Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beyond Walls - Oral

New Perspectives in Oppression: The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Colonies in 2011 – By Don Mitchell CBE QC

ORAL PRESENTATION

The 37-page paper a copy of which you have before you does not deal with the important issue of political independence for Anguilla.  It is not about the horror of a West Indian people living under the abusive system of colonialism. 

I entirely agree with those who say that there is only one road for Anguilla.  There is only one road for any community which finds itself subject to the dictates of foreign, non-elected and unaccountable people of a different culture.  That is, for the people to seize their inalienable right to self-government.  The only justification for colonial rule is racism, which is itself unjustifiable and universally condemned.  The system of colonial rule is itself inherently corrupt. 

Let us now see a show of hands from all the Anguilla United Movement supporters in this room who would be happy for the Anguilla United Front to take us into independence.  The answer is …

Now, hands up from all the Anguilla United Front supporters in this room who would be happy for the AUM to take us into independence.  The answer is …

Do the results of this little poll mean that there is no one in this room who is interested in achieving political independence from the British Crown?  The answer, I am certain, is No.  It does not mean that.  It just means that we crave freedom itself more than we crave freedom from British colonial rule.

So, what is my paper about?  It is about the failure of the British Government, and in particular that Department called the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, up to the end of the first decade of the 21st century to provide our colonial people with the constitutional framework that would give us a chance to achieve full political independence with some certainty of freedom from local tyranny.  I argue that unless there is a paradigm shift in the attitude and methods of the FCO, the likelihood is that we shall grow increasingly weary of an apparently brutal and arbitrary colonial rule.  History has shown that we shall then demand and be given political independence.  History shows that we shall, shortly after the euphoria of Uhuru has worn off, descend into an even more brutal period of self-imposed, local tyranny.

The paper, a copy of which is before you, is based on my experience.  I am an old-age pensioner now, having been born in St Kitts in 1946.  I lived in Trinidad when it gained political independence in 1961 under the tyrannical rule of Dr Eric Williams.  His administration became so corrupt and oppressive that there was an armed uprising which was put down only after CIA and US State Department infiltration of the rebels.  Eric Williams gave my St Vincent-born father Trinidadian citizenship in gratitude for the role he played in supplying his company’s aeroplanes to follow and observe the rebels from the air so that the forces loyal to Dr Williams could defeat them.

I have lived through a Jamaica dominated in the early 1970s by the charismatic but cruel and confiscatory reign of Michael Manley.  My father died in Jamaica in 1973.  Prime Minister Michael Manley flew in to attend his funeral in his army helicopter, frightening all the children for miles around with the noise it made as it landed in the churchyard.  All my life I have listened from close up to the rhetoric of popularist West Indian politicians, and I have observed with an intense sense of outrage their use and abuse of the power entrusted to them by the people.

I have observed an Antigua and Barbuda dominated in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s by the oratory of a corrupt and venal Vere Cornwall Bird.  After he died, his country continued to be run by kleptocratic politicians supported by a corrupt police force whose main reason for its existence appears to have been to supply and distribute cocaine throughout the country.  That is, when their soldiers are not running the whorehouses and local gambling dens from which they have made themselves wealthy for the past 50 years, as Tim Hector exposed so many years ago before they burned down his printing press and shut him up.  There are one or two retired police officers I know of who have spent their entire career doing little else but carry brown paper bags of money from one person to another.

I have been concerned about a St Vincent and the Grenadines dominated by two political parties whose only purpose in life appears to have been to enrich and empower their leaders at the expense of the people.  These political parties’ idea of constitutional and electoral reform is to remove yet more of the freedoms of the people and to hold them back in poverty and ignorance.  My father was born in St Vincent, and I am entitled to citizenship of that unfortunate country.  I have lived and worked in it and speak from personal knowledge.

I have lived through the era that saw the rise and fall of Eric Gairy of Grenada, one of the most venal and corrupt of West Indian political leaders.  He flourished under the very same colonial regime that we are subject to in Anguilla at this time.  His wallet grew fat in stolen wealth, and his reputation slimy from the many young women he debauched.  I say that about Grenada even though my father’s roots were in Grenada, and under the Grenada Constitution I am entitled to apply for, and to hold, a Grenadian passport. 

My paper argues for a paradigm shift in colonial governance if we Anguillians are to enjoy a future where our system of government will be strengthened by institutions that offer the people a way to hold our leaders to account. 

The term “paradigm shift” was coined by Thomas Kuhn in his influential book “The Structure of Scientific Revolution”, published in 1962.  It describes a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science.  Once a paradigm shift is complete, a scientist can no longer, for example, reject the theory of evolution and revert to the clerical theory of the divine creation of species.  A doctor can no longer reject the germ theory of disease and go back to the medieval theory that it is a “miasma” that causes disease.  In a non-scientific context the term describes a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of events.  That is the sense in which I use it in the paper before you.

The paper argues that the present Westminster model Constitution we in the BOTs have inherited is inadequate to provide the protections necessary for a colonial people on the verge of being sent out into self-government and eventual independence.  In the paper, I contend that the structure of our present colonial Constitution is misshapen and unworkable in providing good governance.  Part of the explanation, I posit, is that our 21st century fundamental rights and freedoms unevenly overlie the skeleton of an 18th century colonial structure of administration, now reduced to writing.  What we have as a written Constitution is the unwritten British parliamentary model, but with none of the institutions or structures that exist in Britain, whether inside or outside of the legal framework, to ensure that the whole works smoothly and evenly.

To give a few examples, typically Tenders Boards are not established by our colonial Constitutions.  In many territories they are not even governed by legislation.  They are generally ad hoc committees appointed by a Minister or by the Governor.  Public contracts are routinely awarded on the basis of family and friendly relationships.  Statutory Boards and government committees are staffed with unsuitable political supporters on the basis of “the winner takes all” after every general election.  Land Development Planning Committees and Building Boards have their policy-based decisions subject to reversal by politicians.  Immigration Department orders and Work Permit decisions are made by politicians on the basis of unpublished and unknown policies.  In some cases in Anguilla, the local statute specifically permits political interference in the administration of government policy.  The result is that, with a Minister of Government on my side, I can safely ignore every regulation that had originally been put in place presumably for the public good.

I argue that there is no integrity in a system such as we have in Anguilla that permits a personal appeal to a Minister to overrule the decision of a Board or of a public officer carrying out the national policy.  Victimisation and discrimination are the inevitable result.  And, indeed, that is precisely the system of government that most of us labour under, supervised by the Governor and the FCO.  There are innumerable examples, some of which I set out in my paper, of the mechanisms that have been put in place by Commonwealth law-makers to ensure that the system is self-correcting, and that corruption is winkled out and punished.  Corruption will always exist, as it does in British politics to this day, as we have seen in the Parliamentary expenses scandal of last year.  The question is do we continue to shrug our shoulders at it as we do now?  Or, do we do like the British and demand that practical steps be taken to catch it and to nip it in the bud?

We, the citizens of the BOTs, do not accept that our islands are too small for high standards similar to those that are expected in the outside world to survive and work here.  No matter how small our territories are, we are entitled to expect that our governments will be of laws and not of men.  The solution suggested in the paper before you is for the FCO to establish in our Constitutions the necessary checks and balances, to encourage us to pass the necessary enabling laws, and then to assist us in formally educating the public and the leadership in the principles of good governance.  It seems desirable that this constitutional reform occur, and time be given to permit it to show it can work, before we turn over our lives and our freedoms to the unsupervised, sticky fingers of our local political leaders.

In my paper I set out some of the time-proven mechanisms that the FCO needs to give attention to, if they are really serious about “good governance”.  Most of these mechanisms have been introduced into law in Britain itself.  All of them are to be found in one Commonwealth country or the other.  I express in the paper regret that the FCO seems to feel no urgency about introducing them into their remaining BOTs.  They have not done so in Montserrat, nor do they propose to do so for the TCI in the constitutional recommendations published in 2010.  So, why should we expect them to think any differently of us in Anguilla?

I conclude my paper by voicing the fear and concern that if the sleight of hand and trickery that was apparent in the September 2010 process of constitutional reform in Montserrat, and that is threatened for 2011 in the Turks and Caicos Islands, is perpetrated in Anguilla, then there is no hope for us.  We shall be destined to reject colonial rule and to take our independence in due course, burdened with the same defective constitutional and legal mechanisms as our cousins in Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent, St Lucia, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Kitts and Nevis did. 

Thank God I am too old to experience all over again what that will mean in practice for the freedoms and liberties of another one of our West Indian people.  If what I fear should come to happen, I shall observe it in silent desperation from the side-lines.  I shall take no pleasure in repeating to myself the maxim that, “If we do not know where we are coming from, then most likely we will not know where we are going to.”

Don Mitchell CBE QC
28 April 2011