offering any and everyone, if they met the right criteria, associated statehood or independence, with the knowledge that most if not all were being set up to fail. So they laid the foundation for the mess that later became St. Kitts Nevis and Anguilla, once again, a marriage of convenience on both the parts of Nevis and Anguilla, though at different times, especially Anguilla. We know what happened, for the story has been told time and time again.

So after fifty years of many false starts, we once again find ourselves at the start a new year, and what should be a happy and pleasant time, regretfully, will be anything but. We are once again bogged down by party politics which in itself is not a good thing. We will forever regret the day that party politics came to our beloved Anguilla for, since that day, we’ve been in a downward spiral from which we can’t seem to extricate ourselves.

Last April it looked as though we had finally arrived, or so we thought. We had in the AUF a government that would make us whole again – Anguilla would once again revert to its Crown Jewel status. They would save the banks, the government would be kinder and gentler, lessons were learned from the last time and things would definitely be different. Verses of scripture were quoted by the Honorable Chief Minister Victor Banks during his address to the constituency on Webster’s Park right after the election. A new day had arrived in a brand new Anguilla. Things would be different.

Things would be different alright and how? The once promising start had since morphed into something entirely different. All of a sudden, the benchmarks of good governance, integrity, accountability and transparency became nothing but buzz words. The honeymoon was over and it was every man for himself. Information is at a premium, and of course, the speculation begins. For it is said, in the movie The American President that: “In the absence of genuine leadership, people will listen to anyone who steps up to the mike. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert to a mirage and when they discover there is no water, they will drink the sand.”

People by nature are followers and will go along to get along. In Anguilla we seemed to have turned that trait into an art form. One of our international treasures in the Caribbean is the Mighty Sparrow who had a penchant for putting his finger on the pulse of all things Caribbean. In one of his calypsos the lyric went something like this: “If Sparrow say so, is so.” Our politicians tend to adopt that line: “If they say so, is so.” We as a people have got to wean ourselves from whatever it is that ails us. We have got to overcome the tribe mentality or else we’ll find ourselves, much to our detriment, guests in our own country.
So what is it that needs to happen among our people? We need to come together as one – it’s that simple. What is it that we want? Well, for starters, we want the Anguilla that we all fought for, the Anguilla in which each and everyone can participate in the fruits of their labor – not an Anguilla for the few, the oligarchs and their friends and family. We want an Anguilla where we have in place a constitution replete with the necessary checks and balances. We want an Anguilla where the constituencies are evenly divided, where the electoral laws are fair and equitable. We want an Anguilla in which the rule of law does not revert to the rule of man. We want an Anguilla where an Anguillian will feel proud to be an Anguillan.

We want an Anguilla in which we can live freely, where we will have the freedom from want, the freedom from fear, the freedom to live our lives as we see fit. Can we honestly say that we have that now?

For the first time in our country’s history, we were given to use the CM’s words, a mandate, to do the people’s work. We know what the problems are. What we don’t know is how to go about fixing them. One would think that since we are an overseas territory, that the British would be more than happy to lend their expertise in areas that we find ourselves sorely lacking. We do not live in a perfect world and that hasn’t been the case, which leads one to ask the sixty-four thousand dollar question, why?

As I argued in my last piece, the treatment that we’ve sustained by the British government would not have been doled out to any of the other overseas territories. What then makes us different? I would like to think that skin color has nothing to do with it, so what then is it? Is it because we finally had to fight for that which we believed in and, in the process, embarrassed good old mother England – that a country with her wealth and stature could leave 6500 black people languishing for as long as she did? If that’s not it, what then is it? When we’ve seen Prime Minister David Cameron hobnobbing with the heads of former British territories and doling out large sums to them to help with their development, and nothing comes to Anguilla, what can we conclude? How do we figure in the grand scheme of things? Are we not entitled to share in the generosity if one can call it that?

We are not about to define the times, to use our beloved CM’s use of the President’s inaugural speech, that we could be so bold as to talk about defining the times, given that the times are killing us, took moxie and the only thing was missing was the piece de resistance of, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”

That being said, what is it that we can do for our country? We need a constitution with benchmarks of good governance: Integrity, accountability and of course, transparency. We need the checks and balances so that the system cannot be gamed and that’s for starters.

Queens Counsel Mr. Charles Wilkin outlined a number of things that need to be transformed, and even though he was mostly referring to his homeland of St. Kitts, they apply across the region. They are not only endemic to St. Kitts but through the entire Caribbean. Let’s not fool ourselves here – it’s not a St. Kitts problem, it a problem region wide. He refers to term limits, no more than two terms or ten years. Fiscal responsibility which sets government debt at a fixed percentage of GDP, and balanced budgets. He talked about ‘issue ballots,’ the election of a Speaker, who should be elected by ballot as opposed to the governing party. He further stated that while it would not guarantee the Speaker’s independence, it would expose candidates to public scrutiny. The removal of dual nationality clause which he says creates the ridiculous anomaly that a person who was a native, but then takes a second nationality of choice cannot seek elective office, but a son who was born abroad and has two nationalities may not be debarred. He also talked about strengthening the right of free speech, which is aimed at the government owned media which seem to be anti opposition. Mr. Wilkin also suggests that the position of the Ombudsman should be an elected position, and in so doing would give that office greater independence and powers to protect the citizen from the abuse of government power.

Mr. Wilkin had many more suggestions most of which directly applied to his homeland of St. Kitts, but they’re the same issues that we in Anguilla faced. Campaign finance reform, the overseas vote, electoral reform, campaign finance legislation, the supervisor of elections, the electoral commission, dispute resolution as to voter registration and commonwealth citizens.

There are many other areas that we as a budding young country would do well to look into and try to rectify. Integrity in public life, freedom of information, easy access to the official gazette and other government publications, anti-corruption measures, public boards and quite a few others most of which apply to the region on a whole.

We are constantly being given laws by the British to rubber stamp, without truly understanding that which we’ve passed into law. We cannot seem to understand that the British will do what’s right for Great Britain. Right now PM Cameron is fighting with the EU in trying to extract the very best deal that he can get for Britain. Should the British people decide to pull out of the EU the repercussions will reverberate all the way to us. Their banks are in trouble and no one is trying to amalgamate them. Why is it then that we are being dealt with differently?

They keep sending us edicts as to what we can and can’t do. The truth of the matter is if we have to be told this late in the game what we ought to have been doing, then we are truly a sorry lot. Anyone running a business the way the Anguilla government is being run would have gone under long ago. Don Mitchell, on his blog again, said it best when he said the latest draft Order in Council is an imposition which is bound to foster resentment and will not lead to good governance.

So here we are once again at the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one. We are about to reboot our system and, as technology is often prone to do, it sometimes takes forever to get up to speed. Let us hope that when we hit the switch we have all the working parts in place, that our government does us no harm, and remember that we elected them to do our work, not the work of their families and friends. So to all of you my brethren, a Happy and Prosperous New Year and may God bless us all and may He bless Anguilla.

anguillian
By anguillian January 11, 2016 09:02 Updated

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