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Fibre Optic Cable Project Breakthrough!

How do we now move on to a digital productivity-driven economic breakout?

Head of the Programme Management Office, Martin Parlett; Director of DITES, Denzil West; Permanent Secretary, Office of the Premier, Daphne Cassell; and Premier, Honourable Donaldson Romeo. Photo Credit: GoM/GIU

BRADES, Montserrat, October 26, 2019 –  On Thursday, October 24, Premier Donaldson Romeo announced that he is standing aside from the PDM Candidates list for the November 18th election. In saying this, he listed various achievements of the PDM administration. The first of these is strategically decisive for Montserrat:

“. . . after a ten-year fight, just today, October 24th, 2019, we have signed off the contract for the laying of the undersea Fibre Optic Cable worth EC$17 million. This is one-sixth of the CIPREG EC$100 million programme. The fibre optic cable project will open up the dynamic digital sector with many opportunities for internet server farms, business, and financial services, telemedicine, multimedia education, web-based enterprises, digital multimedia products, and lots more. This will lead to jobs, especially for our digitally-minded youth.”

Premier Romeo also had a few words for “naysayers” on the CIPREG Project: “The naysayers who so often publicly mocked the reality of these projects and sometimes suggested they were fake were wrong; they should now come clean to the people of Montserrat.” (Though this is a surprisingly strong remark for this Premier, it is understandable given how insistently the “naysayers” said and suggested such, in the face of mounting evidence. The “naysayers” now have a lesson to learn and face a character test. A fair comment is: if good news for Montserrat is bad news for you, and bad news for Montserrat is good news for you, you have a serious problem. Our voters will decide pass/fail, come Nov. 18.)

Now, based on a Government press release[1] dated October 25 we can fill in some details on the project:

“ . . . [T]he Government of Montserrat through the Capital Investment Programme for Resilient Economic Growth (CIPREG) today signed a landmark multi-million-dollar deal with Southern Caribbean Fiber (SCF), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Digicel Group, for the installation of a new subsea fibre optic cable system . . . .  the transformational 15-year agreement, worth in excess of XCD$16m,[2] sees SCF managing, maintaining and operating a new 25 kilometre [ = 15.6 miles ] fibre optic cable which paves the way for faster, more reliable and more resilient internet connectivity through Guadeloupe and Antigua. The agreement also provides for ten years of high-speed broadband internet access for the delivery of its services for the Government of Montserrat for free. SCF won the contract as part of a competitive international tendering process, and aims to complete the installation of Montserrat’s new fibre optic system by the summer of 2020 . . . . The Project will be overseen by the Programme Management Office in the Ministry of Finance, and the Department for Information Technology and E-Government Services (DITES) under the portfolio of the Office of the Premier. ”

A revealing fact here, is that we are to have a 15 mile cable, where Antigua is 26 miles away and Guadeloupe is even further. This means, logically, that we must be getting a “spur line” to a junction box inserted in an existing SCF/Digicel subsea Fibre Optic Cable between those two islands that obviously runs 15 miles off our coast.  No wonder SCF/Digicel won the bid! (The bonus is, we get a tie-in to Europe through Guadeloupe and one to the USA through Antigua. Two birds with one stone.)

What can we do with this opportunity? Many things:

  • We need to put in further, hurricane-proof underground fibre optic cable across the island so that households, schools, the hospital, businesses, new digital economy enterprises and Government can have fast, reliable digital access. (Yes, thanks to Lime and Digicel, we already have some underground fibre optic cable, as well as some that run in the air from telephone pole to telephone pole.)
  • We need to back this up with adequate standby generation so the cables won’t go down due to power cuts.
  • Longer term, we need to put in Geothermal Energy-based electricity, as this is one of the two most reliable electricity energy sources; along with large scale hydroelectric generation. (The Thermal Energy Partners estimates indicate that we may have over 100 MW of potential.[3])
  • This opens up opportunities for GT energy backed, Fibre Optic Cable connected server farms providing Internet, multimedia and business services.
  • As we are native English speakers – living in a low crime, UK Overseas Territory, emerald isle, tropical paradise (we have spring water in our taps!) – at a longitude between the US and Europe, Call Centres and the like are just the low hanging fruit.
  • Imagine, the impact of just a few investors moving to villas here with state of the art global fibre optic connectivity to do instant trading on the markets while they can pop over to a tropical beach in five minutes, or instead go for a lush tropical forest mountain hike just for a change of pace.
  • That points to business or art retreat centers, similarly globally connected.
  • Mix in Offshore Medical Universities and research centers and we can see telemedicine and specialist treatment facilities open up as major opportunities.
  • Of course, the to-be-rebuilt Glendon Hospital [£15m under CIPREG] must be wired for telemedicine and multimedia digital medical/nursing education.
  • As the new CXC Registrar announced here in August, CXC is moving regional education to a digital base. Blend that with multimedia, server farms and on-call services and digital education opportunities beckon. (Entertainment, music and television opportunities are too obvious to detail.)
  • Last June, we here at TMR pointed out[4] that since 2013, the UK has launched a Computing in Schools initiative for ages 5 to 16. We need something similar in Montserrat and the wider Caribbean. We need a digital workforce to go with a digital world.
  • You fill in ________ (the sky is the limit).

[1] GoM http://www.gov.ms/montserrat-selects-southern-caribbean-fiber-in-multi-million-dollar-subsea-fibre-optic-cable/?fbclid=IwAR24Mc48jd46Qs7H0rBujgDduEUq_VCqiJS4kpzIFoHhKAVRQWpBrGG0MFg

[2]  NOTE: £4.9 mn x 3.50 = EC$ 17.15 mn.

[3] TMR https://www.themontserratreporter.com/montserrats-geothermal-energy-gold-mine/

[4] TMR https://www.themontserratreporter.com/montserrat-go-digital-or-go-bust/

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Columns, De Ole Dawg, Elections, Energy, Features, International, Local, Regional0 Comments

SPECIAL: Thoughts for MNI Election Nov 18, 2019

SPECIAL: Thoughts for MNI Election Nov 18, 2019

Is Ship of State MNI taking sound counsel or looking for “a sweet south wind” [Ac 27:13] – with a dangerous storm lurking?

BRADES, Montserrat, October 8, 2019 –  On Monday, October 7, .2019, Montserrat’s Premier Donaldson Romeo announced that we are to go to the polls on November 18th next.  By Wednesday morning, he was back on the air, announcing how by a “democratic” process, he had been deposed the previous evening through a vote of candidates as Party Leader of his People’s Democratic Movement (PDM). He is to continue as in effect caretaker Premier until the election. Then, over the next few days, he headed off to New York to make a presentation to the UN General Assembly’s key 4th Committee; on an upcoming UN field visit to Montserrat under Article 73 of the UN Charter (on decolonisation).

In his presentation, he announced how:

“[A]fter ten years of effort, through the recent help of the UK, the project to install a replacement subsea fiber optic cable to Montserrat is going through.  As I speak, my technicians are finalizing the contractual agreements for the UK funded 4.9 Million sterling undersea fiber optic cable . . . ”

This £4.9 million subsea fibre optic cable is a key component of the post-volcano crisis rebuilding and redevelopment of Montserrat’s economy and society. That is why (in its successful-at-long-last form) it is one of the projects under the UK-funded £30 million CIPREG programme he has discussed in recent months. Indeed, it is fully 1/6 of it. So, on the one hand, we see triumph at last and recognition by the wider world but on the other, repudiation by his own Party six weeks before a General Election. The ways of politics are strange indeed.

Ironically, street buzz strongly indicates that there is a surge of rage over the repudiation of Mr. Romeo by his Party; likely reflecting his strength of personal support and respect among ordinary people.

Talk of splits and dismissive commentary over his alleged failures as a leader abounds.

Oddly, we did not hear much of such talk when the now main opposition party, the Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP) split, leading to the formation of a splinter party led by a former chairman and also by a former MCAP legislator. Sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander in politics, MNI style.  (Or should we be asking whether crabs busily pulling one another back down in a barrel realise why a large pot is being heated and spiced right next to them?)

There seem to be one or two further parties waiting in the wings plus several independents.

Have those who deposed Mr. Romeo on the eve of an election shot themselves in the foot? Are we headed for a landslide victory for MCAP? Will we see some other parties win a majority? Or, will we have a hung parliament followed by horse-trading and a patched-together coalition? Time will tell, and the decision is ours to make.

Meanwhile, the scripture writer Luke has a sobering word for us:

“Acts 27:9 Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast [Day of Atonement] was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship but also of our lives.”

11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along.” [ESV]

Mr Moneybags and his bought and paid for technical man won the vote but lost the boat.

That happened because they manipulated the senior person and the majority to act imprudently. Likely, they derided the apostle and his words of sober caution. Later, the same apostle showed prophetic leadership in the storm and saved the 276 souls aboard when shipwreck happened. To do so, he had to expose a ruse by which the same crew tried to abandon the passengers to shipwreck.

Just so, merely voting is not enough to safeguard our hopes, we must seek out godly wisdom, prudence, and the right – not the easy – way.  That holds for elections and it holds for life too.

Posted in CARICOM, Columns, De Ole Dawg, Elections, International, Local, OECS, Opinions, Regional0 Comments

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Truth will ouch, 2019: The CIPREG facts come home to roost

Part S09/2019 (Contribution)

Where do our hopes for development stand, on the eve of elections 2019?

BRADES, Montserrat, October 19, 2019 –  In recent days, following the ouster of Premier Romeo as Political Leader of the PDM Party by his fellow candidates, events here in Montserrat and overseas have unraveled several carefully crafted political talking points and have undermined widely held opinions:

  • Premier Romeo’s October 10, 2019 presentation to the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee[1] (despite some flaws) seems to have been fairly well received at Turtle Bay in New York.
  • Angry street buzz continues in the aftermath of the Romeo ‘ouster’ by his fellow PDM candidates. It is now likely that – absent a drastic turnaround – the PDM may pay a stiff price for trying to change horses in mid-stream.
  • We can now definitely expect a UN Committee of 24 field visit on progress with our decolonisation in December. (The UN envisions three possible decolonisation outcomes: 1: independence, 2: free association with UK or another state, 3: incorporation into the UK or another state.)
  • A main focus for the UN visit will be fact-finding consultations and site visits. It will also provide public education that will pivot on the legally binding force of the UN Charter, Article 73 and its requirement that the UK is mandated to “ensure” our political, economic, social and educational “advancement.”
  • Article 73 also binds the UK to “promote” – not, delay or frustrate – “constructive measures of development.” (This lent weight to Premier Romeo’s challenge regarding 20+ years of delays on key projects, though it is fair comment that part of the delay is due to our own faults.)
  • In addition, Premier Romeo has been calling for the UN to create what we could describe as a “decolonisation observer and facilitator” who would be based here.
  • Putting two and two together, that seems to have had some impact in London. For, a few days later, HE Governor Andrew Peirce went on ZJB Radio to do a nearly one and a half-hour-long live interview with that station’s Breakfast Show.
  • There are now calls for a wider press conference with our local media.
  • During the interview, the Governor spoke about several development projects under the £30 million CIPREG programme negotiated by the Romeo administration, other projects associated with the EU project  (£18 millions), the seaport development (£21.5 millions) and even responded to the playing of an excerpt of Mr Romeo’s latest UN speech.
  • We now know “from the horse’s mouth” that the UK has in fact committed to the £30 million CIPREG agreement and is serious about moving ahead on key projects such as the Fibre Optic cable, the hospital, housing, fix-up for the MSS campus, the A01 road upgrade, airport runway upgrade, and more.
  • The Governor also affirmed that the commitments in the 2012 FCO White Paper on OT’s[2] are firm, so onward support to our “reasonable assistance needs” will continue.
  • Those who mocked this commitment over the years have therefore been publicly corrected “from the horse’s mouth.”
  • He seemed to shift the emphasis towards Solar PV electricity, rather than Geothermal. (Actually, Geothermal electricity is far less prone to fluctuations than PV and we may have over 100 MW of GT potential.[3])
  • Ironically, we also had a visit by EU officials, looking at their energy projects [which is associated with the release of the first tranche of EDF 11 funds], but on their way out there was an incident with a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft aborted flight where passengers had to deboard.
  • This follows an incident where a similar aircraft ran off the runway several weeks ago.  Several incidents over recent years and a fatal accident also come to mind.

These developments, understandably, sent shock waves throughout Montserrat; even as political campaigning heats up towards elections scheduled for November 18th.

Some denounced the Governor as interfering in our local politics. Others point out that the persistent rhetoric that – in the teeth of evidence and repeated correction – insisted on going on radio week by week to doubt, deride and dismiss the reality of the breakthrough projects and to talk down our economy as being “worst ever” was ill-founded and has now had a hard collision with the facts.  They, therefore challenge the truthfulness and general fitness of such aspirants to power for high offices tasked to carry forward these projects in the national interest.

Actually, it is fairly obvious that the UK has much bigger fish to fry than local political campaign talking points and personalities. Especially, given the upcoming UN visit and the prolonged delays with and repeated cutting down of long-needed development projects. They have some explaining to do and so are belatedly reaching out with public education before December.

Just so, we too had better be prepared to answer for our own faults in the matter.

Yes, our own faults.

Here at TMR, we have already highlighted the MDC-Little Bay-Gun Hill fiasco[4]: by 2012 DfID for cause concluded that “MDC has not performed to date as had been expected . . . failure and injection of over EC$5 million did not turn it around.

In 2014 we saw whistleblowers, then media exposes the next year. Then, a few weeks ago, GoM and DfID have had to settle the McLaughlin case[5] in his favour. Likewise, the Auditor General has lashed the Government regarding the environmental disaster caused at Gun Hill in 2013/14 when the Meade administration knocked down the hill.[6]

Topping off, in the Auditor General’s Report for 2014–15, we also find telling remarks on an audit of the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) on the MCRS and MAHLE building projects:

“Insufficient information was provided by PIU for the auditors to complete the audit and verify that the work and payments were in accordance with the government’s contracting policies. At the time of the audit the buildings were still under construction but were outside the agreed construction dates as specified in the contract. To strengthen contract management arrangements, enhance transparency  in decision making and facilitate future project reviews we recommend that record keeping be improved.” [p. 23.]

Auditors use very restrained language, so “[i]nsufficient information was provided by PIU for the auditors to complete the audit and verify that the work and payments were in accordance with government’s contracting policies” is deadly. So is the want of proof that work and payments were in accord with established policy. Likewise, the claim that timelines slipped badly and the remark that record keeping needs to be “improved.” PIU as well as MDC, clearly had serious challenges with project governance, management, and implementation, contributing to our lack of credibility on projects, procurement, and financial management. That simply has to be fixed.

In short, on the eve of a crucial election, devastating facts have come home to roost across the board. No-one is coming up smelling like roses. Perhaps, it is time for our voters to call for a government of national unity that will set aside ill-founded partisan points scoring, admit the truth, face hard facts, carry forward necessary reforms and build on the CIPREG breakthrough.


[1] TMR https://www.themontserratreporter.com/premier-romeos-presentation-at-the-un-general-assembly/

[2] UKG https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/32952/ot-wp-0612.pdf

[3] TMR https://www.themontserratreporter.com/montserrats-geothermal-energy-gold-mine/

[4] TMR https://www.themontserratreporter.com/the-mdc-little-bay-gun-hill-fiasco/

[5] TMR https://www.themontserratreporter.com/sean-mclaughlin-whistle-blower-and-our-governance-capacity-challenge/

[6]TMR https://www.themontserratreporter.com/auditor-general-reports-on-the-degradation-at-gunn-hill-carrs-bay/

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, De Ole Dawg, Editorial, International, Local, Regional0 Comments

MNI: Facing our 2019 – 24 post-Brexit Governance- Capacity- Leadership Challenge

MNI: Facing our 2019 – 24 post-Brexit Governance- Capacity- Leadership Challenge

How are we going to handle the UK’s 2025 policy “pillars” and “values” agenda for the Caribbean?

BRADES, Montserrat, September 26, 2019 –  “Governance” is about how the big decisions are made, and how they are made to stick. That becomes a challenge when we have murky swamps and lurking dragons to deal with. So, how do we drain the swamp and deal with the dragons?[1] Especially, with an election just around the corner, with a £63 million [~ EC$ 200 million] development programme on the table that needs to be managed properly; also, with Brexit and a UN Decolonisation Committee visit also to happen, maybe by December?

For one, we have to recognise that elections can easily become part of the problem rather than the wave- a- magic- wand instant solution.

As Acts 27:11 – 12 reminds us, when St Paul warned the ship’s company of dangerous winter storms at Fair Havens, “the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said . . . the majority decided to put out to sea.” So, they set sail for Phoenix, a nicer winter harbour 40 miles away, only to be caught in such a storm and shipwrecked at Malta; hundreds of miles off course. Yes, Mr Moneybags, his bought and paid for technical experts, stubborn ignorance and want of common sense can easily turn democratic elections into ruinous voyages of folly: de-mock-racy, not democracy.[2] Merely having elections won’t solve the problem.

Similarly, if our “permanent government” – the senior civil service – is “not fit for purpose” (as former Governor Carriere said in an unguarded, frank moment) then we are going to be hampered every step of the way by lack of capacity, foot-dragging, outright incompetence and even corruption. And if many candidates for election are cut from the same roll of cloth,[3] that will only multiply the problem.

For elections to work, we need to have a choice of credible, competent, good-character candidates with sound policy proposals, and if policies are to be implemented, our senior civil service will need drastic reforms led by Cabinet. We will have to fix the DfID-FCO side of the problem, too.

This part of the problem is why, over the past several weeks, we here at TMR have looked at the needed Charter of Good Governance and Development Partnership MoU with the UK; which have actually been on the table for several years, but were obviously road-blocked. Such agreements and such Resolutions of our Assembly would give us tools to drain the murky waters so beloved of swamp-dwelling chaos-dragons . . . that’s how they can lurk in ambush.

A capacity-building component would help us build a new generation of policy and political leadership. The creation of a priority transformational programme with agreed “catalytic” infrastructure-building projects supported by designated expediters and sound PRINCE2-style governance systems would then move us beyond the stop, study, start, stop, restudy pattern. For sure, without a protected sea port, without an improved airport, without fibre optic cable digital access and without developed geothermal energy, we are a poor investment and growth prospect.

Correction, we should have already been doing those projects.   Yes, that is what frustrating the Charter of Good Governance, the Development Partnership MoU and linked reforms cost us, after the MDC’s failure.[4] Where, with the Programme Management Office head frog marched off within months of his arrival (followed by nearly two years of foot dragging on a new head), we can see what happens when the dragons strike back. 

As for church, professional, media and general community leaders, they will obviously typically reflect our general level.

For instance, why isn’t the lesson of Acts 27 routinely, repeatedly taught in our churches? There are of course sterling exceptions, and a few years back in these pages we reported on a series of meetings held by a visiting senior church leader, the Rev Dr. Nicholson.[5] And, there have been other voices, in our churches, on the streets, in TMR’s pages and elsewhere. So, our prolonged plight is not for lack of being prophetically warned and counseled. As a fair comment, the Apostle Paul also warned that in these last days many would reject or dismiss sound instruction; instead, seeking out those who would tickle itching ears with what they want to hear – as happened in Acts 27.  Soundness, is very much a cultivated taste (like healthy vegetables).

We also face a rapidly changing world situation. Whatever our opinions on how Brexit was voted in and on the UK’s new Prime Minister, Mr Boris Johnson, Brexit is to happen “soon.” That is naturally going to shift the UK’s policy focus back to the Commonwealth and to the Overseas Territories, even as going into the European Common Market (which developed into the European Union, as intended) shifted focus away from us.

Where, no, for centuries, the UK has been skilled at three- moves- ahead policy and strategic thinking, so the notion that they are so taken up with Brexit that they can’t see beyond the immediate crisis is nonsense. Obviously, in the background, there are many people studying issues and framing long term options as we speak. Indeed, just a few days ago, Mr Asif Anwar Ahmad, UK High Commissioner to Jamaica announced as follows regarding the United Kingdom’s “Strategy for the Caribbean, its six Overseas Territories in the region and Bermuda up to 2025”[6]:

“the [UK’s] strategy has three pillars — partners on values, partners on prosperity, and partners on protecting people . . . . the strategy calls for increased support for the region on the UK’s priorities which include good governance, human rights and democracy, including issues such as the death penalty and LGBT rights.”

How are we going to manage things like using the prestige and power of our Courts to unilaterally amend Constitutions from the Bench to impose radical agendas?

That has already been put on the table by Justice Antony Smellie in the Cayman Islands,[7] and it is by no means certain that the Appeals Court will defer to the argument that Constitutions should only be amended through proper process involving parliament and people.

Where, from FCO answers to UK Foreign Affairs Committee questions, it is already clear that the FCO is willing to go along with – or is even quietly pushing for – such blatantly undemocratic usurpations. Policies, that promote fashionable anti-Christian “values” and agendas.   The resulting potential for political destabilisation, increased social conflicts, moral confusion and chaos could easily dwarf the formidable challenges we already face.

Similarly, after days of meetings with the UN General Assembly [UNGA], embattled US President Donald Trump announced on September 25th that negotiations are in progress with the UK for a major post-Brexit trade deal. That deal is likely to be fairly similar to existing deals with Canada etc. How can we OT’s use the Joint Ministerial Council process to get a slice or two of the American pie?

These and many other issues point to an urgent need for a different level of awareness regarding trends, issues, pros and cons of policy options, etc. They point to a need for political, civil service, church and civil society leadership and independent thought at a different level. Yes, we here at TMR will continue to do our part as The People’s College.  However, as a nation, we need – right now – people with high capacity, the character of spiritual maturity, vision and values to tackle the sort of policy and frankly, world views challenges that are now on the table. Not, in five years’ time, now.

How are we going to address that? E


[1] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/montserrat-why-do-we-need-a-development-partnership-mou-with-the-uk/

[2] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-15-2016-will-we-have-democracy-or-de-mock-racy/

[3] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/we-need-a-new-politics-of-truth-soundness-and-national-consensus/

[4] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/the-mdc-little-bay-gun-hill-fiasco/

[5] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-20-2016-how-do-we-build-a-wholesome-god-fearing-society/

[6] See: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/uk-to-push-jamaica-on-lgbt-right

[7] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/answering-cj-smellie-neither-tradition-nor-religion-could-form-the-rational-basis-for-a-law/ and https://www.themontserratreporter.com/cayman-islands-chief-justice-smellie-tries-to-redefine-marriage-fails/

Posted in Columns, De Ole Dawg, International, Local, News, Opinions, Politics, Regional, UK - Brexit0 Comments

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The MDC-Little Bay-Gun Hill fiasco

Part 12/2019 (Contribution)

When will we face facts about the MDC’s “failure” from 2007 to 2014?

BRADES, Montserrat, August 28, 2019 –  Yes, MDC – Little Bay – Gun Hill fiasco. In case anyone doubts the need for a Charter of Good Governance and a Development Partnership MoU with the UK Government, he or she needs to face the MDC fiasco facts. Fact one, in 2011 – 12, DfID for cause concluded that the Montserrat Development Corporation had failed:

“ . . . the MDC has not performed to date as had been expected. The diagnosis ofthis failure is clear – too broad a remit given the staffing constraints, over ambitious targets and expectations, lack of clarity on how much independence and authority MDC was to be given, poor governance arrangements, a micro-managing Board of Directors and inadequate performance from the original implementing consultants.” [DfID 2012 MDC Business Case,[1] p. 4]

Notice, carefully, DfID’s evaluation of MDC by 2011 – 12: “MDC has not performed to date as had been expected . . . failure.”

Yes, Fact 2: DfID put in another $5+ millions and tried to help pull MDC out of the morass.

Sadly, Fact 3: that too failed, and by 2014 we saw whistle-blowers, investigations and a funding lock-off.  (All of that stuff that we have forgotten.)

Then, Fact 4: in 2015, we were splashed across UK newspaper headlines[2] as a capital example of DfID’s aid failures. (Something else we forgot.)

Conclusion A: our opinions or clever punditry and political rhetoric are irrelevant, it is DfID that (for cause) has lost confidence in us.

In short, Conclusion B: if we are to make serious progress on rebuilding our country, we have to rebuild our credibility and demonstrate world-class capacity to manage the US$ 200 – 400 millions of investments across 10 – 20+ years that it is going to take to transform our economy.

Indeed, Conclusion C: credibility and capacity to carry forward a transformation programme are the pivotal challenges we face over the next three to five years.

That is what makes understanding the MDC- Little Bay-Gun Hill fiasco so important for our future. And no, by September 2014 it was clear that DfID lost confidence in the MDC and was not going to back further projects, given governance and management challenges that led to the emergence of a key whistleblower. By the next May, we were being splashed across the UK Tabloids as a key example of alleged corruption with UK development aid. That was a nearly mortal blow to Montserrat. And yes, “fiasco” is their word:

DfID’s 2012 MDC business case is quite clear:

Little Bay and Carr’s Bay are the only developable sites left on the island capable of offering access by sea, providing a base for new FDI in tourism and other sectors, providing new commercial space and civic amenities and housing the critical mass of population and business necessary to stimulate local private sector development. Whilst some infrastructure provision and construction has occurred on the Little Bay site, it has not yet generated significant momentum and is hampered by poor physical access, an impractical master plan, fragmented and unprofessional marketing and promotion, and an unsupportive policy environment. Without the development of Little Bay and Carr’s Bay, improved access, and reduced costs of doing business, Montserrat will remain uncompetitive in attracting FDI.  Without this investment, the local business base will remain unable to design and produce exportable products and services or to substitute for expensive imports on a competitive and sustainable basis.

[pp. 3 – 4]

In effect, by 2012 – after five years – MDC had failed to get self-sustaining investment momentum going (reallocating its funds to build a few buildings – with a cloud of associated questions over procurement[3] –  doesn’t count). A further injection of EC$ 5+ millions then failed by 2014, leading to whistleblowing then loss of confidence by DfID and finally to tabloid headlines.

A further factor we drive by every day but seem to overlook was the diversion of millions of EDF capacity development funds to knock down Gun Hill[4] (which was to “signal the start of the US$96 million dollar port development project in the Carrs Bay area”). The material was then used to fill up Piper’s Pond (which was supposed to become the new town centre . . . another evaporated idea); thus destroying the last remaining significant wetland on our West Coast.  Here is what we did to the now collapsing Gun Hill:

However by February 2014, after sixteen months no investment partners were found for the proposed Carrs Bay seaport development, so the UK proposed a reported £23 million, less costly but arguably adequate port development at Little Bay. (So, five years later we are only now clawing back up to what we already had on the table in February 2014 but walked away from.)

Worse, we also ended up with two environmental failures and two eyesores to this day. That’s why on August 9th just past, TMR  reported on the recent Audit on Gun Hill[5]:

The removal of Gunn Hill had immediate adverse effects such as loss of scenic quality, loss of resilience to storm attack and reduction of sediment supply to the coast. To date, no manmade landscape was created as a result of the discontinuation of the project.

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) found that the appearance of sinkholes in and around the site highlighted the danger of using the area for fishing, increased dumping of soil and boulders and derelict items and vehicles which can be easily moved during strong wind and heavy rains.

Extraction of a significant portion of the hill has weakened the superstructure; Additionally, ongoing mining of significant amount of sand using excavators also threatens the possibility of further erosion . . . .

Government of Montserrat should always ensure that they have agreed alternate sources of financing to cover the full cost of a project before commencing projects of such nature and magnitude. Further, a request should be made for every project/proposed development requiring an environmental impact assessment to include a section on the impact on the environment at the end of each critical phase of major projects if it were discontinued.

This is where we are since 2012 – 14, utterly discredited in the eyes of DfID (and then the UK public); starting with MDC but going far beyond that.

That was not helped when, after two years of effort, a Programme Management Office was finally set up, only to see its Director frog marched out of Government Headquarters a few months later,  in July 2017. Marched out, on a no-cause clause dismissal; which is obviously highly questionable. The dragons had struck back.[6] Nearly two more years of foot-dragging in murky waters followed, before we could re-start the PMO under a new head. That has multiplied our utter discredit, having already cost Montserrat two (or is it three . . . ?) more needlessly lost years.

We must do better, much better.

Clever rhetoric and finger-pointing blame games or vague promises to wave one’s magic wand, hey presto are not going to solve the problem. Nor, can we go back and conveniently erase this history.  Instead, we must learn from it and make sure that the restored PMO is credible, solid, substantial. For one, it will need to go back to the Axelos, PRINCE2 system as a benchmark for world class project, programme and portfolio capacity-building and governance. We must at least be as sound as that. 

Similarly, any onward trade, investment, town development and tourism promotion agencies will have to have far stronger governance mechanisms than those that failed for the MDC.  That points to the same Axelos yardstick.

And yes, that cuts clean across what our dragons want – or for that matter, the UK ones. It is therefore we the people who will have to collectively put our feet down and say, enough is enough . . . after twenty lost years.


[1]           See: http://iati.dfid.gov.uk/iati_documents/4158833.odt

[2]           See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3084557/400m-foreign-aid-fiasco-paradise-Bribery-kickbacks-tax-money-siphoned-pet-projects-tiny-Carribean-island-British-worker-blew-whistle-paid-devastating-price.html

[3]           TMR, May 17, 2013: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/opposition-leader-romeo-questions-mdc-procurement-practises/

[4]           TMR, Aug 20, 2013: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/gun-hill-removal-to-begin-next-week-seen-as-commencement-of-port-project/

[5]           TMR, Aug 9, 2019: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/auditor-general-reports-on-the-degradation-at-gunn-hill-carrs-bay/

[6]           TMR https://www.themontserratreporter.com/montserrat-why-do-we-need-a-development-partnership-mou-with-the-uk/

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The deep state swamp dragon (HT scerg, DA)

Montserrat: why do we need a Development Partnership MoU with the UK?

Part 10/2019 (Contribution)

Is there a real “deep state swamp dragon,” which will try to block our progress?

BRADES, Montserrat, August 30, 2019 –   One of the commonest complaints about key development projects for Montserrat, is how they move in a dragged out, stop, study, start, re-study, consult, stop again . . . pattern. In many cases, for 10 to 20 years now. This indefensible outrage clearly points to the need for an agreed framework that moves us ahead steadily on the key, catalytic initiatives needed to re-spark self-sustaining growth like we once had, before the volcano crisis.

So, just as we looked at the need for, usefulness of and possible format of a Charter of Good Governance “last time”[1] we also need to ponder what a credible framework for a Development Partnership with HMG should look like. 

For instance, why not:

  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between our government and the UK Government, acting through DfID and FCO? (With attached technical agreements with DfID the main implementing agency on the UK side.)
  • Using the usual “whereases” to set a context for why such a partnership is needed and what sets out its motives and purpose.
  • Setting out the joint commitment to development based on the acknowledged legal force of the UN Charter, Article 73.[2]
  • Setting out other UK commitments given the 2012 FCO Whitepaper on Overseas Territories, including the “notorious” first call on the UK aid budget principle.
  • Expressing determination to put in place key projects that will help to catalyse economic development, health, education and social progress.
  • Launching an agreed programme of action that builds on the CIPREG framework but broadens scope under the full force of the Article 73 mandate.
  • Setting out an agreed framework that identifies priority transformational projects, sets a time frame to move them forward and establishes principles and organisation for the programme-based project cycle management needed to move such projects forward (without undue delays).
  • Establishing the required organisational units and capacity-building framework, perhaps using the PRINCE2, Axelos framework for qualifications, organisation, management and governance.
  • Setting up agreed funding, staffing and implementation with expediting and oversight.
  • Premier Romeo’s recent call for a UN resident facilitator could also be brought into such a framework.

Can such be done? (Obviously, yes – once there is willingness.)

Will such be done? (Not until the roadblocks that made sure it “didn’t get far” the last time around are dismantled and those who put up the roadblocks face accountability over what they did. And, over what it cost Montserrat.)

The deep state swamp dragon (HT scerg, DA)

These days, we hear of a lot of back and forth accusations about the “deep state” establishment entrenched in and/or unduly influencing Governments, the civil service, the military, finance, media etc. Some, of course, dismiss the idea as myths, or even “conspiracy theories.”

But wise change agents know better. 

There is always “an unofficial party of business as usual” that has its own quarrelling factions and internal, dirty, stab-in-the-back power games.

However, it is in the mutual interest of the power players to patch together some sort of live and let live. This results in an agenda that the power players are willing to go along with, at least for now. Of course, depending on the state of play the power games that agenda will shift.  That’s what sets the real agenda of governance: how the big decisions are really made, and how they are made to stick.

Hey, presto: meet your friendly, local, deep state[3] swamp dragon.

But, but, isn’t this a mere myth?

Best advice: if the river mullet says, there is a crocodile in the river, believe him.

The deep state dragon is real enough, and of course it means that genuine reforms of our civil service (especially at senior levels) are necessary. So will be, wider governance reforms; hence, the Charter of Good Governance.

However, here in Montserrat, our deep state challenge is much broader than our local problems: we have to deal with TWO of the most notorious UK Government Departments.

The Foreign and Colonial [→ oops, “Commonwealth”] Office, FCO, ruled much of the world for centuries.

DfID has a sobering reputation, including not only questions about actual ability to deliver on development promises and repeated corruption scandals that go far beyond the Daily Mail’s perpetual attack on development aid, but also for the subtle threat: DfID protects its own.

We have to put in place something strong enough to be a counter-weight to such deep state dragons, ours and theirs.

That’s why we need [a] a Charter of Good Governance we establish through our elected – so, accountable – representatives AND [b] a development partnership MoU with the UK Ministers. Then, [c] a declared Cabinet Policy on Governance reforms and [d] a technical implementing agreement for onward development partnership can de-claw and de-fang the deep state swamp critters.

To get there, we will have to chop our way into the swamp and drain it sufficiently that the old dragons cannot hide anymore in murky, smelly waters. (That’s part of why fearless independent media are so important for building Montserrat’s future. Especially, a serious newspaper, serving as The People’s College.)

So, now, let us demand action on a charter of good governance and on a development partnership MoU.

Never mind, what that fire-breathing dragon crawling out of the swamp over there behind you is muttering about how such could “never” work. (Since when could we trust hungry dragons with smoke coming out of their mouths to tell the truth?)

Folks, it’s up to us, the ordinary people:  if not now, then, when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then, who?


[1] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/%ef%bb%bfmontserrat-fixing-governance/

[2] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/%ef%bb%bfhow-the-un-charter-governs-montserrats-relationship-with-the-uk/

[3] See Politico: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/09/05/deep-state-real-cia-fbi-intelligence-15537

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Montserrat: fixing governance

Montserrat: fixing governance

What about the long-promised charter of good governance and development partnership MoU with the UK?

BRADES, Montserrat, July 31, 2019 –  In his June 25th, 2019 statement to the UN Committee of 24 on Decolonialisation, Premier Donaldson Romeo requested the assistance of the UN in –

“creating a charter of good governance that will set a framework for democratic self government, for structured consultations with stakeholders, for guiding reforms, for enhancing transparency and for managing our relationship with the UK . . . ”

Such a charter (and a companion umbrella Development Partnership MoU with the UK) are in fact mentioned in the 2014 PDM Party Manifesto. During a recent question time in the Legislative Assembly, the Premier was challenged concerning these promises, and indicated that while initial drafts were created and consulted on, such “did not get very far.”

Perhaps – as the Premier has now suggested at the UN, it is time to reconsider.

For example, serious concerns over lack of transparency, questions about poor procedures and even shadowy questions of long-standing corruption concerns have long hovered over how key decisions have been made here; the invisible but all too palpable ghosts in the middle of the room. No wonder, then, that former Governor Adrian Davis often spoke to the need for such a charter and former Governor Waterworth spoke to the need for transparency, accountability and responsibility.  Likewise, Governor Carriere, in a perhaps less guarded moment, spoke about our civil service not being fit for purpose – something that is not entirely unexpected, given the lingering impact of the volcano disaster. Governor Peirce frequently speaks of cumbersome, outdated procedures.

As for a development partnership MoU, in her last press conference, Governor Carriere clearly indicated that first steps had been taken, but that there was a lack of “energy” to push the MoU forward in the face of its inevitable obstacles. Where also, in answers to questions on the Hospital, on July 29th Minister Ryan spoke of a repeating cycle of restarting projects when DfID officials change. As a result, we seem to have gone from proposing a hospital development on the current site to short-listing three sites from eight candidates, to picking Hill-Top, and now back to the St Johns site again. At least, this time around we actually have approved funding through CIPREG.

On the face of the matter, we do need a framework of agreed priority transformational projects and an agreed framework for managing the project cycle. The CIPREG initiative and associated projects such as the recently launched Little Bay breakwater and berth project seem to give us a list. The agreed £30 millions in funding for CIPREG gives a financial base. The restarted Programme Management Office (now under Mr Parlett) provides managerial capability. The potential that a proper sea port, improved airport, fibre optic cable and the like have for our economy provide adequate motivation.

However, until a proper, agreed Development Partnership MoU is in place, stop, start, re-study, consult, stop again games are likely to continue. 

Likewise, we clearly need a coherent, reasonably comprehensive framework of principles and commitments that will help to drive reforms towards sounder government and governance. Where, this is much wider than our civil service – we need to bring in the whole of civil society. Where also, clearly, this is a matter for self-determination, perhaps with guidance and support from experts of one form or another.

Accordingly, we can see a need to prepare a draft charter, consult across civil society and then go to a parliamentary debate on a finalised resolution. Such a resolution would be accompanied by a detailed cabinet-issued policy, which we would again control. These frameworks would then also shape an overall framework for a parallel development partnership MoU, to be negotiated with the UK. Such a MoU would probably work best as a joint ministerial policy declaration, framing a series of three-year medium-term technical agreements with FCO and DfID technical officers. At this stage, perhaps this could be developed as a wider framework that takes in the CIPREG and other initiatives as they come on stream.

For sure, the case by case project approach has obviously fallen victim to all sorts of delays, roadblocks, leaks to the tabloid media and general want of determination to expedite the catalytic initiatives we so obviously need if we are to move on beyond perpetual dependency. Twenty-two years of delays are enough, with blame enough for both sides, Government of Montserrat and DfID alike. We need a better way.

It is time for a major exorcism!

Where, too, the proposed UN Facilitator Premier Romeo also spoke of on June 25th could play a role in such developments.

But, what should a charter of good governance look like? Possibly:

  • taking its form as a resolution of our Legislative Assembly (with a Cabinet policy declaration to flesh it out)
  • laying out motivating “whereases” that set out context and aims
  • declaring a commitment to pillars of sound, sustainable, constitutional democratic self government
  • declaring, also, commitment principles of partnership for governance and development as agreed between the UK and Montserrat (informed by the UN Charter’s legal force, especially Article 73)
  • stating, that a companion development partnership MoU should set out the agreed terms for a development programme of action (building on CIPREG and PMO as first steps)
  • declaring that an associated Cabinet policy declaration will give detailed effect to the charter (including laying out a programme of action), with set periodic progress reports to the Assembly
  • setting up a broadly representative stakeholder-based community body for consultation and addressing local, district level issues.
  • highlighting the five main goals of the SDP 2008 – 20 as the ongoing principal development goals for Montserrat under our National Vision
  • and the like.

With such a framework in hand, we can then embark on comprehensive reforms and  transformational development initiatives guided by a clear policy vision and framework voted into effect by our duly elected representatives. And so, if not now, then, when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then, who?

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How the UN Charter governs Montserrat’s relationship with the UK

How the UN Charter governs Montserrat’s relationship with the UK

What is the legal (and the moral force) of “Article 73”?

BRADES, Montserrat, July 18, 2019 – As we listened to question time during the Legislative Assembly sitting on 9th July, it became clear that many are unclear – or are even dismissive – regarding the UN Charter and the upcoming visit by a UN delegation. Some, even fear that Premier Romeo’s stirring of these waters during his June 25th speech before the UN Committee of 24 on Decolonialisation[1] may do us more harm than good, or was simply useless. Yet, Section 2 of our 2010 Constitution Order clearly begins, “Whereas the realisation of the right to self-determination must be promoted and respected in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.” [p. 5]

Similarly, the FCO 2012 White Paper on Overseas Territories equally clearly states that:

“The UK Government’s fundamental responsibility and objective is to ensure the security and good governance of the Territories and their peoples. This responsibility flows from international law including the Charter of the United Nations. It also flows from our shared history and political commitment to the wellbeing of all British nationals. This requires us, among other things, to promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the people of the Territories, to ensure their just treatment and their protection against abuses, and to develop self-government and free political institutions in the Territories. [Cf. UN Ch. Art 73.] The reasonable assistance needs of the Territories are a first call on the UK’s international development budget.” [p.13]

Clearly, the UN Charter has legal force and is foundational for our 2010 Constitutional Order . Indeed, Article 103 of that Charter is a supremacy declaration: “In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail.”

This is because the October 24, 1945 UN Charter is a re-founding of International relationships on principles of peace, justice and progress[2]; making it the cornerstone of modern International Law. As the UN Ch. Art. 1 therefore summarises:

“The Purposes of the United Nations are . . . To maintain international peace and security . . . To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples . . . To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all . . .”

Article 73 speaks to the self-determination and progress of non-self- governing peoples (Montserrat being one of seventeen currently listed territories). Administering powers (such as the UK) are therefore legally bound:

“a. to ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses . . .

b. to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions . . .

d. to promote constructive measures of development . . .

e. to transmit regularly to the Secretary-General [of the UN] for information purposes, subject to such limitation as security and constitutional considerations may require, statistical and other information of a technical nature relating to economic, social, and educational conditions in the territories . . .”

The UN Committee of 24 on Decolonialisation is the means that the UN has set up to monitor progress under this article,[3] and it occasionally sends delegates out on visiting missions. That is what Premier Romeo has requested, and after some months, the UK has approved. So, as a previous TMR article[4] commented – based on the UN General Assembly Resolution December 7, 2018, regarding Montserrat:

“An Article 73 visit is expected, the UK must facilitate our self-determination and self-government. And, the UK has been specifically, firmly reminded of its ‘responsibility . . . under the Charter to promote the economic and social development and to preserve the cultural identity of the Territory [of Montserrat].’ ”

In his June 25 speech to the C24, the Premier requested:

“a neutral, UN-supported facilitator on island to observe and aid with required negotiations, agreements and implementation of projects that will assure social, educational, health care, youth development and resilient economic growth out of dependence and colonial rule.”

He also suggested that:

“the burning question is no longer: “Who (the British or Montserratian Government) is more responsible for twenty-two years of short sighted and ill-considered decisions, for chronic  mismanagement, corruption and ignoring scientific advice?”. But rather: “Are we (Montserrat and UK governments, assisted by the UN C24 Committee) willing to work together to turn tragedy into the triumph of good will?”

This seems to set a framework for the visit. It seems that he accepts that there is blame enough to share for both GoM and HMG for the past twenty-two years, given lack of progress under UN Ch. Art. 73 a, b and d. (This of course implies that his own government has its share of blame, too.)  However, in the spirit of lessons to be learned and applied to make progress, he seeks to work in partnership with HMG and the UN “to turn tragedy into the triumph of good will.” To that end, he has called for “a neutral, UN-supported facilitator on island.” He envisions that such a facilitator (with UN backing)  will be able to “observe and aid with required negotiations, agreements and implementation of projects.”

Is this realistic?

While the jury is out, yes.

The UN, through the Committee of 24 and the General Assembly, provide an open, international forum for public accountability for progress under the legal force of Article 73. As he has demonstrated, through that forum Montserrat’s voice can be heard by the world. A facilitator backed by UN resources and agencies can indeed make a difference regarding our negotiations with the UK on programmes and projects. The UN, too, has long-term initiatives for capacity building for small island developing states. Similarly, there have been initiatives to address corruption. It is notorious that every year, our UK grant-supported budget process – and thanks are due to the UK’s longsuffering taxpayers! – has been an inch by inch uphill fight. Development projects and programmes have too often seen a pattern of delays, fits and starts, cutting down to questionable levels and more. A facilitator with adequate backing could make a big difference on both the GoM and HMG sides of this problem.

However, it is also fair comment to observe that the UN has its own troubles and sometimes legitimate issues and initiatives have been captured by radical activists and states with rather questionable track records.

So, again, we see a mixed bag. But it is clear that this is an opportunity to open up a way forward. If, we are willing. Maybe the time has come for a fresh conversation. E


[1]See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/statement-to-un-c24-committee-premier-donaldson-romeo/

[2]See UN Ch. Preamble: https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/preamble/index.html

[3] See UN: https://www.un.org/en/decolonization/specialcommittee.shtml

[4] See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/is-mr-romeo-the-premier-who-asked-for-more/

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grouped

Montserrat: is there a way to realistically build a prosperous future?

Why  are we  forgetting about our growth strategy and linked breakthroughs?

BRADES, Montserrat, July 9, 2019 –  Montserrat’s GDP in 2017 was EC$161,886,544. Dividing by 4,900 people, that’s EC$ 33,038 per capita or over $120,000 per family of four on average. So, why aren’t we all happy at our prosperity? First, because, the average is obviously not what most people are getting, nor is an evenly distributed national income a realistic expectation.

A more instructive picture can be seen by taking our current recurrent budget, EC$ 137,772,200 and multiplying by four to get an idea of how much GDP we would need to readily sustain our level of basic government services: about, EC$ 550 millions. An economy of that size – about three times where we are now – would have a lot of room for general prosperity.  Where, for our economy to grow that large over the next twenty years, it would have to grow at about 6.3% per year, on average.

(That sounds a lot like the 5 – 7% annual GDP growth rate the late Sir Dwight Venner said we need as the EC Dollar region, and it is similar to the target growth rate in our Economic Growth Strategy.)

But is such a high growth rate achievable and sustainable for Montserrat?

 Admittedly, it would be a serious challenge. Early in this series, we spoke about a leaky tyre economy: in 1995 – 97 we hit a volcano pot hole and not only holed the tyre but bent the rim. So, when we patch the tyre and try to pump in air, it always leaks back out again. Just so, until our economy’s productive core is rebuilt, annual aid money cannot get us to self-sustaining growth, investor confidence and prosperity.

However, it can be done. To get it we have to first put catalytic infrastructure in place that opens up room for growth, also helping to rebuild investor confidence. Yes, the sea and air ports, the fibre optic cable, geothermal energy, even improved hospital and schools, etc. Hand in hand with that, we will have to attract and facilitate a wave of local and foreign investment that would feed such growth. That’s what the 2012 MDC Business case argued for, and it is what our Sustainable Development Plan and Economic Growth Strategy are about. Let’s remind ourselves on the core EGS framework, which uses a SWOT analysis to figure out a good way to go forward:

It doesn’t take a genius to see that this analysis is on target. Looking at the OPPORTUNITIES box, we can see that Tourism is the obvious shorter term growth driver, but high capacity digital connectivity opens up the longer term opportunities for digitally based, globally accessible services. We must go digital or go bust, and that’s why we looked at digital transformation of education last time.

That’s also why the breakthrough sea port and fibre optic cable projects target major opportunities, as does the in-progress work on alternative energy (solar and geothermal).  Airport upgrade and getting a better fleet of aircraft (Twin Otters to begin with) are a start, though it looks like our economy and tourism will have to show enough growth before we can make a good case for investing in a 5,000-foot, Boeing 737 jet-capable runway – which will probably require building a new airport. The good news on that is, that St Barths has been able to move ahead with a small airport as there is a good International Airport next door in St Maarten; that suggests that we need to further cultivate our air and sea travel links with Antigua, St Kitts and Guadeloupe.

The official Economic Growth Strategy was created through stakeholder consultations and builds on obviously sound analysis as we can see for ourselves. Much the same can be said for our Sustainable Development Plan and Physical Development Plan.

It is therefore unfortunate that too many voices in our print, electronic, online and social media seem to be ignorant of these plans. In some cases, it is worse than that: some who should know a lot better, are clearly deliberately side-lining or belittling what should be a foundation for a national consensus on a sound way forward.  Let us move beyond polarisation, attack-the-man politics and playing on the public’s lack of awareness.  Crabs in a barrel that are busily pulling one another down, are all headed for the same boiling-hot stew-pot.

Similarly, let us notice a key point in the STRENGTHS box: UK support to OT’s under the UN Charter, Article 73. 

This is our key lever in negotiations with the UK (as it has force of International Law that the UK has a “sacred duty” to carry out), and it is why Premier Romeo has now repeatedly gone to the UN, recently obtaining permission from the UK for a visiting mission. It is also the context for the December 7, 2018 UN General Assembly resolution on Montserrat, which clearly vindicates the Premier. In addition, this year provides a major opportunity for the OECS as a member state, St Vincent and the Grenadines, has been elected to sit on the UN Security Council, giving us a powerful voice through our friend, Dr Ralph Gonzalves. Unfortunately, it seems that many are still “stuck” on dismissing the significance of such a diplomatic breakthrough.

Instead of such ill-advised political rhetoric, let us instead refocus on our strengths and opportunities, building capacity to overcome weaknesses and counter threats, supporting and exploiting our five breakthrough opportunities.

As a reminder:

  • Sea Port Development and tourism opportunities
    • Fibre Optic Cable & Digital Economy opportunities
    • Alternative energy opportunities (solar, geothermal, etc)
    • Development funding (through the UK CCRIF, the EU etc)
    • A national Economic Growth Strategy

So, which is it going to be, crabs in a barrel fighting to pull one another down, or will we come together around a workable framework that builds a sound future for our nation?

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The BeeBot is a US80 turtle robot digital device for early primary education that can be programmed using arrow, start and clear keys

Montserrat: go digital, or go bust!

Part 7/2019 (Contribution)

Why does Montserrat need to build a digital economy? (And what does the “Raspberry Pi” have to do with it?)

BRADES, Montserrat, June 21, 2019 –  Montserrat, the OECS and the wider Caribbean must now begin to move towards the digital economy. Not only is that so because digital technology is one of the key driving forces for the world economy, along with energy and the financial sector, but because of what is happening with tourism.

For one, this year, China is expected to grow at 6.3%, down from 6.6% last year. That’s the world’s second largest economy, and China and India (the sixth largest economy, growing at 7.3% – and about to overtake the UK for No. 5!) combined will contribute over forty percent of global economic growth this year, 3.3%.  By contrast the UK contributes only 1.4% and the US only 12.3% to current global growth.  By 2023, the UK may contribute 1.3% and the US, 8.5%.

Clearly, the driving force of the world economy is undergoing a major shift to Asia. That means, the coming global economic powerhouses are in Asia – half-way around the world, across the Pacific Ocean.

Oops.

Flying half-way around the world is, frankly, unappealing. So, obviously, Chinese and Indian tourists will find it far more convenient to go to neighbouring destinations, instead of regularly flying to the Caribbean. So while slow-growth Europe and North America will still be prosperous and will be sources for tourism, the North Atlantic Basin is gradually turning into a low-growth, already-been-there, saw-that, got-the-tee-shirt, mostly cruise-ship visitor driven tourism market. So, it would be a mistake to put all of our economic eggs in the tourism basket. Yes, tourism is indeed Montserrat’s fastest “quick win” driver for growth, but we have to be realistic about setting up our strategic moves beyond tourism.

The Fibre Optic Cable and a linked vibrant digital sector (preferably, backed by geothermal energy) are therefore vital for building Montserrat’s future high-growth economy.  For, the digital sector is not only the most dynamic part of the world economy but it is automatically global as well as local and regional.

First, we have to build capacity. So, ASAP, we need to develop a basic course to equip students, hobbyists, educators, professionals and everyone in between with first-level practical computer programming and interfacing skills. Perhaps, we can use something like Python[1] and the Raspberry Pi[2] low cost educational computer on a card.[3]  The Raspberry Pi also comes with “Scratch,” an early learning language,[4] and it is now possible to “go Java” on the Raspberry Pi,[5] accessing a leading general purpose computer language. (NB: Basic starter kits are currently selling for US$ 50 – 80; screens, keyboards etc. will be additional, e.g. the CrowPi “advanced” kit-in-a-case for US$340.[6] A community-based, web-connected, teleconferencing ready “computer programming lab and learning centre” will be quite affordable.)

Beyond 101 level basics, we should be studying how to do mathematical, scientific and statistical analysis[7] and we should learn to use key libraries such as NumPy, matplotlib and SciPy to solve problems.[8]   

Our core education system must also be digitally transformed. That’s what we need to help our children and youth prepare to be competitive producers – yes, not just consumers – in an ever more digital world economy.  One, where a car repair mechanic will need to understand and work with complex computerised control systems.

Yes, it’s not the three R’s any more: Reading, [W]‘Riting and [A]‘Rithmetic. As, C, S and T have now joined them: Computing (starting with programming) and Science & Technology.

  As a yardstick, here is the “key stage 1” part of a current curriculum for the UK, for 5 – 14 (and now, up to 16) year olds[9]:

“Statutory guidance

National curriculum in England: computing programmes of study

Published 11 September 2013

Key stage 1Pupils should be taught to:

  • understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices [notice, broader than “computers”], and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions
  • create and debug simple programs
  • use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs
  • use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content
  • recognise common uses of information technology beyond school
  • use technology safely and respectfully, keeping personal information private; identify where to go for help and support when they have concerns about content or contact on the internet or other online technologies”.

Yes, that would be for, say, five to seven-year olds.

The BeeBot is a US80 turtle robot digital device for early primary education that can be programmed using arrow, start and clear keys

Stage 2 starts with: “design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems.” By Stage 3, we see: “use 2 or more programming languages, at least one of which is textual, to solve a variety of computational problems,” and “make appropriate use of data structures [for example, lists, tables or arrays].” For Stage 4, we find: “develop their capability, creativity and knowledge in computer science, digital media and information technology,” and “how changes in technology affect safety, including new ways to protect their online privacy and identity, and how to report a range of concerns.”

A 2012 Royal Society study had indicated that something like this is necessary for the UK to thrive in coming decades. Here in the Caribbean, with our Tourism pool going flat, with King Sugar long since dead, with agriculture a remnant, the handwriting is on the wall for us, too.

Go digital, or go bust.

And no, this is not about creating “a strong competitive advantage” or even “a comfortably profitable niche,” this is “simply being adequate.” Either we become digitally productive and competitive or we fail (again?) economically as a region. Including, here in Montserrat.

That’s already one reason why a replacement – yes, DfID, replacement – for the optical fibre access we had in place by 1994 but lost to the volcano is so urgent. This is no longer a question of economics, but one of national survival. As, without reliable, high capacity digital bandwidth, we are locked out of the future. However, such a fibre optic cable is only the beginning.

We also obviously need to go for “low-hanging fruit,” such as call centres and back office business services. Yes, we can then use hoped-for geothermal energy to support server farms that access the Internet through our fibre optic cable. We will need to train computer technicians and people able to work with robots.  We need to develop the ability to code to do analysis, experiments and research as routine parts of our jobs or businesses. 

We need to become producers of multimedia web content for education, for entertainment, for culture, for marketing and promotion. We need to create and support online malls that sell Montserrat’s goods and services to the world. We need people who are able to create and manage required Web and Social Media marketing content, etc. We will need online journalists, as democracy is going digital. Regular streaming and podcasts are a whole new sector for our local media.

We need to produce educational materials and we must create online based schools.  We need to go for web based education and training as keys to capacity-building in schools and on the job or in the community. 

And, much more.

Most of all we must never shy away from the need for programmers, analysts and entrepreneurs. 

For, it’s go digital, or go bust.


[1]See: https://www.python.org/

[2] See: https://www.raspberrypi.org/

[3] See: https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/python-programming-tutorial-getting-started-with-the-raspberry-pi/all and https://electropeak.com/learn/tutorial-raspberry-pi-gpio-programming-using-python-full-guide/

[4] See: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/raspberry-pi-scratch/

[5] See: https://www.voxxed.com/2015/03/code-java-on-the-raspberry-pi-part-1/

[6] See: https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/crowpi-kit-review/

[7] See: https://sinxloud.com/learn-data-science-python-statistics-mathematics/

[8] See: http://www.palrad.com/top-python-math-statistics-libraries-w-12007/

[9] See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study

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