Commentary: Anguillans: Have we got your attention yet? – Part1

By Tyrone Hodge

There is an old story about a man who owned a very stubborn donkey, and who was told that in a nearby village, there lived a famous donkey trainer whose work was guaranteed.

The owner got in touch with the donkey trainer, who arrived the next day at the owner’s farm, took out a baseball bat from the trunk of his car, stepped in front of the donkey and began to lambaste forward and backward about the head. “For God’s sake stop!” The owner cried. “You’ll kill him. What are you trying to do?” “I am trying,” the donkey trainer said, “to attract his attention.”

My fellow Anguillians, we have been lambasted front and back and about the head by just about everyone, from our Caribbean brothers and sisters, the British government and our very own government.

Have they got your attention yet? Apparently not, for given what has and continues to happen to us over the years, all of which has now been brought into sharp focus, we are still being lambasted by the above mentioned, and we are still as stubborn as that donkey.

One would think that after 50 years at nation-building, that we would have been much farther along and in a much better position. When we look at our neighbors to the south and some of our other Caribbean brothers and sisters, we have no choice but to ask the question of what happened?

Given that we have a country with so many resources and a people who are extremely resilient, one is forced to ask the question, what the hell happened? Why are we still struggling to make ends meet?

Is it that we lack the political sophistication, the political maturity, that je ne sais quoi, and the drive to succeed or is it that we simply don’t care? What is it?

As long as we continue to elect leaders who are more interested in their party’s agenda, than they are about us their constituents, we are going to find ourselves in the same rabbit hole from which we’ve been trying without much success to extricate ourselves. As long as we consistently elect leaders who lie and mislead us; who, in spite of it all gets rewarded with our loyalty, we will never show any progress. As long as we are satisfied with the status quo, we will never ever come together for the good of our country.

For some time now, Anguilla has been on automatic pilot with no direction in particular. It was hoped that with the last election, things would have a different outcome, but that was wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, here we are almost five years down the road, and no one can point to any marked difference in their lives. As a matter of fact, we have regressed. If you are part of the in-crowd of the Anguilla United Front (AUF), I’ve no doubt that you are doing pretty well. If on the other hand, you are part of the opposition, you are in dire straits.

Right now, there are two Anguilla’s, that of The Anguilla United Movement (AUM) and that of the AUF. The AUM has been patiently waiting their turn to get back in power, and should we allow that to happen, we deserve what we get. Not only do we have to rid ourselves of the present government, we also have to make sure that the previous one is kept out as well. The time has come for new blood and new ideas, both parties have proven they lack those unique qualities to govern.

The governing model that we’ve been endowed with, the Westminster system, is such that it allows for one party to dominate, which is tantamount to an elective dictatorship. And given the tribalism with which we find ourselves embedded in and a party to, Anguilla does not stand a chance.

To form our government in Anguilla, we only need four members of the same party, four out of seven, but when that party has six out of seven, well, you can see the inherent problems we face in opposing it. It’s a foregone conclusion that there isn’t going to be much of a resistance. We are the victims of a system that puts gerrymandering to shame. How is that system a fair one? The strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must.

One does not know what the British had in mind when they introduced the Westminster system of government in the islands, given that it is just an administrative skeleton.

It’s been duly noted that they did not hang around, to insure that the model worked as it was intended to. Many scholars have pointed out the Achilles heel of the Westminster system, that it lacks conventions, the rules of behavior, which are prevalent in Great Britain. No one seems to want to fix it. The party in power least of all will do nothing because it serves their agenda to a “t” so to them the old adage of: “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” comes into play here.

As we look around and ask the question who will step up on our behalf, we wait with bated breath for the first brave government official to break with the party line. Is there anyone out there that will break the cycle and be the first nail in the coffin of party politics?

I understand what one seat does or does not make for a government, but there has got to be a better way. Unfortunately, I don’t see any changes anytime soon, for given that the sitting government in collusion with Lord Ahmad and Foreign Office Minister (FCO), has allowed this government to introduce at large voting, one of many recommendations by the reform committee, while ignoring those that really would have made a difference, it will be business as usual.

The two seats Valley South and North which make up about almost 5,000 votes will throw the polls out of whack and they know this. This system is so undemocratic that it makes banana republics look like modern democracies. The system that we now have masquerading as a democracy is unruly, dictatorial and downright undemocratic. It is broken, corrupt, and it needs a major overhaul.

I believe that the first step to the solution is honest politicians, now there is a conundrum if ever there was one, but seriously, we need politicians whose only interest in politics is to serve the people. To do for them what they can’t do for themselves. John Kennedy in his famous inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” So to those who would destroy what our forefathers diligently fought for, I say: What are you doing for your country?

Our government, such as it is, operates in such secrecy that we never know from one day to the next what is going on. Case in point; the recent news of Scotia Bank selling off its Caribbean holdings to the Trinidad and Tobago Republic Bank should be an icy cold shower on all of our West Indian backs.

On the surface it may seem to be a good deal, but only if our governments come out and says so and give us the evidence that it is a good deal, but on second glance, this transaction raises more questions than it provides answers. Scotiabank has operated in these islands for many years and as such should have been more forthright with the announcements that they were divesting themselves of their Caribbean holdings.

Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, took exception to how he learned of Scotia’s plans to sell and rightfully so. Browne who seems to be the only one holding up the sale right now has voiced his objections to the way things were done. He claims that an official notice had not been made to his government and he would like to see local banks have first dibs before anyone else comes in.

It appears that we in the Caribbean Basin have always been treated like an afterthought, like we’re less than. I can’t wait to hear how our Chief Minister in Anguilla got his news, and what his thoughts are with regard to the sale of our branch of Scotiabank and given his penchant for secrecy and our need to know, we’ll probably never find out.

We in Anguilla already have an issue with our government over the loss of our two indigenous banks; the problems of which are known worldwide. Now coupled with the loss of First Caribbean Bank and the impending sale of Scotiabank, we are once again left in a very tenuous position. In addition to the loss of our local banks, there is talk again about the sale of Angelec, our electric plant, and chances are it will be purchased by some foreign entity.

Right now it appears that all of Anguilla is for sale. That is the very thing that our forefathers once admonished us about.

Former chief minister, the late Sir Emile Gumbs writing in the 40th year anniversary commemorative magazine had this to say about the social distress: “The wholesale importation of foreign labor, the fronting” by our people for foreign businesses coupled with the impression that all of Anguilla is for sale. Sir Emile goes on to say that if these trends are not arrested, we may soon become an endangered species in our own home.

“We are indeed an endangered species to be used and discarded like yesterday’s garbage. No one, least of all, those whom we‘ve elected to represent us has lifted a finger in our defense. Who will step up and say “this ends now.”

To be continued…

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