Saturday, October 03, 2015

A Corrupting Independence

“A Corrupting Independence – Short-term and Long-term Political Ambitions in Anguilla”
[1]        Anguilla is a small, 35 square-mile, English-speaking island located in the centre of the West Indies,[1] 100 miles to the west of Antigua and to the north of St Kitts, and with a population of some 14,000 persons.  Its principal industry is tourism, mainly funded by foreign direct investment.  It was first occupied for millennia by succeeding waves of Amerindians who came out of South America.  These died off as a result of interaction with the Spanish after the “discovery” of the islands by Christopher Columbus in 1492.  They left no written records, and their cultures are known to us mainly through the activities of archaeologists.
[2]        Anguilla became a part of the Spanish Empire by virtue of Pope Alexander VI’s Papal Bull Inter Caetera and the resulting Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494.  This brought an end to military conflict between Spain and Portugal, and divided the New World between their two contending thrones.  The Spanish, however, did not occupy the island as it was too small and insignificant to be of any interest to them.
[3]        Subsequently in the year 1627, Anguilla became an English colony when King Charles I claimed it as his own and included it in his grant of the islands of the West Indies to the Earl of Carlisle.  Englishmen did not actually occupy it until 1650 when a group of dissatisfied tobacco planters from St Kitts and Nevis, fleeing the taxes imposed on them to fund the defence of those islands, together with some run-away indentured labourers seeking freedom from servitude in Barbados, arrived and stayed.  The first English settlers grew tobacco for export.  Poor rainfall and deficient soil soon reduced them to raising goats and other small-stock for export to St Kitts, and growing peas, maize and sweet potatoes for home consumption.
[4]        After the island was settled in 1650, no attempt was made by the colonial power to provide for the islanders to make laws for themselves or to establish an executive body to administer government.  The deputy governor of Anguilla was, for generations, elected by local planters and, alone among all the other colonies, was merely approved in his unofficial and unpaid office.  Governor in Chief of the Leeward Islands, William Mathew, in 1734 described the deputy governor’s authority in this way:[2]
As for being under government, they are out of all notion of that.  From time to time deputy governors from among them have been appointed by His Majesty’s Chief Governor of these islands, but these have no authority over them but what they are able to enforce with a cudgel.
[5]        Abandoned and ignored by the colonial authorities, the islanders managed to survive between 1650 and 1825, entirely autonomously.  With the ending of the long drought in about 1725, they began to grow sugarcane for the first time.  They imported several hundred Africans to labour in the fields.  The black, white and coloured descendants of these early immigrants now occupy all the land, and out of conceit consider themselves to be the native or indigenous people of the island.
[6]        In the early years of the nineteenth century, the “great experiment” of the abolition of slavery began to dominate the concerns of the Colonial Office towards its remaining colonies in the Americas.  The passing of the Slavery Abolition Act by the British Parliament in 1833 was the first legislative step towards the abolition of the system of plantation slavery in the colonies.  Effective abolition depended on the passing of an Abolition Act in each colony.  Anguilla possessed no legislature and no system of real law.  For slavery to be abolished in Anguilla it would be necessary for the Anguillians to be brought under some system of law-making.
[7]        The solution devised by the Colonial Secretary in London was to persuade the nearby colony of St Kitts to let Anguilla unite with it.  In that way, laws made in St Kitts would apply in Anguilla.  The St Kitts planters and merchants who dominated their legislature and executive council agreed to take on this responsibility on one condition.  Not one penny of St Kitts money, they insisted, was ever to be required to be expended in Anguilla.  The Colonial Office was obliged to agree, but on condition that no funds were ever to be required from London.  For their part, the Anguillians were granted the right that no law affecting them would be introduced into the St Kitts legislature unless their elected representative was present.  The result was the resignation of the last deputy governor and the passing of the Anguilla Act of 1825 by the St Kitts Assembly.  This unhappy legislative union between the two colonies lasted for another 142 years, until the Anguillians effectively ended it in 1967.
[8]        With the collapse of the West Indies Federation of 1958-1962, and the return of the smaller islands to colonial status, the British actively encouraged independence.  First, the islands were designed to become semi-independent “Associated States”, and then, hopefully rapidly, fully independent.  This solution worked as planned with such of them as Antigua, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent.  It failed in the case of the Associated State of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.  The Anguillians, in what has become known as the Anguilla Revolution, rebelled from the threat to keep them tied in perpetuity to the St Kitts administration.  On 29 May 1967, by a public vote taken in the island’s main sports field, they decided to expel by force the St Kitts administration from their island.
[9]        On 11 July 1967, Anguillians voted again in a referendum by an overwhelming majority of 1,813 to 5 to separate from St Kitts and to run their own affairs.  Three months later, on 21 October, a locally elected Peace Keeping Committee took office under a newly approved Constitution, and began knocking on the doors of the United Nations demanding admittance.  Two years later, on 6 February 1969, the British being reluctant to accede to their demand to be legally separated from St Kitts, the Anguillians adopted a new Constitution and declared the island the independent Republic of Anguilla under the leadership of their first President, Ronald Webster. 
[10]      Just weeks later, on 19 March 1969, the Republic was brought to an end by a dawn invasion by sea and by air by a contingent of British paratroopers.  These were invited in by St Kitts and other Commonwealth Caribbean states who hoped the island would be returned to St Kitts control.  However, one of the first acts of the British government after the invasion was to promise the Anguillians that they would not be subjected to an administration under which they did not want to live.[3]  This guarantee that Anguillians would be for evermore free of the threat of being returned to the hated administration of St Kitts was sufficient to make them accept the beginning of British administration of the island.  There was previously no British government presence in Anguilla from the time of settlement in 1650, a period of over 300 years.
[11]      Unfortunately for Anguillian aspirations to eventual return to self-government, most of the leaders of the Anguilla Revolution and their successors in office were men generally speaking of little formal education,[4] and not imbued with any of the principles of civics, ethics, or good government.  They were instead charismatic, self-centered, self-made men, single-minded in their determination to separate from St Kitts.  Our people, while universally pious and church-going, subscribe mainly to unsophisticated, fundamentalist, US Bible-belt Christian sects,[5] and are not intellectually equipped to avoid making such persons our leaders.  We remain essentially a frontier society, hostile to any form of authority or regulation.  Centuries of deprivation and long isolation have bred a strongly xenophobic culture.  A corrosive suspicion and distrust of outsiders, and of all values and concepts not promoted by the Old Testament, dominates the attitude of many of our service providers towards the main pillar of our economy, tourism.  This self-destructive attitude is cynically encouraged by the local political elite as a tool to attract popular allegiance and support for their personal agendas.
[12]      The business of government is conducted in Anguilla under a veil of secrecy inherited from an earlier British model.  If a law does not require the information to be published, then to disclose it is a breach of your oath of secrecy as a public servant.  Under this system, misgovernment flourishes.  The public works tendering process is neither constitutionally mandated nor otherwise protected from political interference or administrative bias, and is easily manipulated in secret.  In spite of a well-meaning but ineffective Public Procurement Act, public works contracts are seen to be awarded to political supporters and family members of the Ministers or, equally objectionably, to those whom the administration deems to be most suitable, based on arbitrary and secret criteria.[6]  The government chief surveyor approves private land surveyors altering boundary marks without ensuring that the neighbours are alerted to the pending survey so that they may observe the process and protect their interests by objecting if necessary.  Elected Ministers regularly overturn public administration decisions on work permit, land development and planning matters based on personal relationships and other irrational grounds.
[13]      At general elections, the corrupting influence of the constituency system comes into play.  Most elections are won by majorities of less than a few hundred votes.  The politician with the means to endow his district with suitable gifts is almost guaranteed to win.[7]  Family trumps merit.  If you are a politician running for office, it helps to have more relatives resident in your district than the other candidate.  After every general election, we watch as our new Ministers of government remove the previous unsuitable, political appointees to statutory boards and committees and replace them by their own.
[14]      The British Governors, supposed to lead us in matters of governance, very occasionally register their disapproval of our Ministers’ more obviously bad decisions, based as they so often are on cronyism and conflicts of interest.  But, they do nothing to insist on and to ensure the introduction of mechanisms that would improve our culture of misgovernment.  Recently, one Governor was seen to shield a Minister of Finance from criticism when a member of the opposition protested in writing at the Minister’s continued chairing of the board of directors of a local bank with which his government did banking business.  The Governor put it in writing that he saw no conflict of interest.  The Minister continued to hold and serve in both offices for many years.  A Minister of Lands, whose legal duty it was to investigate and recommend approval of applications by foreigners to purchase land in Anguilla, continued for many years, without disapproval from the Governor, to advertise his private real estate business on a large billboard on the main highway.[8]
[15]      The public of Anguilla are slowly becoming aware that this lack of transparency, integrity and accountability in our system is unacceptable.  We are beginning to acknowledge the need to rely on consistent, dependable and fair processes in government.  Voices are being raised demanding transparency in the award of public contracts and the granting of permits and licences.  But these voices are still very much in the minority.
[16]      Within fifty years of the British invasion, some of Anguillia’s leading politicians and opinion makers are now chafing at what is at best minimalist British rule.  So, Ministers protested the bringing of criminal charges by the police, who answer only to the Governor, against a Minister in relation to his alleged sexual exploitation of female applicants for permits and licences.[9]  Ministers were annoyed at the Governor raising objections to the Chief Minister signing a letter offering the Social Security Fund to an obviously suspect investment company as collateral for a highly unlikely promise to let us borrow a large sum of money at little or no interest.[10]  The Minister of Lands was outraged recently at the refusal of the Registrar of Lands, who answers only to the Governor, to obey his order to reverse a judgment of the Court of Appeal and to illegally alter the registered title to a parcel of land in favour of family members of the Minister.[11]
[17]      Anguilla is not unique in the West Indies regarding the lack of mechanisms to ensure good governance.  We share a similar unsatisfactory system with our independent neighbours who were once British colonies.  Charles Wilkin QC of St Kitts and Nevis, in a recent speech, described the three major ailments in the fragile democracy of that country as, one, the inadequacy of the Constitution; two, the overwhelming and senseless negativity caused by political tribalism; and, three, the weakness of civil society.[12]  The identical criticisms can be applied to Anguilla’s Constitution and its institutions.
[18]      Benito Wheatley of the British Virgin Islands commented, in relation to that British Overseas Territory, that the vain and egotistic men they elect to office take a headstrong approach to governance.[13]  Ministers feel no need for real consultation with the people on most matters, and take decisions of government contrary to the advice of the technical experts.  This comment is especially true of Anguilla.  The award of public works contracts, the granting of work permits to foreigners, and the overturning of planning decisions over the past 40 years have proceeded in Anguilla under this system.  The relevant statutes specifically provide for appeals from administrative decisions to be made to the Ministers, with devastating damage to public confidence in the system of government.  Our only remedy for political abuse up to this point has been to remove the last lot of miscreants and replace them by another lot every five years.  This is not a satisfactory solution.  The flaw lies not merely with the unsuitable individuals we elect but, more so, in the inadequacies of the Constitution under which they flourish.  The result has been a growing feeling of disenchantment with our system of governance.
[19]      The rhetoric of our more popularist radio commentators grows louder.  They point out that colonialism is a state of subjection based on racism and imperialism.  They typically argue,
The British provide us with nothing of value.  We pay our own way.  We raise our own public funds.  We receive little or no aid from Britain.  He who pays the piper should call the tune.  The United Nations has guaranteed us colonial people the right to rule ourselves.  We should seize that right.  Besides, if we were independent, we would no longer be limited to fruitlessly seeking financial and institutional assistance from the one administering power.  Instead, we would be free to receive help from all the major powers.  We could even make them compete among themselves to see which one can give us the most aid.
Without batting an eyelid in shame, they suggest to us that one of the main values of independence from Britain is the enlargement of our begging bowl.  Besides”, they say to us, “the British can’t be trusted to put the necessary safeguards in place.  Leave it to us”, they say.  We’ll take care of everything after independence.  You can depend on it.”
[20]      Even as these politicians exhort and importune us, we observe with an intense sense of outrage the political elite of some of our recently independent West Indian nations abusing the power entrusted to them by their people.  We have not forgotten how, after independence in 1962, the people of Jamaica fell victim to Michael Manley’s charismatic but cruel and confiscatory reign.  We recall how, after Trinidad and Tobago gained political independence also in 1962 under the rule of Dr Eric Williams, his administration became so corrupt and oppressive that there was an uprising that was put down only after CIA infiltration of the Black Power demonstrators.  Nearby Antigua and Barbuda were dominated for decades by the charisma and oratory of a corrupt local dynasty.[14]  We watched the rise and fall of Prime Minister Eric Gairy of Grenada, one of the most venal and lecherous of West Indian political leaders.  His larcenous career flourished with impunity under the same colonial and post-colonial constitutional and legal system that we are subject to in Anguilla at this time.  This is the system under which an ambitious political element in Anguilla proposes that we should venture into independence without delay.
[21]      The failure of the British Government, in neglecting to send our West Indian infant nations off into independence clothed with a constitutional framework adequate to provide our people with some certainty of freedom from local tyranny, is notorious.  As some of Anguilla’s power-hungry political elite grow increasingly weary of the restraints of colonial rule, their cry for full internal self-government, if not complete political independence, begins to grow.  They claim that it is time for Anguilla to be once again independent from outside rule.[15]  They condemn as British stooges those who point out the danger of going into independence without the necessary constitutional and legal safeguards to protect our lives and our property.  But, the risk is not lost on most of the ordinary people of Anguilla that, once we are granted our wish to be independent, we shall quickly descend into an even more brutal period of self-inflicted local tyranny.
[22]      The unwritten British Constitution works in the United Kingdom partly because it is supplemented by a system of conventions that have near legal force.  In our young and immature democracy of Anguilla, with a written Constitution but no respect for foreign conventions and not enough time to develop ones of our own, the system fails us.  The present Westminster-model Constitution we inherited from London consists of a skeletal provision for a bureaucratic administrative machine, absent any mechanism to ensure good government.  It is intrinsically inadequate to provide us with the necessary protection from the baser instincts of our politicians, one of the first requirements of a written Constitution.  There is, essentially, no free press in which these issues can be fully discussed since the one real newspaper depends on government advertising and must be circumspect in what it publishes.
[23]      Those of us who think about these things recognise that a paradigm-shift in government is needed for us to preserve our freedoms and to prosper one day in the future as a country once again independent of foreign administration.[16]  Thomas Astaphan QC of Anguilla, in a series of recent radio broadcasts, has proposed the radical route of entirely scrapping our present attachment to the Westminster-style Constitution.  He would have us go into independence under a Constitution that provides for the President of Anguilla and each member of Cabinet, as well as each member of the Legislature, to be individually elected to office and subject to recall by the voters when they fail to perform satisfactorily.  Others argue that the Westminster system can work in an independent Anguilla, but only if the several watchdog institutions and checks and balances that operate in such independent Commonwealth countries as Britain are first introduced and entrenched in our Constitution and made operative in law and accepted in practice.
[24]      Vague and theoretical exhortations from London about the need to ensure good governance are pointless.  Practical measures have to be put into place before the people of Anguilla are likely to trust our lives and property to the unrestrainable hands of the local politician, of whatever political party.  As a start, the Public Procurement Board regulating the purchase of public services and goods must be established and protected by the Constitution.  Appointments to statutory boards and government committees must be approved by a constitutionally protected appointments procedure.  Land development planning decisions should no longer be subject to appeal to the political directorate, but to a professional, independent body.  The draft Building Code, now over 20 years old, and which would ensure compliance with hurricane and earthquake standards, should be enacted and made to apply to everyone, not as at present just to foreigners.  Immigration and work permit decisions of the relevant administrative boards should no longer be capable of being overruled by politicians acting on the basis of unpublished and unknown policies.  There must be an effective Integrity in Public Office Act obliging those aspiring to political office to place their assets and liabilities on a public register for all to see, as is increasingly normal in developed democracies.  A Freedom of Information Act, and the accompanying procedures to make it effective, inconvenient as they are for the bureaucracy, are long overdue.[17]  Ministers should be subject to a Code of Ethics, and coached, on taking up office, on the proper conduct of the public affairs with which they are entrusted.[18]
[25]      These things seem so obviously a prerequisite for a small, developing Commonwealth country, such as Anguilla is, contemplating going into political independence from Great Britain that it must be astonishing to any discerning observer that they are even controversial.
A paper delivered 3 October 2015 at the island Dynamics Conference at the University of Greenland on ‘Indigenous Resources:  Decolonization and Development’
By Don Mitchell, CBE, QC;  Robert Conrich, ACIArb;  and Ilan Kelman, PhD



[1]       Some West Indian academics, in their rush to escape from our colonial history implicit in the use of the term “West Indies”, have begun to use the adjective “Caribbean” to describe our archipelago.  I prefer the former in preference to the latter ever since the latter was co-opted in the 1980s as a cover for the US State Department’s notoriously mis-named “Caribbean Basin Initiative”  (CBI) in which it funded murderous right-wing regimes in El Salvador and Nicaragua.  With the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the phasing out of the CBI, it is now appropriate that our region revert to its original designation as “The West Indies” to avoid any connection with this programme.
[2]       CO.152/21, No 79, folio 88: Mathew to the Committee for Trade and Foreign Plantations on 17 June 1734.
[3]       Known as the Caradon Declaration, having been made to the Anguillians by Lord Caradon, British Ambassador to the United Nations, on a visit to the island in a successful mission to defuse a crisis that was escalating between the islanders and the British administration in the months after the invasion.
[5]       The majority of us firmly reject the “theory” of evolution, and remain convinced the earth began on Sunday 23 October, 4004 BCE
[6]       Seen most recently when a request for bids by the Water Corporation for the construction and operation of a water desalination plant resulted in a bid by a competent and professional company being turned down by the public service dominated Procurement Board in favour of a less than satisfactory bid by a competitor.  As it is, the deal fell through and the contract went back out to bid.
[7]       The most commonly heard reason for not supporting a political candidate is, “He never gave me anything”
[14]     All as detailed by Robert Coram: Caribbean Time Bomb: The United States’ Complicity in the Corruption of Antigua (William Morrow) 1993

[17]     But much misunderstood. As recently as the year 2009  the then Chief Minister denied there was any need for such an Act on the misinformed ground that there was no press censorship in Anguilla
[18]     For a fuller catalogue of the required watchdog institutions that are essential, see: http://donmitchellcbeqc.blogspot.com/search/label/Civics