EDITORIAL: UNEQUAL PARTNERS
Anguilla has breathed a collective sigh of relief now that the 2017 budget has been assented to. This means that Government can begin with the implementation of its planned programmes for the year. There is no greater reminder of our colonial status than the reality that our budget must receive the assent of Her Majesty’s Government before the business of running the country can take place. It really begs the question as to who is running the country.
There is an old saying that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. It is no different in our relationship with the UK. They may pay lip service to building better partnerships, or redefining relationships with the Overseas Territories, but the reality is that there is a significant power imbalance in that relationship and the UK Government still calls the shots. As perverse as this may be, to many among us, until Anguilla acquires political independence it is a state of affairs that will continue to persist.
In the press statement from the Governor’s Office it was made clear that the UK Government’s assent to the 2017 budget came with strings attached. These include having a contingency plan to keep the budget in balance, delivery and quarterly reporting on an economic reform package, keeping reserves in tack as well as committing to no new borrowing. To the naked eye, these conditions seem quite innocuous and well-intentioned. However, when one takes a closer look it will become apparent that the measures are not really about ensuring Anguilla’s viability but that Anguilla does not become a liability to the UK.
We are all well aware of Anguilla’s economic woes, our need for improved physical and social infrastructure, our problems with air access and the long list goes on. We should then ask ourselves, how are these conditions attached to the assent to the 2017 budget helpful to Anguilla? Will they ensure that we will be able to make the investment needed to the critical areas I mentioned, or will they keep the economy in a state of stagnation and have us barely able to keep our head above water for yet another year? I am inclined to go with the latter. An old man told me once that “you have to spend money to make money”. I have come to believe this to be true. Anguilla’s current and future needs, as well as its development potential, cannot be met without significant capital investment. The conditions attached to the budget do not allow for any meaningful progress to be made in Anguilla. They are focused on keeping things as they are, or further cutting back. The net result is that we are only treading water.
I am not a conspiracy theorist but, based on my observations over the years, it is clear to me that the wellbeing of the people of Anguilla is not a priority for the British Government. This should not be a surprise to me as our history tells us that this has always been the case. Anguilla has always been somewhat of a bother to the British and never really considered an asset, perhaps with the exception in recent times of being recognized for its valuable biodiversity about which Britain can brag to international environmental agencies. Once we recognize this, we ought then be more realistic in our expectations of the British Government. We should expect that our best interest is not their main concern. We should expect that what is important to us is not important to them. We should expect that they do not understand our goals and aspirations for ourselves and our children. Once we are clear on that, we will recognize that what the Honourable Chief Minister said many years ago, before he was Chief Minister, was true: “We have to pay our own way”.
The British Government is not going to rescue Anguilla. They are not the answer to our troubles and we ought not to turn to them for assistance. We have to do what we have done for generations – struggle and toil and make a way for ourselves. The only thing preventing us from doing this is ourselves – and our refusal to believe in our abilities to solve our own problems and make our own decisions. I am convinced that when we see what is possible, we will answer for ourselves the bigger question about whether our relationship with the UK Government is right for us. I have not traditionally been a proponent of independence. However, I have come to accept that, as a people, unless we strive to govern ourselves we will always be the powerless partner in an unequal relationship.