Commentary: A bridge to nowhere

Commentary: A bridge to nowhere

“The righteous cares about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” ~ Proverbs 29:7

By Tyrone Hodge

When one sees his country being put on the auction block, one has to step back and ask the question: What’s going on here, how did we get to this point? If you have heard these questions before, stop me, for I know I have asked them many times in the past and for the most part, have fallen on deaf ears.

Tyrone Hodge is an Anguillan currently living in California and an educator, who values education and one’s heritage. He has written extensively for the Anguillan newspaper and is a panelist of the Mayor Show, which originates in Anguilla every Saturday, in which we focus on identifying problems and offering solutions. His father was Walter G. Hodge, one of the original stalwarts of the Anguilla revolution of 1967.

April 22, 2017, was exactly two years since the Victor Banks AUF government has been in power. An impromptu report card would have a resounding “F” penciled in for a grade.

Let’s take a look and see how we got to this place. As the title of this piece implies, we’re on a bridge to nowhere, for we have set out on a journey, and as Lewis Carroll once said: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” We’ve been at this now for far too long, and we are tired.

The people of Anguilla now face the distinct possibility of becoming guests in our own homeland, simply because our government lacks the foresight to chart a responsible course to achieve its goals. What those goals are would seem to be a closely guarded state secret for no one knows what they are. And one can safely say that there is a lack of consensus as to the way forward. We can’t seem to speak with one voice and as a consequence, are all over the place.

Government after government has methodically destroyed our homeland and all with our help, for when we sat idly by and allowed a chief minister to be the chairman of the board of one of the local banks and all with the blessing of the British governor, there is definitely something wrong. When you have a Central Bank tasked with overseeing that the local banks in the island adhere to the generally accepted principles (GAP) of banking, which in spite of highly questionable banking practices, did nothing, should have been the red flag.

Those practices may not have been illegal, but should have been cause for concern and yet nothing was done. When Dr Gonsalves handed off the chairmanship of the Monetary Council back in 2015, he admonished the local banks, NBA and CCB, about their incestuous lending practices and that was hypocrisy at its best. The time to have made that argument was when the incestuous lending was actually happening, not several years later when the banks were in trouble.

The last Anguilla government in an attempt to nab those who may have been responsible for the conditions in which the banks found themselves, some will say, in an ill advised move, invited the Central Bank to come in and take over the two local banks, NBA and CCB. The Central Bank after firing all of the officers and the boards of both banks let the banks operate for some three years without lifting a finger to rehabilitate them. And not only did they not rehab the banks, our government acted with breakneck speed to pass legislation that gave the Central Bank all the authority they would need to allegedly continue to destroy Anguilla.

For three years the banks continued to operate without any financial statements being issued to the shareholders. Why was this? Why did the government not do anything to help the borrowers? Why did the government not follow some of the suggestions which would in fact have saved the banks? What was the rush to use brinkmanship as a way of solving our banks’ problems?

While all of our friends and neighbouring countries are fighting tooth and nail for the betterment of their people, our government seems to be hell bent on destroying ours. This government at first seemed overwhelmed, but upon a second glance, looks as though they simply don’t care. It’s evident by their actions that they don’t understand what it means to govern or they simply can’t govern.

This government was overwhelmingly elected with a mandate to right all that was wrong with Anguilla, starting with the banking situation, followed by the Stabilization Levy, the cornerstones of their campaign. Remember their slogan: “It’s all about you.” At their inauguration, there was a lot of praying and gnashing of teeth and the promise of a kinder gentler government. What happened to that kinder gentler government?

Almost two years later, and the “It’s all about you,” has been replaced with “sacrifice and comply”. In a sense, it’s still all about you, only the ‘you’ in that phrase, reverts back to this government. How many more sacrifices do we have to make? It’s all well and good for our government to call for sacrifices, but how do they expect us to sacrifice when they in fact continue to live “high off the hog,” And not only do they want us to make sacrifices, but adding insult to injury, they want us to ‘comply’. Comply with what?

At a time when we are experiencing some of our darkest hours, it is intellectually dishonest to hear our leaders making impractical requests of ‘we the people’, when they on the other hand continue to behave in a manner that’s not conducive to our well being.

With over a 600-plus properties on the auction block, Anguilla as we know it will cease to exist. What will happen when the home that someone laboured all of his life to build is being auctioned off by an asset management company whose only horse in the race is to make money? What then?

The Anguilla that I grew up in was the Anguilla in which you built your home as you could afford it. You went away and made a few thousand dollars, and you came back and built what you could afford. Sometimes you went to Albert Lake and took out building materials on trust as we used to call it. Later on we acquired a little more sophistication and called it credit, but that’s the way we did it. We built our homes in stages. Once completed, we were the proud owners.

With the advent of tourism, we seem to acquire a taste for everything foreign. We stopped planting crops, we went to the bank and borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to build magnificent mansions overlooking the ocean at all points east, west north and south. All of a sudden 30-year mortgages were in vogue, or in fashion, without us fully understanding the commitment for which we’d just signed. The Anguilla that we the baby boomers grew up in, where we were taught to be thrifty, and respectful, sadly no longer exists.

Today’s Anguilla is the Anguilla of foreclosure, bankruptcies, receivership, bridge bank, offshore and onshore banks, default, sacrifice and comply has become a new reality. How did we in 50 short years get to this place, and more importantly, how do we get out of it?

History tells us that when power is concentrated in the hands of a few, where money and wealth determine how society is controlled, that system of government is oligarchic which is unjust and corrupt. In his book “Breaking Through Power”, consumer advocate Ralph Nader refers to such rulers as “paternalistic hierarchies”, to describe lighter touches by those few who impose their rule over the many. Mr Nader goes on to say that Thomas Paine simply called them tyrants.

As we wait to see on whose necks the guillotine will fall, precious time will have been wasted. And as the old cliché tells us, “Time waits for no one,” it is one cliché that we should pay attention to. It is obvious that our government expects us to do nothing, for we are seen as a headless body that doesn’t know up from down.

In his book, Ralph Nader tells us, “History shows that whenever there have been periods when enough of the country organizes and resists; we see movements of people and communities breaking through power. Progress is made. Rights are won. Education and literacy increase. Oppression is diminished. It was in this manner that people of conscience abolished the living nightmare imposed by laws and whips of white slavers.”

And while Mr Nader continues to wax poetic about the gains, from civil rights to voting rights and a host of others, those gains were brought about by we the people standing up for our rights. From the abolition of slavery to the introduction of seat belts, great social gains have been achieved when people mobilize, organize and resist the power of a few. So says Ralph Nader.

So the promise to celebrate our 50th year after the revolution, our semi-centennial, let us ask ourselves once more: What is it that we will celebrate? Is it the loss off our two local banks? Is it the repeal of the Stabilization Levy? Is it the bad legislation that was forced down our throats without us having a say? Is it the ceding of our sovereignty to a Central Bank in St Kitts? Is it the selling off of our ancestral lands because we used those lands to borrow money from our local banks of which we were the owners? Is it the fact that we have a governor, who signed off on such legislation even though she had serious reservations about it? Will someone please come forward and tell me what it is that we are going to celebrate? What do we have to show for our 50 years of toil sweat and tears? And now we have a chief minister whose government has taxed us to the nines, asking us to “sacrifice and comply.

This is unconscionable, to hear the chief minister spout such crap, when his former government gave themselves a 25% pay raise, while everyone else, was forced to work two and three jobs to make ends meet. Sacrifice and comply; this government ought to be the one’s making the sacrifices and complying with the wishes of the people. Enough is enough. And so I say to you all in the same manner that Oliver Cromwell used to address the Rump Parliament: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart I say and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Cromwell then commanded the Speaker to leave the chair and admonished him that he had sat long enough, unless they have done more good, crying out, “You are no longer a Parliament.” He then proceeded to lambaste certain members. He called Sir Henry Vane a Jugler, told Henry Martin and Sir Peter Wentworth that they were whoremasters: Told Thomas Chalow he was a Drunkard and Allen the Goldsmith that he cheated the Publick… He then locked the door and returned to Whitehall.

So to follow Oliver Cromwell’s lead, I say to this government once more: “You have sat for too long for all the harm you’ve done lately. The time has come for you to go.” Mr Speaker, you need to lay down your gavel. For the rest of you, I don’t have to reiterate what you have done to ‘we the people.’ So once again, I say to you. In the name of God, go!

Right now, it would appear that we are in a state of paralysis, for we simply can’t make a move one way or the other. Our once good name has been dragged through the mud and justifiably so, for what is being done by our government in our name makes us complicit. The question now becomes, how do we rehabilitate our image? I do believe that there are several ways in which to do this.

Firstly, let’s take Ralph Nader’s advice to organize and resist. Let us demand that our banks be restored, both on shore and off shore. Let us demand that all monies be repatriated to their rightful owners complete with accrued interest and a letter of apology, let us remove ourselves from the Central Bank, but not before suing them for dereliction of duty and last but not least, let us seek proper representation, one that will look out for the needs of the people instead of those of family and friends. Let us limit the legislative terms to two and instead of five years, make it four, and finally let us rid ourselves of this government and in the process hold them accountable for crimes against the people of Anguilla.

If there’s anything to celebrate this year, 50 years after our revolution, let it be the removal from office of the Victor Banks-led government. Let us rid ourselves of his bridge bank, which makes no sense at all. Let us restore Anguilla to its rightful place on the world stage, let us restore our image where a man’s word meant something, where hard work was rewarded, instead of family contacts. Let us make sure that that bridge leads so somewhere positive, one that puts Anguilla back on the path to prosperity where everyone can benefit from what our forefathers had in mind, an Anguilla for all.

So till next time, may God bless us all and may He continue to bless Anguilla.