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Transcript of UK Secretary of State for DFID

as edited and aired on Radio Montserrat, February 11, 2011

Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell, UK DFID Secretary of State

DFID Secretary of State:
Good afternoon everybody thank you very much for coming to his brief press conference I’m absolutely delighted to be in Montserrat I’m the first British Cabinet Minster to come here for I think seven years, and I wanted the onset to thank the Chief Minister for his very warm welcome; and also especially the Governor who’s coming to the end of his term of office and he’s had an extremely successful time here. And we want to wish him and his wife, Cathy, a very enjoyable retirement following your extremely successful gubernatorial role here.  And thank you very much for what you have done.  You, of course, are going to make way for a DFID, a Department for International Development Governor who comes from running the British development program in Beijing in China.  And he has some big shoes to fill but I know that he and we are very much looking forward to his arrival.

I wanted to make really three points in underlining the work that is being done here by Cato, supported very strongly by Karen from DFID in London and by the whole department and by the British government.

And the first thing I wanted to say was that the new government, the coalition government has a very clear view about the importance of Britain’s role in respect of the overseas territories.  You may have seen that we took, almost immediately on coming to office, the decision to give St. Helena (another overseas territory) an airport.  And the British taxpayer in spite of the extremely difficult and straightened economic circumstances in Britain has decided that it’s extremely important that St. Helena should have an airport.  The reason for this is that we don’t think that St. Helena will ever be self-sustaining without it and that is why we’ve taken the decision to spend a huge amount of British taxpayers’ money there.  And what we’re trying to do is to ensure that St. Helena doesn’t go the way of the Pitcairn Islands, another dependent territory, where for every Pitcairn Islander, every year, the British taxpayers having to pay out £20,000.

And so trying to make sure that the overseas territories are able to stand on their own two feet, are self-sustaining is an extremely important part of the British government strategy and we are prepared to spend our hard-earned taxpayers’ money on trying to give that opportunity, that chance, to the overseas territories.

And you will have seen recently that we have intervened directly in the Turks and Caicos Islands and in trying to assist them in sorting out their finances.  We have not given them money but we have given them a guarantee from Britain to give them the space in which to sort out the financial difficulties which Turks and Caicos has had.

If you look at the speeches that have been delivered by the Foreign Secretary, both in opposition and in government, as well as what I have said, you can see this very different approach which the coalition government is taking and which I have spelt out for you.

In terms of Montserrat, exactly the same principles apply.  We want to try and ensure that Montserrat has the chance – given the awful legacy of the volcano – that Montserrat has a chance to build itself up and stand on its own two feet.  And part of the reason why I am here is to look at how we achieve that, what Britain can do to help, to look at the plans.

I have had an opportunity of spending quite a lot of time with the Chief Minister and the Governor today looking at those plans on the ground.  I’ve also had the opportunity to make a tour around and see the extent of the devastation that is the legacy of the volcano.

And the commitment I can give you today is that the British taxpayer and the British government will give very strong support to the roadmap.  We will want to stress-test it.  We want to be absolutely certain that it will be successful.  We want to make sure that the issues of access, which are very important.  I arrived last night by ferry.  I’ll be leaving by plane.  I had an excellent update and presentation on the issues of access.  We are very committed indeed to trying to assist and ensure that self-sustainability comes to Montserrat.  That was the first point I wanted to make.

The second point I wanted to make is that just as that’s our bargain with you, I think that the bargain of Montserrat with the British taxpayer is that you do everything is that you do everything you possibly can to stand on your own two feet.  That you take forward this opportunity which Britain is strongly supporting, that you build up the capacity locally – that’s the reforms that the Chief Minister has talked about; those reforms are implemented, that the opportunities which will come from the private sector, particularly, are embraced, that the sensible decision that’s been made by the British government and by the Chief Minister to invite in the IMF to carry out a survey.  Most countries, as the Chief Minister pointed out to me this morning, try and avoid a visit from the IMF but Montserrat, quite rightly, is seeking to engage with the IMF and that is very sensible and also organizations like the development banks and CDC from Britain, which we are in the process of significantly changing and augmenting.

It’s extremely important that the private sector is encouraged to come and to build up in Montserrat.  And part and parcel with that is to have an absolute zero tolerance approach to corruption.  In, for example, the exploitation of geothermal power, it is very important that the principles of transparency apply throughout the process, from exploitation right the way through to when the profits from that process accrue to the finance ministry into the treasury in Montserrat.

So we are very keen indeed that capacity issues should be addressed, that capacity should come from within Montserrat where it can, otherwise from within the Caribbean before going further afield; that the private sector, that the ability for proper ?? private sector investment in energy and infrastructure should be embraced; and that the approach of the people of Montserrat should be to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, not….  It’s not…

It would be the wrong approach to be like a new born bird waiting in the nest for the mother bird to bring nourishment.  We want to see a real partnership here where Britain’s commitment is matched by an absolute rigorous focus in Montserrat on ensuring that we build up the economy and the ability of Montserrat to stand on its own two feet.

And my final point I want to make:  I am a…was formally a banker.  I don’t think that in seeking to identify the future ways of Montserrat earning its living you need to re-invent the wheel.  It’s clear that in the past before the volcano, there was a very successful tourist industry here.  I’ve tasted your absolutely delicious water.  I have seen the plans for attracting tourists in, for attracting cruise ships in, the need to address access issues in Little Bay port.  You know there is a huge opportunity here:  the opportunity from geothermal power, the opportunity from selling this very high-quality sand and so forth.  All of this, in my view, should be embraced and these opportunities should be grasped and we should build on this very strong commitment from Britain to help with an absolute commitment towards self-sustainability from Montserrat.

So those are the points which I am taking away with me.  I have hugely enjoyed my visit.  I am enormously grateful to the Governor and to the Chief Minister.  And we want to see the next period of years marked by great success as we take forward the road map and to take forward the important endeavors upon which we are embarked.

Thank you very much.  We’ve got time for some questions if anyone would like to ask any.

Bennette Roach:
Welcome to Montserrat on behalf of the press media.  I am Bennette Roach from The Montserrat Reporter and with my associate from Peoples Television.

I want to start with a very general question and that is, while you say that the principles that you are applying to St. Helena and to the rest of the overseas territories, you recall the very vigorous times and difficult times that Montserrat has been through.  And we talk about an economy, about building an economy, build up the economy.  Is it fair for Montserrat to be treated the same way, with the same principles as you are treating the rest of the overseas territories and other British territories?

DFID Secretary of State:

Yes.  My answer to that is it is absolutely fair and absolutely right because the principle that we are bringing to bear is how do we assist the overseas territories to stand on their own two feet, how do we make them self-sustaining.  And that principle covers St. Helena and it certainly covers Montserrat.  And the focus on the future is about how you achieve that, notwithstanding the very difficult inheritance.  It’s right to look at how you take forward that principle.  The route map, which we are all…upon which we are all focused should be the right document to take us forward to achieving that.

Bennette Roach:
I know that our honourable Chief Minister here who has been speaking in recent times, vigorously and very hard about the difficulties that we have had in even drawing down the funds from DFID, that DFID has promised us to meet our budgetary affairs and part of the problem he has just told us is because we ourselves have had a shortfall in the revenue that was expected as of last April.  The problem for that of course is because of our economy which seems to be very stagnant.  And it’s on that background too that I asked the question about the principles that are being applied to us.

We have geothermal energy that DFID has already supported and seem to have withdrawn.  What specifically can you tell us?  I know you’ve talked in your opening statement about our tourism development and so on and that you would do things to support that but you know that’s almost like rhetoric.  We would like to hear some specifics as to what you see from the talks you’ve gotten that you can directly and immediately provide Montserrat with.  And what is it you want of us other than telling us to pull up our bootstraps?

DFID Secretary of State:
Well I was reading an editorial in The Montserrat Reporter.  Was that, was that…?  You were the author?  Yes.  And your question very much reflects the points as made in that editorial.

First of all, with regard to the point you made about the Chief Minister, the Chief Minister, the first thing I think it’s fair to say that you said to me this morning was how much you appreciated the relationship with DFID and how well it was working.  And I think that’s very much my observation that is a relationship which works extremely well.  The Governor is nodding in confirmation of that.

Clearly, you know, you’ve go to live within your means.  We are already supporting your budget extremely heavily and we are going to go on doing that but this is a partnership.  There’s your part of the bargain and our part of the bargain.  And that will mean that just as we in Britain and the British government have had to take some extremely tough decisions, not least in order to be able to maintain to our commitment to international development.  So it’s quite right that the Chief Minister and his administration should take tough decisions here.  And you know this is never is popular but in the end, if you take these tough decisions, people will respect you for doing so.

The vision that I have set out is one where—which is not available to many other poor countries in the world—is one where Britain because of our obligations and history and support for the overseas territories will be able to assist very greatly in Montserrat.  And that is why I use the analogy of the little birds, the mother bird.  You know, I think it’s extremely important that the people of Montserrat grasp this opportunity and drive it forward in the…through the principle of partnership and not, you know, in a ?? of a rather different or unequal relationship.  And that is the way to get towards the self-sustainability which is our goal.  And it’s also why the private sector is so important.

You mentioned in your question the geothermal power.  I actually met on the way here an investor or a potential investor who said that geothermal was a huge opportunity here.  If the Chief Minister and his Ministers are able to drive forward this opportunity in a transparent way, ensuring that it is dealt with according to the best practice, principles of openness and as I say, transparency, then I think that will be a very significant gain for Montserrat and also a very significant example to others of the practices and principles that Montserrat is seeking to live by.

Winston Cabey:
Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.  My question is a lot simpler.  If the government of Montserrat cannot raise the revenue that they need to raise so that they can at least pay civil servants and do other things like providing services, would the British government be willing to increase the subsidies to Montserrat since we are already finding it so tough just to meet our ends?

DFID Secretary of State:
No.  The answer to that question is no.  We will not be willing to increase the subsidies.  We have already given very strong support to the budget of Montserrat.  More I think than half of the budget of Montserrat comes from the United Kingdom taxpayer and we’ve reached that conclusion that is what is we are able to help and the government of Montserrat must live within their means, given the very substantial support they are getting from us already.

But in the bigger picture, we, of course, are extremely supportive of the bid from Montserrat to access money from other sources, from the European Union.  As I said, we also have a very close relationship with the International Monetary Fund.  We are very supportive of the engagement of the government with the IMF and we do every thing we can to assist in some of the ways I’ve set out to encourage investment to come to Montserrat.  But the government of Montserrat must live within its means boosted very significantly by British means that we are bringing to bear to help.

Winston Cabey:
As a follow-up to that, we have seen two models already in the overseas territories:  what’s happening in Anguilla and what’s happening in the Turks and Caicos.  Which one will Montserrat be probably offered to go into?

DFID Secretary of State:-
The Turks and Caicos Islands is now under direct rule from London and there are a whole host of issues which we addressing there, not least, issues of…financial issues.  And the Turk Caicos Islands is not fundamentally a poor country and therefore on the journey to getting their public finances right, the British government has agreed to provide a guarantee to enable them to have the space and the time to sort out those issues and I am very confident they will do.

The analogy I think for Montserrat is not with the Turks and Caicos Islands.  I think it’s a much better analogy with St. Helena which has these huge problems of access, where we have put together a plan.  We have agreed it with the government of St. Helena.  A very important part of that plan is opening up their economy to outside investment and to the private sector.  And in order to secure the contract being signed for the airport, which is an extremely expensive piece of engineering, one of the key commitments they have to give is to open up their economy.  And that is because we understand that the roadway to self-sustainability includes, fundamentally, the work of, and engaging with the private sector and private-sector investment.

And after all, if you look around the world at how people and nations lift themselves out of poverty, it is not, by and large, through aid and grant-funding.  It is through engaging with the private sector.  It is through private-sector investment.  It is through having a job, encouraging free trade, and so forth.  So that is not is surprising and that is the model which I think has a much closer affinity with Montserrat and the same commitment which I outlined for St. Helena, the same level of commitment is what we wish to engage in Montserrat.

Hazel Riley, News Link Newspaper:

You made reference to access, which is very near and dear to me.  You recognize that the development of Montserrat is being impeded by the lack of a safe harbour:  the deep water port, breakwater, docking facilities and stuff like that, if they were in place would be very instrumental in the development of the country.  My question then is:  what assistance can Montserrat be given to speed up the construction of these facilities?

DFID Secretary of State:
Well, I’ve come almost straight from a presentation on the harbour front about the future development of the harbour and there is no doubt that that is fundamental to access and indeed to the secure economic future which we have been discussing.  And once a plan has been developed, once we’ve stressed-test that plan so we can be sure that it gives real value for money for investors, for the British taxpayer, and indeed for the people of Montserrat then we must get on with it and forge ahead.  And there is no doubt at all.  You are right that sorting out the harbour and making sure that the harbour plans take place is absolutely fundamental in achieving that.

Hazel Riley:
My last question:  the recent announcement of the withdrawal of the naval vessels from the area is no doubt going to impact very heavily on Montserrat.  We have already identified that.  I am wondering whether or not it will be possible or if any thought has been given to assist Montserrat with maybe a larger and more efficient coast guard vessel so that, you know, the officers can have a better chance of intercepting vessels in our waters?

DFID Secretary of State:
Well, it’s not true to say that the British navy is withdrawing.  The Royal Fleet Auxiliary will I’m sure still be a regular visitor to Montserrat, although it’s a Royal Fleet Auxiliary rather than a frigate.  The Chief Minister and I were agreeing this morning that to a layman, they are both British warships so I think you should regard the fact that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is still going to be in the Caribbean and around the Caribbean as a very reassuring aspect and another example of Great Britain’s very heavy involvement in this part of the world.

Winston Cabey:
My final question, Mr. Secretary:  You had a bird’s-eye view of the unsafe zone and also the safe zone.  I think it was a short flight but your impressions compared to what you heard before, what you saw on the television and in other news media.

DFID Secretary of State:

Well we had an extremely good briefing from the MVO before we took off which showed pictures of the island before the major eruptions and the eruptions themselves.  And I found, for me the flight was first of all, moving and upsetting.  And if it was upsetting for me, goodness knows how much more upsetting it must be for everyone in Montserrat let alone those who went through it at the time.

The scale of the devastation, I think you have to see it to understand it.  No amount of newsprint or newsreel can get that across.  And it underlined for me the importance of the commitment that Britain has made to Montserrat, which is an extremely substantial commitment.  And I think the benefit for me of seeing it in the way that you described is it means I hope that I will be much more compelling when I face parliament in London and explain to people why it is extremely important that Britain stands by Montserrat and helps Montserrat in the substantial way which we have sketched out.

Bennette Roach:
Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Your very last statement is what confuses me a little bit.  That I still don’t understand.  You said that Montserrat will not be given any special treatment and I still feel that we are in a position to demand that special treatment for just the very reasons you just mentioned.

Will you be prepared—I know that you said you’ve looked at or you’re looking at the route map that we have, that we’ve set out.  We all think, the little bit we know it that it is supposed to take us up from where we are.  But with an economy that is as dead as it is, not building, as dead as it is, it is obvious that is some special treatment that will take us out of that.  And I am just asking whether or not the Secretary will be prepared to go back and take a serious fair look.  You said it’s already fair but I don’t think it is and that’s what I’ll be harping on.  Are you prepared to go back with your very own statement and take a fairer look at Montserrat’s situation and assist us?  I’m not asking us to beg for any overall assistance.  We understand the constraints here ourselves but Montserrat is at a position that it needs timely, timely assistance.

DFID Secretary of State:
Well, first of all, I disagree with you, respectfully, on the suggestion that I’m not saying that Britain is giving special assistance to Montserrat.  I think funding sixty percent of your recurring expenditure, definitely qualifies as special assistance.

But the point I want to make, the point I want to make to you is that I think that the attitude which you are expressing can be updated.  I think that rather than…  I think that you are behaving like one of the little birds which I described.  And I think that we need to move rapidly to a partnership approach where we are taking the road map and we are helping to ensure that these joint aims we have are fulfilled.  We are putting British taxpayers’ money significantly behind this endeavour.  And I think that that means that we are entitled to ask of you that you do every thing you possibly can, in partnership with us, to drive forward this agenda.  And if that means that some reductions in expenditure have to be made in order to live within your budget then I think given the scale of support from Britain that is not an unreasonable request for us to make as part of our partnership.

So I think what I’m really saying in answer to your question is look at what you can do, look at what Montserrat can do as part of this partnership, working closely with us and the capital that Britain is able to deploy in support of our joint strategy.  That should be the thrust of your activity rather than trying to see whether any more money can be squeezed from the British taxpayer.
Thank you all very much for coming today.’

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as edited and aired on Radio Montserrat, February 11, 2011

Rt. Hon. Andrew Mitchell, UK DFID Secretary of State

DFID Secretary of State:
Good afternoon everybody thank you very much for coming to his brief press conference I’m absolutely delighted to be in Montserrat I’m the first British Cabinet Minster to come here for I think seven years, and I wanted the onset to thank the Chief Minister for his very warm welcome; and also especially the Governor who’s coming to the end of his term of office and he’s had an extremely successful time here. And we want to wish him and his wife, Cathy, a very enjoyable retirement following your extremely successful gubernatorial role here.  And thank you very much for what you have done.  You, of course, are going to make way for a DFID, a Department for International Development Governor who comes from running the British development program in Beijing in China.  And he has some big shoes to fill but I know that he and we are very much looking forward to his arrival.

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I wanted to make really three points in underlining the work that is being done here by Cato, supported very strongly by Karen from DFID in London and by the whole department and by the British government.

And the first thing I wanted to say was that the new government, the coalition government has a very clear view about the importance of Britain’s role in respect of the overseas territories.  You may have seen that we took, almost immediately on coming to office, the decision to give St. Helena (another overseas territory) an airport.  And the British taxpayer in spite of the extremely difficult and straightened economic circumstances in Britain has decided that it’s extremely important that St. Helena should have an airport.  The reason for this is that we don’t think that St. Helena will ever be self-sustaining without it and that is why we’ve taken the decision to spend a huge amount of British taxpayers’ money there.  And what we’re trying to do is to ensure that St. Helena doesn’t go the way of the Pitcairn Islands, another dependent territory, where for every Pitcairn Islander, every year, the British taxpayers having to pay out £20,000.

And so trying to make sure that the overseas territories are able to stand on their own two feet, are self-sustaining is an extremely important part of the British government strategy and we are prepared to spend our hard-earned taxpayers’ money on trying to give that opportunity, that chance, to the overseas territories.

And you will have seen recently that we have intervened directly in the Turks and Caicos Islands and in trying to assist them in sorting out their finances.  We have not given them money but we have given them a guarantee from Britain to give them the space in which to sort out the financial difficulties which Turks and Caicos has had.

If you look at the speeches that have been delivered by the Foreign Secretary, both in opposition and in government, as well as what I have said, you can see this very different approach which the coalition government is taking and which I have spelt out for you.

In terms of Montserrat, exactly the same principles apply.  We want to try and ensure that Montserrat has the chance – given the awful legacy of the volcano – that Montserrat has a chance to build itself up and stand on its own two feet.  And part of the reason why I am here is to look at how we achieve that, what Britain can do to help, to look at the plans.

I have had an opportunity of spending quite a lot of time with the Chief Minister and the Governor today looking at those plans on the ground.  I’ve also had the opportunity to make a tour around and see the extent of the devastation that is the legacy of the volcano.

And the commitment I can give you today is that the British taxpayer and the British government will give very strong support to the roadmap.  We will want to stress-test it.  We want to be absolutely certain that it will be successful.  We want to make sure that the issues of access, which are very important.  I arrived last night by ferry.  I’ll be leaving by plane.  I had an excellent update and presentation on the issues of access.  We are very committed indeed to trying to assist and ensure that self-sustainability comes to Montserrat.  That was the first point I wanted to make.

The second point I wanted to make is that just as that’s our bargain with you, I think that the bargain of Montserrat with the British taxpayer is that you do everything is that you do everything you possibly can to stand on your own two feet.  That you take forward this opportunity which Britain is strongly supporting, that you build up the capacity locally – that’s the reforms that the Chief Minister has talked about; those reforms are implemented, that the opportunities which will come from the private sector, particularly, are embraced, that the sensible decision that’s been made by the British government and by the Chief Minister to invite in the IMF to carry out a survey.  Most countries, as the Chief Minister pointed out to me this morning, try and avoid a visit from the IMF but Montserrat, quite rightly, is seeking to engage with the IMF and that is very sensible and also organizations like the development banks and CDC from Britain, which we are in the process of significantly changing and augmenting.

It’s extremely important that the private sector is encouraged to come and to build up in Montserrat.  And part and parcel with that is to have an absolute zero tolerance approach to corruption.  In, for example, the exploitation of geothermal power, it is very important that the principles of transparency apply throughout the process, from exploitation right the way through to when the profits from that process accrue to the finance ministry into the treasury in Montserrat.

So we are very keen indeed that capacity issues should be addressed, that capacity should come from within Montserrat where it can, otherwise from within the Caribbean before going further afield; that the private sector, that the ability for proper ?? private sector investment in energy and infrastructure should be embraced; and that the approach of the people of Montserrat should be to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, not….  It’s not…

It would be the wrong approach to be like a new born bird waiting in the nest for the mother bird to bring nourishment.  We want to see a real partnership here where Britain’s commitment is matched by an absolute rigorous focus in Montserrat on ensuring that we build up the economy and the ability of Montserrat to stand on its own two feet.

And my final point I want to make:  I am a…was formally a banker.  I don’t think that in seeking to identify the future ways of Montserrat earning its living you need to re-invent the wheel.  It’s clear that in the past before the volcano, there was a very successful tourist industry here.  I’ve tasted your absolutely delicious water.  I have seen the plans for attracting tourists in, for attracting cruise ships in, the need to address access issues in Little Bay port.  You know there is a huge opportunity here:  the opportunity from geothermal power, the opportunity from selling this very high-quality sand and so forth.  All of this, in my view, should be embraced and these opportunities should be grasped and we should build on this very strong commitment from Britain to help with an absolute commitment towards self-sustainability from Montserrat.

So those are the points which I am taking away with me.  I have hugely enjoyed my visit.  I am enormously grateful to the Governor and to the Chief Minister.  And we want to see the next period of years marked by great success as we take forward the road map and to take forward the important endeavors upon which we are embarked.

Thank you very much.  We’ve got time for some questions if anyone would like to ask any.

Bennette Roach:
Welcome to Montserrat on behalf of the press media.  I am Bennette Roach from The Montserrat Reporter and with my associate from Peoples Television.

I want to start with a very general question and that is, while you say that the principles that you are applying to St. Helena and to the rest of the overseas territories, you recall the very vigorous times and difficult times that Montserrat has been through.  And we talk about an economy, about building an economy, build up the economy.  Is it fair for Montserrat to be treated the same way, with the same principles as you are treating the rest of the overseas territories and other British territories?

DFID Secretary of State:

Yes.  My answer to that is it is absolutely fair and absolutely right because the principle that we are bringing to bear is how do we assist the overseas territories to stand on their own two feet, how do we make them self-sustaining.  And that principle covers St. Helena and it certainly covers Montserrat.  And the focus on the future is about how you achieve that, notwithstanding the very difficult inheritance.  It’s right to look at how you take forward that principle.  The route map, which we are all…upon which we are all focused should be the right document to take us forward to achieving that.

Bennette Roach:
I know that our honourable Chief Minister here who has been speaking in recent times, vigorously and very hard about the difficulties that we have had in even drawing down the funds from DFID, that DFID has promised us to meet our budgetary affairs and part of the problem he has just told us is because we ourselves have had a shortfall in the revenue that was expected as of last April.  The problem for that of course is because of our economy which seems to be very stagnant.  And it’s on that background too that I asked the question about the principles that are being applied to us.

We have geothermal energy that DFID has already supported and seem to have withdrawn.  What specifically can you tell us?  I know you’ve talked in your opening statement about our tourism development and so on and that you would do things to support that but you know that’s almost like rhetoric.  We would like to hear some specifics as to what you see from the talks you’ve gotten that you can directly and immediately provide Montserrat with.  And what is it you want of us other than telling us to pull up our bootstraps?

DFID Secretary of State:
Well I was reading an editorial in The Montserrat Reporter.  Was that, was that…?  You were the author?  Yes.  And your question very much reflects the points as made in that editorial.

First of all, with regard to the point you made about the Chief Minister, the Chief Minister, the first thing I think it’s fair to say that you said to me this morning was how much you appreciated the relationship with DFID and how well it was working.  And I think that’s very much my observation that is a relationship which works extremely well.  The Governor is nodding in confirmation of that.

Clearly, you know, you’ve go to live within your means.  We are already supporting your budget extremely heavily and we are going to go on doing that but this is a partnership.  There’s your part of the bargain and our part of the bargain.  And that will mean that just as we in Britain and the British government have had to take some extremely tough decisions, not least in order to be able to maintain to our commitment to international development.  So it’s quite right that the Chief Minister and his administration should take tough decisions here.  And you know this is never is popular but in the end, if you take these tough decisions, people will respect you for doing so.

The vision that I have set out is one where—which is not available to many other poor countries in the world—is one where Britain because of our obligations and history and support for the overseas territories will be able to assist very greatly in Montserrat.  And that is why I use the analogy of the little birds, the mother bird.  You know, I think it’s extremely important that the people of Montserrat grasp this opportunity and drive it forward in the…through the principle of partnership and not, you know, in a ?? of a rather different or unequal relationship.  And that is the way to get towards the self-sustainability which is our goal.  And it’s also why the private sector is so important.

You mentioned in your question the geothermal power.  I actually met on the way here an investor or a potential investor who said that geothermal was a huge opportunity here.  If the Chief Minister and his Ministers are able to drive forward this opportunity in a transparent way, ensuring that it is dealt with according to the best practice, principles of openness and as I say, transparency, then I think that will be a very significant gain for Montserrat and also a very significant example to others of the practices and principles that Montserrat is seeking to live by.

Winston Cabey:
Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.  My question is a lot simpler.  If the government of Montserrat cannot raise the revenue that they need to raise so that they can at least pay civil servants and do other things like providing services, would the British government be willing to increase the subsidies to Montserrat since we are already finding it so tough just to meet our ends?

DFID Secretary of State:
No.  The answer to that question is no.  We will not be willing to increase the subsidies.  We have already given very strong support to the budget of Montserrat.  More I think than half of the budget of Montserrat comes from the United Kingdom taxpayer and we’ve reached that conclusion that is what is we are able to help and the government of Montserrat must live within their means, given the very substantial support they are getting from us already.

But in the bigger picture, we, of course, are extremely supportive of the bid from Montserrat to access money from other sources, from the European Union.  As I said, we also have a very close relationship with the International Monetary Fund.  We are very supportive of the engagement of the government with the IMF and we do every thing we can to assist in some of the ways I’ve set out to encourage investment to come to Montserrat.  But the government of Montserrat must live within its means boosted very significantly by British means that we are bringing to bear to help.

Winston Cabey:
As a follow-up to that, we have seen two models already in the overseas territories:  what’s happening in Anguilla and what’s happening in the Turks and Caicos.  Which one will Montserrat be probably offered to go into?

DFID Secretary of State:-
The Turks and Caicos Islands is now under direct rule from London and there are a whole host of issues which we addressing there, not least, issues of…financial issues.  And the Turk Caicos Islands is not fundamentally a poor country and therefore on the journey to getting their public finances right, the British government has agreed to provide a guarantee to enable them to have the space and the time to sort out those issues and I am very confident they will do.

The analogy I think for Montserrat is not with the Turks and Caicos Islands.  I think it’s a much better analogy with St. Helena which has these huge problems of access, where we have put together a plan.  We have agreed it with the government of St. Helena.  A very important part of that plan is opening up their economy to outside investment and to the private sector.  And in order to secure the contract being signed for the airport, which is an extremely expensive piece of engineering, one of the key commitments they have to give is to open up their economy.  And that is because we understand that the roadway to self-sustainability includes, fundamentally, the work of, and engaging with the private sector and private-sector investment.

And after all, if you look around the world at how people and nations lift themselves out of poverty, it is not, by and large, through aid and grant-funding.  It is through engaging with the private sector.  It is through private-sector investment.  It is through having a job, encouraging free trade, and so forth.  So that is not is surprising and that is the model which I think has a much closer affinity with Montserrat and the same commitment which I outlined for St. Helena, the same level of commitment is what we wish to engage in Montserrat.

Hazel Riley, News Link Newspaper:

You made reference to access, which is very near and dear to me.  You recognize that the development of Montserrat is being impeded by the lack of a safe harbour:  the deep water port, breakwater, docking facilities and stuff like that, if they were in place would be very instrumental in the development of the country.  My question then is:  what assistance can Montserrat be given to speed up the construction of these facilities?

DFID Secretary of State:
Well, I’ve come almost straight from a presentation on the harbour front about the future development of the harbour and there is no doubt that that is fundamental to access and indeed to the secure economic future which we have been discussing.  And once a plan has been developed, once we’ve stressed-test that plan so we can be sure that it gives real value for money for investors, for the British taxpayer, and indeed for the people of Montserrat then we must get on with it and forge ahead.  And there is no doubt at all.  You are right that sorting out the harbour and making sure that the harbour plans take place is absolutely fundamental in achieving that.

Hazel Riley:
My last question:  the recent announcement of the withdrawal of the naval vessels from the area is no doubt going to impact very heavily on Montserrat.  We have already identified that.  I am wondering whether or not it will be possible or if any thought has been given to assist Montserrat with maybe a larger and more efficient coast guard vessel so that, you know, the officers can have a better chance of intercepting vessels in our waters?

DFID Secretary of State:
Well, it’s not true to say that the British navy is withdrawing.  The Royal Fleet Auxiliary will I’m sure still be a regular visitor to Montserrat, although it’s a Royal Fleet Auxiliary rather than a frigate.  The Chief Minister and I were agreeing this morning that to a layman, they are both British warships so I think you should regard the fact that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is still going to be in the Caribbean and around the Caribbean as a very reassuring aspect and another example of Great Britain’s very heavy involvement in this part of the world.

Winston Cabey:
My final question, Mr. Secretary:  You had a bird’s-eye view of the unsafe zone and also the safe zone.  I think it was a short flight but your impressions compared to what you heard before, what you saw on the television and in other news media.

DFID Secretary of State:

Well we had an extremely good briefing from the MVO before we took off which showed pictures of the island before the major eruptions and the eruptions themselves.  And I found, for me the flight was first of all, moving and upsetting.  And if it was upsetting for me, goodness knows how much more upsetting it must be for everyone in Montserrat let alone those who went through it at the time.

The scale of the devastation, I think you have to see it to understand it.  No amount of newsprint or newsreel can get that across.  And it underlined for me the importance of the commitment that Britain has made to Montserrat, which is an extremely substantial commitment.  And I think the benefit for me of seeing it in the way that you described is it means I hope that I will be much more compelling when I face parliament in London and explain to people why it is extremely important that Britain stands by Montserrat and helps Montserrat in the substantial way which we have sketched out.

Bennette Roach:
Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Your very last statement is what confuses me a little bit.  That I still don’t understand.  You said that Montserrat will not be given any special treatment and I still feel that we are in a position to demand that special treatment for just the very reasons you just mentioned.

Will you be prepared—I know that you said you’ve looked at or you’re looking at the route map that we have, that we’ve set out.  We all think, the little bit we know it that it is supposed to take us up from where we are.  But with an economy that is as dead as it is, not building, as dead as it is, it is obvious that is some special treatment that will take us out of that.  And I am just asking whether or not the Secretary will be prepared to go back and take a serious fair look.  You said it’s already fair but I don’t think it is and that’s what I’ll be harping on.  Are you prepared to go back with your very own statement and take a fairer look at Montserrat’s situation and assist us?  I’m not asking us to beg for any overall assistance.  We understand the constraints here ourselves but Montserrat is at a position that it needs timely, timely assistance.

DFID Secretary of State:
Well, first of all, I disagree with you, respectfully, on the suggestion that I’m not saying that Britain is giving special assistance to Montserrat.  I think funding sixty percent of your recurring expenditure, definitely qualifies as special assistance.

But the point I want to make, the point I want to make to you is that I think that the attitude which you are expressing can be updated.  I think that rather than…  I think that you are behaving like one of the little birds which I described.  And I think that we need to move rapidly to a partnership approach where we are taking the road map and we are helping to ensure that these joint aims we have are fulfilled.  We are putting British taxpayers’ money significantly behind this endeavour.  And I think that that means that we are entitled to ask of you that you do every thing you possibly can, in partnership with us, to drive forward this agenda.  And if that means that some reductions in expenditure have to be made in order to live within your budget then I think given the scale of support from Britain that is not an unreasonable request for us to make as part of our partnership.

So I think what I’m really saying in answer to your question is look at what you can do, look at what Montserrat can do as part of this partnership, working closely with us and the capital that Britain is able to deploy in support of our joint strategy.  That should be the thrust of your activity rather than trying to see whether any more money can be squeezed from the British taxpayer.
Thank you all very much for coming today.’