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The Trumps

Trump ‘determined to pursue peace’ after Pope meeting

BBC News

US President Donald Trump has said he is “more determined than ever” to pursue peace in the world after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican.

He was granted a short private audience with the head of the Catholic Church on the latest leg of his overseas trip.

The two men have in the past clashed on issues such as migration, climate change and a Mexico-US wall.

Mr Trump is now in Brussels for talks with Nato and EU officials.

He will also hold meetings with Belgium’s King Philippe and Prime Minister Charles Michel.

After the meeting between President Trump and the Pope, the Vatican said there had been an “exchange of views” on international issues.

Mr Trump, who BBC Europe editor Katya Adler says seemed star-struck, said of the Pope: “He is something, he’s really good. We had a fantastic meeting and we had a fantastic tour, it was really beautiful. We’re liking Italy very much… it was an honour to be with the Pope.”

Later Mr Trump tweeted: “Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world.”

He arrived in Europe from Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he vowed to try to achieve peace in the region.

The US leader began his foreign trip with a two-day stop in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, urging Muslim countries to take the lead in combating radicalisation.

Much-anticipated meeting

Mr Trump and his entourage arrived at the Vatican just before 08:30, in a meeting that was arranged at the last minute.

The US president was greeted by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the head of the papal household, and escorted by the Swiss Guard to the offices of Pope Francis.

Correspondents say Mr Trump seemed subdued during their initial meeting, while Pope Francis was not as jovial as he sometimes is with world leaders.

The two men appeared much more relaxed at the end of their 30-minute private meeting.

The Vatican said later that they shared a commitment to “life, and freedom of worship and conscience” and expressed hope that they can collaborate “in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to migrants”.

On international affairs, their “exchange of views” covered the “promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue”, and highlighted the need to protect Christian communities in the Middle East.

After the meeting, they exchanged gifts. Mr Trump gave the Pope a boxed set of writings by the civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

The Pope gave Mr Trump a signed copy of a message he delivered for World Peace Day, along with some of his writings about the need to protect the environment.

He also presented him with a small sculptured olive tree, telling Mr Trump through an interpreter: “It is my desire that you become an olive tree to construct peace”.

Mr Trump responded by saying: “We can use some peace.” He also said he would read the texts the Pope gave him.

Mr Trump also met Italy’s president and prime minister while in Rome.


Seeking common ground – analysis by the BBC’s Jon Sopel, Rome

Image copyright EPA

Ever so slowly and flanked by the Swiss Guard the leader of the world’s pre-eminent superpower walked through the Vatican to meet the leader of one of the world’s pre-eminent religions.

And were there ever two more different people? Pope Francis with just the merest hint of a smile; President Trump beaming. They sat across from each other in the pontiff’s study as though one was going for a job interview.

During the election campaign, when Pope Francis visited the US-Mexico border he said that people who choose to build walls and not bridges weren’t Christian. Donald Trump said those comments were disgraceful.

And in February, just after Donald Trump had tried to introduce his travel ban from six mainly Muslim countries and suspended the refugee programme, the Pope tweeted: “How often in the Bible the Lord asks us to welcome migrants and foreigners, reminding us that we too are foreigners!”

The normal mantra when two world leaders meet is to say “there is more that unites us than divides us”. Almost certainly true. But there are real differences as well.


And the entourage?

Mr Trump was joined not only by his wife, daughter and son-in-law but also Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser HR McMaster.

Both Melania and Ivanka Trump were dressed in black with their heads partially covered, in keeping with a traditional Vatican protocol that is no longer expected to be rigorously observed.

Melania, a Catholic, asked the Pope to bless her rosary beads.

In a light-hearted exchange, Pope Francis asked her what she gave her husband to eat. It was initially thought he had suggested “pizza” to her, but in fact he said potica, which is a cake from Mrs Trump’s home country of Slovenia. She laughed in response, and agreed with him.

Image copyright EPA

What next for Mr Trump’s trip?

This is Mr Trump’s first visit to Europe since taking office in January.

Security has been stepped up across Rome, with the areas around the Vatican City, the Italian presidential palace and the American ambassador’s residence, where Mr Trump is staying, temporarily closed to traffic.

Despite the heavy police presence, about 100 anti-Trump protesters held a rally in one of Rome’s squares on Tuesday evening.

Significant protests are also expected in Brussels where he will meet EU and Nato officials.

This visit will be about damage limitation with the fervent hope of establishing some kind of transatlantic chemistry, the BBC’s Europe editor Katya Adler says.

She adds that the tone in Brussels has gone from off-the-record sneering when the erratic and unpredictable Mr Trump first won the November elections, to outright concern now that the implications of his presidency have begun to sink in.

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Ole dog1

De Ole Dawg – Part 11:2017 -DfID, GoM and the crooked yardstick vs the plumb-line

Why do we need a plumb-line to test our approach to development?

BRADES, Montserrat, May 11, 2017 – When we go to a shop to buy cloth, sometimes there is a yardstick screwed down to the top of the counter that guides the shop-clerk as to how much cloth to measure out before cutting. But, what would happen if the yardstick was somehow crooked and inaccurate? Or, what if a house-wall was being built out-of- true and out- of- plumb?

That is where a plumb-line can be very helpful, as Amos the prophet of old saw:

Amos 7:7 . . .  behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,“Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel . . .” [ESV]

No crooked wall or crooked yardstick can stand up to a plumb-line!

But, what if we were to make a crooked yardstick our standard of judgement instead?

 Clearly, what is true and right cannot fit with the crooked yardstick. For, what is true and right already fits to reality. That is why it cannot fit to what is crooked and false. So, if we judge by a crooked yardstick, it will lead us to reject what is true and right, what is sound. That is why we need a plumb-line, to test our yardstick.

That is what comes to mind, when we hear suggestions like, no really good technical person would be coming to Montserrat. Or, mocking of the idea that it is longstanding UK policy that the reasonable assistance needs of Overseas Territories have “a first call” on the UK Aid budget.  Even more troubling is this, from a March 10, 2017 DfID Business Environment Reform Facility (BERF) online article[1] by Miss Audrey Wong:

“BERF has helped the Government of Montserrat develop a strategic and institutional framework for improving the business-enabling environment in Montserrat  . . . . The Government itself has attempted to address Business Environment Reform such as through developing an investment promotion strategy. The strategy was designed in 2012 to “promote private sector investment in Montserrat” . . . .  [An] investment promotion agency was to be established as an operating arm of the Montserrat Development Corporation. However, the MDC was terminated following poor performance and concerns over management of money, as evidenced by the findings and recommendations of a Task Force review of the Montserrat Development Corporation in March 2015.”

Yes,  DfID is publicly saying that “. . . MDC was terminated following poor performance and concerns over management of money.” Unfortunately, that is now our reputation, a reputation we will have to fix.  Which, brings us right back to the 2012 “yardstick” article by DfID which we have looked at a few times in this series:

 

 

 

Yes, five years ago this month, DfID told us pretty directly, that we need to fix governance, sort out financial management and make a good business case to move forward on the key, “catalytic” investment projects that we need to move our economy forward to development. And yes, DfID did tell us in so many words, that “DFID manages the British Government’s long-standing responsibility to meet the reasonable needs of those Territories that require assistance.”

Why is that so?

The next month, FCO answered, in their June 2012 White Paper on UK Overseas Territories[2]:

“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. The reasonable assistance needs of the Territories are a first call on the UK’s international development budget.” [Page 13, and on p. 17 it says “DFID works in partnership with those Territories that need support to provide assistance with the aim of helping them achieve sustainable, inclusive growth and reducing their financial dependence on the UK wherever this is possible.”]

And yes, the FCO accepts that the UN Charter, Article 73 binds the UK with force of law.  That means that the UK is duty-bound to “ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned . . . political, economic, social, and educational advancement.

So, what has been holding us up for twenty years and no less than six governments of Montserrat?

The answer is not pretty, but truth must be our plum-line.  Some of it is our fault, some, DfID’s. MDC should not have failed, especially in a way that led DfID to conclude that its performance was poor and its financial management, questionable. For years, we have heard the cry: transparency, accountability, good governance. We have had serious gaps in capacity. On DfID’s side, we have a leading development agency with obvious capability, whose budget doubled between 2005 and 2014, even as other UK Government budgets were being cut.  There is just no way that, twenty years after the volcano crisis hit its horrific peak, we should be where we are today. But, here we are.

The plumb-line is there, and it does not lie. Let us face it together, let us learn some hard lessons, and let us make a decision that we must all do better. A lot better. END

[1]           http://www.businessenvironmentreform.co.uk/2017/03/building-capacity-for-improving-the-business-environment-in-montserrat/

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

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kick em jenny

Increased activities at Kick ’em Jenny volcano

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada, May 1, CMC – Disaster officials in Grenada said that the region’s only submarine volcano, Kick ‘em Jenny, showed “continuous activity” on Monday with at least “43 mostly low magnitudes volcanic earthquakes” over an 18 hour period.

A statement from the National Disaster Management Agency (NaDMA) noted that the agency is continuing to collaborate with the Seismic Research Centre (SRC), at the St. Augustine campus University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago to monitor activities at the Kick ’em Jenny under water volcano.

NaDMA said it was “advised of continuous activities” on Monday and according to the fourth advisory from the SRC/UWI “during the period 5:45 p.m. on 30th April to10:41 a.m. on 1st May, the activity rate has remained virtually the same with 43 mostly low magnitudes -in the range 1.5-2.3 – volcanic earthquakes associated with this unrest episode at the Kick-’em-Jenny volcano.

“There were a few larger events with the largest at magnitude 3.0. UWI/SRC will continue to monitor and update NaDMA as the activity warrants.”

kick em jenny
Kick ’em jenny

On Sunday, the UWI/SRC recorded a high amplitude signal, lasting about 25 seconds, on one of the Grenada stations.  The signal was also recorded on a station in Montserrat.

“This signal follows an increase in the number of background events associated with the Kick-‘em-Jenny volcano,” NaDMA said, confirming reports that persons in the St. Patrick’s area have reported feeling tremors.”

Kick ’em Jenny is an active submarine volcano or seamount on the Caribbean Sea floor, located 8 km (5 mi) north of the island of Grenada and about 8 km (5 mi) west of Ronde Island in the Grenadines.

The volcano has erupted on at least 12 occasions between 1939 and 2001. A submersible survey in 2003 detected a crater with active fumaroles releasing cold and hot gas bubble. Signs of elevated seismicity began July 11, 2015, and on July 23 a strong continuous signal was recorded.

NaDMA said that the alert level remains “YELLOW” and that means that “vessels should observe a 1.5 km/0.93 mile exclusion zone.

“However, as a precautionary measure, the marine community is advised to continue observing the secondary exclusion zone of 5 km/3.1 miles. The SRC has advised that heightened alert is
necessary for the exclusion zone.”

NaDMA is also advising the general population that the official advisories on this matter, and all other disaster related matters will come directly from the agency and urged also “the responsible use of social
media.

“The population can rest assured that SRC continues to monitor the system and NaDMA will continue to liaise with SRC and provide updates,” NaDMA added.

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Rowley KK

Court grants PM extension to file response to lawsuit

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, May 2, CMC – A High Court judge has given Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley until May 8 to file his defence in a lawsuit brought against him by a former diplomat who is claiming that he was “shocked and surprised” at the decision to revoke his ambassadorship.

Justice Frank Seepersad granted the lawyers for Rowley the extension when the matter came up for hearing in the High Court on Monday. The matter will next be heard on May 29.

Rowley KK
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley

Eden Charles, who served as Trinidad and Tobago’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations (UN), is seeking a declaration that the decision of the prime minister to revoke his appointment was illegal, made in bad faith and is contrary to fundamental human rights.

In his affidavit he said “By letter dated 20th September 2016, enclosed with an Instrument of Revocation dated the 19th September 2016, I was informed that my position as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary was revoked…

“This revocation on my ambassadorship left me shocked and surprised as this has never been done before as far as I am aware in the foreign service without cause.”

Charles wants the High Court declare that the Cabinet decision was null and void and that it was made in bad faith and/or was contrary to the fundamental human rights provided for under section 4 of the Constitution.

He is also asking the High Court to quash the decision and make an order to have him reappointed to the position.

Charles said that he was informed on July 25 last year by letter, enclosed with an Instrument of Transfer from the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, that he was being transferred from New York back to Port of Spain.

He said on July 26, when he received the letter, he wrote an e-mail to the acting permanent secretary in the ministry, Reita Toussaint, in an attempt “to clarify my position upon returning to headquarters and enquiring whether or not I would still be able to chair the preparatory committee in which I was appointed as the chairman in or about September 2015, even while at headquarters”.

Charles, who said he was appointed Ambassador in March 2012.

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De Ole Dawg – Part 10:2017 – 1768 + 250, concerns and opportunities

1768 + 250 = March 17, 2018 → Opportunity Beckons

BRADES, Montserrat, April 19, 2017 – In recent days, we commemorated St Patrick’s Day, with a special emphasis on the 1768 abortive slave uprising of March 17, 1768.  Where, St Patrick is patron saint of our Catholic faith community.  Where, also – as Premier Romeo recently pointed out – due to disunity and betrayal, the 1768 uprising was abortive. (However, even if it had been an initial success, such a successful uprising would have brought down an even more harsh suppression by vengeful colonial masters.)

A key point that came up this year, is that next year will mark a quarter millennium since the uprising. That fed into a debate over whether we have become too tourist-minded, whether we have over-emphasised our Irish heritage while forgetting our African heritage and whether we therefore need to make a decisive shift towards celebrating our African heritage. Some, even publicly suggested that the name of the holiday should be changed.

In fact, while the Uprising is indeed a major part of the story, older Catholics here will tell us that our modern celebration of St Patrick’s Day started with the decades-old annual Catholic religious festival for their Patron Saint, which was centred on the Village of that name. A village that is now swept away by pyroclastic volcanic flows.

Gradually, cultural celebrations began to accompany the celebrations, and people from across our island would specially travel to that village to take part in it. By 1985, Mrs Annie Dyer Howe led a movement that set St Patrick’s Day as a national holiday and celebration. Clearly, this festival therefore stands on many strands of our history, heritage and culture. We therefore need to remember and celebrate it in a balanced way. For, culture, heritage and the history that shapes culture lie at the heart of our very existence and identity as a nation. We must accurately remember our past and what that has made us to be a people, if we are to soundly build the future.

So, no, St Patrick’s Day is not simply a nationally subsidised party that wastes aid money. Nor is it simply yet another convenient celebration to try to bring in a few tourism dollars.

Obviously, a key fact is that just over two hundred and forty nine years ago, while slave masters celebrated St Patrick’s Day the slaves here on Montserrat saw that they were likely to let their guard down as they made merry with a bit too much to drink. They planned an uprising, which failed because of disunity.  But, strangely, that ties right in with the celebrations about the Saint. For, if St Patrick (born Maewyn Succa in 387 in Kilpatrick near Dumbarton, Scotland) could come back to visit with us, he would tell us that he understood the slaves. For, as a youth, much like Olaudah Equiano (who we should continue to remember too, as a distinguished Montserratian), he was himself kidnapped by pirates into slavery in Ireland; when he was about sixteen years of age.

In Ireland, as a slave, he worked as a shepherd. It was a hard time, but (somewhat like the Prodigal son) he drew closer to God while in a far country of cruel exile, crying out to God up to a hundred times per day.

And strangely enough, if Olaudah Equiano could join the saint in talking with us, he would tell us that while he too was a slave torn from his family, captured in Nigeria, he also found God. This helped him work, study and save until he was able to buy his freedom. Yes, Equiano bought his freedom right here in Montserrat, in 1766; just a short while before the uprising.  Surely, that example must have spread like wild fire among the slaves here at that time.

Then after he spent six years as a slave shepherd, God – who does all things well – led “the holy youth” St Patrick to escape from slavery. Patrick would tell us how he had a visionary dream that the ship to take him to freedom was waiting for him, and on the strength of that vision he walked two hundred miles to Ireland’s west coast and persuaded the ship’s captain to take him back to freedom with his family. He studied, becoming a priest and missionary. After many years, he again sensed the voice of God. This time, the vision called him back to Ireland as a missionary, and he returned there, becoming its Patron Saint. After many years teaching the Irish people the gospel, founding churches, challenging slavery and leading in learning, he passed away on March 17, 461, his Heavenly Birthday.

And, Christian Ireland, in God’s providence, became one of the centres of learning that preserved the light that would again spread across Europe in the aftermath of the hard times that followed from the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in 476.

So, as we build up to next year’s 250th anniversary, let us take time to ponder all the food for thought and opportunities to build a brighter tomorrow that are there in our history, heritage and culture:

– Surely, the history of these two Christian men could show us a way to reconciliation and healing as we address the sins and hurts of slavery, colonial oppression and racial injustices.

– Likewise, St Patrick would be unhappy to see Irish people descend to again being slavers and to indulging drunken revelry on their national Saint’s day.

– Even the Shamrock, the famous three lobed clover of Ireland, would be more of a symbol of the Triune God than a mere empty national symbol.

– Both men would tell us that God in Christ is the great Wounded Healer.

– Equiano, would join with Patrick to tell us that learning, thrift, investment and entrepreneurship are key habits and strategies to move Montserrat ahead.

– They would point out that yes we are predominantly African in our roots, and must never forget that.

– But there is a clear though very mixed Irish contribution to our heritage also. So, we must find a road to healing.

– Then, as there are millions of Irish descendants in North America (especially Boston and New York), and as there are millions of people in Ireland, we have here a tourism gold mine and an opportunity to form business partnerships. And, much more.

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social media

Government warns of fake social media pages of Prime Minister and other officials

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti, Apr 10, CMC – The Haitian government has called for an “appropriate investigations” after fake social media websites naming Prime Minister Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant and the President of the Superior Council of the National Police (CSPN) have gone into circulation here.

social media“The creation of false accounts on social networks, using names and photos of people to circulate malicious messages, is a transnational crime,” according to a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister.

It said that the posts on social media contain the “full name, as well as photographs of the archives of the Prime Minister, Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant, also President of the Superior Council of the National Police (CSPN)”.

Prime Minister Lafontant has called on the technical and competent authorities “to carry out appropriate investigations to identify counterfeiters and to deal with them with the utmost rigor”.

He reminded users that his official account on the social media, including Facebook, “is doubly authenticated by the username “@jglafontant”, as well as by his name Jack Guy Lafontant checked-by a “V” of blue colour”.

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De Ole Dawg – Part 9:2017 – “Ensure” is a very strong word!

DfID’s duty – and ours

BRADES, Montserrat, March 11, 2017 – Last time, we highlighted perhaps the most worrying recent indicator of the problems with development aid for Montserrat:

“. . . after the MDC “failure” – DfID’s word, from its 2012 Business case[1] – we have a much more tense atmosphere for development aid. That is why some of the more notorious UK tabloids recently held up our much needed fibre optic cable project as an imagined example of waste (or worse).” TMR January 6, 2017 front page. (£5million on Fibre Optic Cable offends UK media) and De Ole Dawg – Part 1:2017 – Dissecting a smear – Fibre Optics Facts vs UK Tabloids.

The Fibre Optic cable project is of quite modest scale – £4.9 millions – and is an obvious necessity for a twenty-first century industrial infrastructure for Montserrat. And yet, notorious UK tabloids felt they could get away with headlining it as a capital example of waste (or worse). Something is deeply wrong in our relationship with the UK public, and even more importantly with DfID. Where, DfID is the arm of the UK Government charged with carrying forward aid to Overseas Territories that meets day to day necessities and aid that sets a base for economic transformation. Aid that, under the LEGAL force of the UN Charter, Article 73, should “ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned . . . political, economic, social, and educational advancement.

“Ensure,” we can all agree, is a very strong word.

One that still has LEGAL force despite Brexit. One that still has LEGAL force, regardless of other aid commitments the UK may have elsewhere. Whether, out of compassionate concern – and to be fair, there are a lot of people in Africa, Asia or even as close as Haiti that can do with all the compassionate outreach the world can muster. Or, as a means of exorcising ghosts from the very painful colonial past.[2] Or even, as a means of so-called “soft power”  on the global geopolitical stage. (And yes, we can all agree that soft power exerted by the UK through development aid and through participation in international forums does a lot of good around the world.)

However – as the GoM November 2016 Update, “Building Montserrat’s Future” notes[3]“while we must acknowledge a lot of good work by DfID over the years, it is also fair comment that many credible development projects for Montserrat have been unduly delayed through a pattern of starts and stops, and re-starts.”  Worse, too many projects that did go through were cut down to a point of being obviously inadequate. Which, cannot be “good value for money.”

On the other hand, the already noted “failure” of the MDC, leading to its closure and to a devastating whistleblower report[4] in one of the same UK tabloids means that we too here in Montserrat have some serious problems to answer for. Problems that go beyond political finger-pointing games. Clearly, we have hurt our credibility. 

It is time for a fresh, clean re-start.

One, that will not get mired in endless delays and policy debates with ever more consultancy reports rehashing the same things that were already said and were supposedly agreed to and that were to be acted on with urgency. For, over twenty years have now passed since the onset of the volcano crisis.

Whichever way the budget debate goes, we can agree that the November  2016 Update put DfID’s own list of catalytic foci for transforming our economy back on the MNI front burner:

“I: ‘develop a tourism-driven capital town . . . as the principal location for new foreign direct investment, tourism, housing and civic facilities’;

II: ‘improve physical access to Montserrat through the development of a port and breakwater . . .’ ;

III: ‘improve and sustain access through investments in air and sea access assets’. . .  ” [DfID, MDC Business Case, 2012]

What were the projects actually implemented over the past five years that contributed significantly to these three goals?  Fair comment: not much.  Just go look around Little Bay (aka “Boat Parking Lot”), Piper’s Pond, Carrs Bay, Gun Hill (now falling into the sea) and the Airport.

So, we need to ask: what hindered us?  Answer: many things, few of which can stand up to the cold light of day. Chief among them, poor governance, poor financial and strategic management, needless lack of capacity [the UK is a leading global state!], constant distraction from true priorities, needless delay/ obstructionism, and more.

What, then, are the steps DfID will be taking over the next six months to three years to “ensure” that such projects move forward? And, what about the steps to be taken by our own local government? Let us ponder:

1: Acknowledge our mutual responsibilities and serious failings, rather than just listing our rather modest successes. (Let us face the hard truth, together.)

2: Recognise that during 2005/6 – 2013/14, DfID’s budget doubled from about £5 billions to over £10 billions, and that this was the best time to have done what was needed, out of growth. (So, we have lost a major opportunity, and it will be hard to make up for it.)

3: Accept that MDC should have worked, but didn’t, because of various failures tied to poor governance, want of sound strategic and financial management, as well as needless lacks of capacity. (These gaps have to be set right, and the current TCO’s credibly can help us do this.)

4: Build on a two-track approach. We need some fast, fairly simple projects right now, that help spark growth, create jobs and build up towards the long-term development programme. Then,

5: we need to move on to a programme of credible priority projects that will catalyse economic transformation. (That we are doing something at long last about the port breakwater, however small, is a beginning. The new diesel power plant, fibre optics cable, the hospital and the airport can also make a difference. Building a few houses, roads and facilities will help, etc. Tourism needs a major, sustained effort.)

6: Document our agreement with FCO and DfID under the UN Charter Article 73 commitments, in a Development Partnership Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Also, at the same time, set out a Charter of Good Governance that commits us to sound governance reforms to be carried out under the upcoming phase three public sector reform programme.

7: use the new Programme Management Office as a centre of world-class capability to carry forward the strategic transformation projects.

Surely, we can do this.

END

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

[2]           “Healing the land, 3 – the ghost in the room,” TMR Feb. 3, 2017, p. 5. cf. https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-42017-healing-the-land-3-the-ghost-in-the-room/

[3]           TMR, Feb 3, 2017, p. 11, cf. https://www.themontserratreporter.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/FL-Building-Montserrat-Future-PO-JMC-Nov-1-2016.pdf

[4]           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

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De Ole Dawg – Part 8:2017 – The budget, de budget, di budjit!

What about the upcoming Budget and our development challenge?

 

BRADES, Montserrat, Feb 21, 2017 – This month (starting March 23), we will have our annual budget debates. Such budget debates have long since become the major point of public accountability over policy, over strategic vision and over moneys to be raised and spent on the day to day running of government services as well as over funds to be invested in development initiatives. As a direct result, for Montserrat this year, the questions of taxation, borrowing and grants from the UK to help us cover expenditures will be on the table. So will the issues of policy priorities and the impact of the various initiatives on economic growth and development.

One of the key issues we have to face is that (due to the volcano disaster) we depend from year to year on the UK to provide grants for about 60% of our recurrent, day- to- day government services. For development initiatives, that percentage is often something like 90%.  Our hope is to use “catalytic” development initiatives to help trigger self-sustaining growth in our economy, and so bring us to the point where we can again mostly pay our way out of our own economy through a moderate rate of taxation. 

That is why the November 2016 Premier’s Office Update,[1] “Building Montserrat’s Future” rightly points out that:

“ . . . this is the time to move Montserrat forward.  Another several decades of recurrent budget aid, directly funded by the British tax payers is not in their or our best interest. The choice at this economic crossroad is clear; strategic capital investments to return Montserrat to  self-sufficiency or continued annual Aid for generations to come. Redevelopment and the hoped for economic self-sufficiency will clearly not happen overnight, but we can and should speed up the rebuilding process; starting today.”

To move that goal forward, from year to year we have to come to an annual agreement with DfID, the arm of the UK Government that oversees development aid. A reasonable estimate for how long a development transformation will take is 10 – 20 years, not least because that is what it took last time, between the 1960’s and 80’s.  Unfortunately after the MDC “failure” – DfID’s word, from its 2012 Business case[2] – we have a much more tense atmosphere for development aid. That is why some of the more notorious UK tabloids recently held up our much needed fibre optic cable project as an imagined example of waste (or worse).

We also face a classic caution from strategic management: it is a blunder to allow budgeting battles to drive an organisation’s strategy. That is, budgeting is no substitute for sound, long-term strategic vision, analysis and planning.  Where, for Montserrat, our five consensus long term strategic priorities were set through the highly consultative process from 2006 on. That is what led to our Sustainable Development Plan (SDP) 2008 – 20. Since then, the same five priorities have been again put forward in 2015, as our declared Policy Agenda. Namely:

“1st: Prudent Economic Management;

2nd: Enhanced Human Development;

3rd:   Sustainable Environmental Management and

Appropriate Disaster Management Practices;

4th:  Good Governance; and,

5th: Population Retention and Population Growth”

Where, the November 2016 Update points out:

“DfID itself highlighted what we urgently need to do, in its 2012 MDC Business Case:

  1. ‘develop a tourism-driven capital town . . . as the principal location for new foreign direct investment, tourism, housing and civic facilities’;
  2. ‘improve physical access to Montserrat through the development of a port and breakwater . . .’ ;
  • ‘improve and sustain access through investments in air and sea access assets’.

In the same 2012 business case, DfID also wrote:

‘There is currently no prospect of the private sector making significant investment in major capital investments or in complementary institutional support. This is because the market for leisure and commercial transport to Montserrat is perceived by the private sector as too small and high risk. Initial and catalytic investments are therefore required by the public sector and these need to be properly designed and implemented . . .’ ”

In another 2012 document, on DfID’s “Work with the Overseas Territories,” right there on page one, we may read how:

“DFID manages the British Government’s long-standing responsibility to meet the reasonable needs of those Territories that require assistance [that is, ‘Montserrat, Pitcairn and St Helena’]. The International Development Secretary has made clear that the [UK] Government remains firmly committed to this responsibility, as a first call on the aid budget. But where the conditions are right, we have also been clear that we will deliver strategic investments in the aided Territories. These investments, such as the construction of an airport in St Helena [altogether some £ 285 millions], are designed to facilitate private sector driven economic growth and deliver a real prospect of both self-sufficiency and savings for the UK Government through elimination of long-term dependence on aid.

This is part of a bargain. In return for these investments, we expect these Territories, for their part, to undertake the necessary reforms to ensure an enabling environment for growth and develop their financial management capacity so that they can meet their budgetary obligations . . . . [W]e expect Territory Governments to manage their public finances sustainably and take all steps to minimise risk of fiscal crisis.”

Notice, who leads the list? Yes, us. St Helena has gone through and is the yardstick of the UK’s willingness to invest in OT’s to move our economies towards self-sufficiency – never mind, recent problems with the airport. Pitcairn has maybe fifty people there, day-to-day. So, the message is pretty directly addressed to us here in Montserrat.

Instantly, that points to:

  • what are we doing to improve financial and economic management?
  • How are we improving governance?
  • And, how are we going to make a solid case for our key, catalytic investments that should be able to transform our economy?

These questions should have solid answers in the upcoming Budget Speech. We should also see how DfID and our local government are working together to put immediate, shovel-ready job projects on the ground. For, while the grass is growing, the horse must not starve. We should see as well, exactly how project cycle management here is moving on beyond the all-too-familiar pattern of starts, stops, restarts and delays that have hindered our rebuilding efforts for years and years.  (Of course, the little we have heard about a Programme Management Office and a Montserrat Transformation Programme, some sort of grand economic business case, public sector reform [phase THREE] capacity-building etc. will need to be fleshed out.)

So, let us look forward to some solid answers in the upcoming budget speech and debate. END

[1]           https://www.themontserratreporter.com/from-office-premier-building-montserrats-future/

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

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De Ole Dawg – Part 7:2017 – The UN Charter Article 73 and the way forward post Brexit

What about the UN Charter: “ENSURE  . . .

political, economic, social and educational advancement”?

BRADES, Montserrat, Feb 16, 2017 – The November 2016 Premier’s Office Update[1] highlights how:

“. . . under the FCO’s acknowledgement of the legal force of the UN Charter Article 73 [in its 2012 White Paper on Overseas Territories, pp. 13 and 17], “reasonable assistance needs of overseas territories” hold “a first call” on the UK aid budget. Under the same legal force, in order to ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned . . . political, economic, social, and educational advancement,” DfID is also committed to supporting sound, economy-transforming investments such as the £285 million St Helena airport.

The UK was one of the founders of the UN, back in 1946, so: this legal commitment was binding before it joined the EU and remains binding even as it leaves the EU. Where, Brexit is expected to possibly be as early as March 2019 (if Article 50 is triggered next month as has been planned).  Article 73[2] was also in place long before the UK put in place the goal of investing 0.7% of Gross national Income in development aid, and it will still be there even if the UK repeals the law that sets that target.

That means that this legally binding commitment to ensure . . . political, economic, social and educational advancement” is the bedrock on which we must build our hopes for redevelopment. For, ensure is a very strong word indeed.

“But, that sounds like a begging mentality!”

No.

Contrary to the false impression recently created by certain Tabloid newspapers in the UK, Montserrat has been under the British Flag for almost four hundred years. We have a reasonable right to expect British standard support as we rebuild from the devastation caused by the volcano disaster, and as we look to getting back up on our own two feet economically. (As we stood up from the 1980’s on until the volcano eruption hit us, hard.)

So, let us now bear that legal commitment in mind as we hear DfID itself, again, in the 2012 MDC Business case:

“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 . . . . [S]upport . . . will help to (i) develop a tourism-driven capital town within the . . . Little Bay estates site as the principal location for new foreign direct investment, tourism, housing and civic facilities; (ii) improve physical access to Montserrat through the development of a port and breakwater at Carr’s Bay; (iii) improve and sustain access through investments in air and sea access assets; all aimed at moving Montserrat to financial self-sustainability, and (iv) strengthen the PSD technical capacity within GoM and the MDC to maximise the economic benefits arising from the UK investments . . .”

Change the dates to 2017 – yes, five years later – and this would still be “good to go.”

No wonder the Premier’s Office November 2016 Update continues:

“However, while we must acknowledge a lot of good work by DfID over the years, it is also fair comment that many credible development projects for Montserrat have been unduly delayed through a pattern of starts and stops, and re-starts. Some necessary projects have simply sat there, mysteriously deadlocked and not moving forward for months or even years on end. (Some projects that did finally get through were cut down to an inadequate level.)”

Yes, in the same document DfID spoke of MDC’s “failure,” and set about trying to fix it, only to have even deeper trouble in 2014 when whistleblower reports surfaced and hit the UK Tabloids[3] by 2015.  Yes, Montserrat lacks key components of capacity and there have been challenges with transparency, governance and accountability. All of that makes little difference: “ensure” is still a very strong word.

The challenge before us – DfID, FCO, GoM, longsuffering Montserrat public alike – is to see how we can fulfill that charge:  “ensure . . . political, economic, social and educational advancement.

Of course, we may ask, why hasn’t it happened after over twenty years.

The first bit of the answer is that the UK and local authorities were most likely not so sure of the volcano until, say, about 2007 – 8. The next bit of the answer will have a sour taste, for at that time they set up a trade and investment promotion agency that should have worked. This was also at just the time when the UK development aid budget was growing to meet the 0.7% target, even as other UK budgets were being cut due to the 2007 – 9 great recession. Unfortunately, by 2012, when DfID was asking for a further EC$ 5 – 6 millions, it felt that that was needed to reverse a disappointing “failure.” Then, by the time we hit 2014 – 5 we saw whistleblowers and Tabloid press exposes.

We have to come back from that hard punch to the belly.

From what the recent Premier’s Office Update says, the current effort is based on “a Policy Agenda” and highlights “ ‘catalytic’ development projects” (while noting the urgent need for “ ‘shovel-ready,’ jobs-creating projects that will help ‘kick-start’ strong growth in our economy”). It seeks to “work in partnership with FCO, DfID and other Departments of HMG,” and will “negotiate a new Development Partnership Memorandum of Understanding,” which will identify “a list of agreed priority projects with committed funds and a timeline that will help to guide us in working together to rebuild and redevelop Montserrat.” As action-arm, there will be  “[a] Programme Management Office.” This will work under the Montserrat Transformation Programme as a key mechanism “for promoting and strengthening aid effectiveness, policy-making, project management, strategic decision-making, prudent risk management and value for money in allocation of funds,” all working towards “sound, sustainable development.”

How well will this second try work out?

The answer to that question lies in our hands.

[1]           https://www.themontserratreporter.com/from-office-premier-building-montserrats-future/

[2]           http://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-xi/

[3]           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

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two track

De Ole Dawg – Part 6:2017 – The Two-Track Solution

Kick-starting our Economy 

BRADES, Montserrat, Feb 10, 2017 – In the recently published Government Update, Building Montserrat’s Future, Premier Romeo’s Office argues that we need fast-track jobs-creating projects right now and also longer-term economy-transforming projects: 

“As a first step, we will need several “shovel-ready,” jobs-creating projects that will help “kick-start” strong growth in our economy. For instance, the A1 Main road needs to be completed through a Phase II project; the Government Accommodations Programme can and should move on to its further phases; the Little Bay Town can be further developed; up to 400 plus social and affordable houses can be built; we can develop tourist sites, including a Volcano Park/ “New Pompeii” center in Plymouth; development of programmes for the youth, parks and leisure facilities, and the like – putting our people to productive work. These projects would then feed into the longer-term, transformational development projects.” [TMR, Feb. 3rd 2017, p. 11.[1]

To understand why this is right, let’s look at a simple sketch:

We instantly see why things have been going wrong for over twenty years now. For,  without a strong, steady stream of  construction-, tourism- and agriculture- based fast-track jobs-creating projects, delays and difficulties with the long term projects have kept our economy in slow-drip bare survival mode for over twenty years

And of course too many of those key breakthrough projects have been needlessly deadlocked, day after day,  month after month, year after year.  Obviously, 2 + 2 = 4, so it’s no surprise that our economy has often seemed to be more “dead” than alive, for twenty years now. (And, let’s not forget, the early 90’s were no economic picnic either.)

Yet, as long ago as 2005, DfID itself pointedly wrote in its Montserrat Country Policy Plan, that:

“Without substantial external support there is no likelihood of Montserrat achieving its ambitions, the population will decline further and more people will become more heavily dependent on public services that the Government would increasingly struggle to fund and implement.  This will lead inexorably to the collapse of the Island’s social, economic and governance structures.” 

Similarly, in 1998, the International Development Committee warned in its Montserrat Report, paragraph 16, that: . . .  in the case of Montserrat we do not merely have the unfortunate losses of a few thousand individuals but an imperilled society. The normal rules cannot apply . . .”

For example, the blatant delay games with the Ferry last year – unfortunately – are actually TYPICAL.  Only, this time a lot of ordinary people felt the pinch a bit more directly than usual. 

In short, DfID has some serious explaining to do about development projects for Montserrat

So do: (a) our local senior officials and (b) the Ministers in our own local Governments over the past twenty years. So also, (c) the MDC’s big wigs, given its “failure.”  Especially, as DfID’s budget doubled to  £10 billion between 2005 and 2014. Where, by law under the UN Charter Article 73, Montserrat and other Overseas Territories are supposed to be first in line for the UK’s aid budget. Also, it is plain to all that Montserrat has gone through an unprecedented volcano disaster since 1995 so there is no excuse for a delays- as- usual mentality.

As for the talking point that £400+ millions have been “wasted” here, obviously half or more of that went on support to our recurrent budget once our tax base collapsed due to the volcano disaster.  Of the remaining half, a good chunk obviously has gone on DfID consultancies that so far have not broken the aid project deadlock. Another big slice is doubtless a matter of accounting games: reckoning just about any Montserrat-related expenditures as “aid.” But still, we face another good question: what has maybe up to £100 million of capital aid been spent on, to what result. As a part of this, we need to have sensible answers on the inadequate air- and sea- ports, the temporary hospital, poor quality emergency housing in Davy Hill and Lookout – erected over the protests of knowledgeable local builders – and more.  

I doubt that there are any good answers. Answers, that can stand the clear, cold light of day. However, day by day, month by month, delay by delay, penny-wise but pound-foolish decision by decision, cut by cut, twenty years have been wasted. And, if things continue like this, we could easily waste ten or twenty more.

Happily, the above sketch also points to solutions. For, we can – and must –  find a way to get the fast track going, then bridge onward to longer term, transformational development initiatives. It is these “key” “catalytic” projects that will carry our economy forward to lasting prosperity and self-sufficiency. 

This points to what our Montserrat Transformation Programme and the new Programme Management Office should be delivering: a good value for money, ten- to twenty- year plan backed by agreements with HMG, FCO and DfID – a plan that lays out the two-track projects solution. No more cut-down, doomed- to- fail- compromise plans, please.  Somewhere between (1) grossly inadequate, on-the-cheap cut-down plans and (2) “golden elephants next,” there is a happy medium of good- value- for- money credible projects that open up room for growth. Let’s go there.

To do this, we will need world-class technical people, strategic management and good governance backed by adequate funding to carry through the key projects to a definite timeline. That will require sound, equally world-class programme, project and project cycle management. We need to work with PRINCE2 and Axelos for projects, and we need to look at the EU’s Project Cycle Management Guidelines.[2] We also need to get the core concepts of sound, sustainable development right. 

Yes, we can do all of this, but the final big question is: are we collectively willing to do what is needed?

On track record, not likely. So, we the people will have to demand transparency and accountability over the transformation programme, its projects and moneys that come from the widow’s mite and the orphan’s penny. (Yes, that is what tax money is, and that is why we must not waste it.)

[1]           https://www.themontserratreporter.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/FL-Building-Montserrat-Future-PO-JMC-Nov-1-2016.pdf

[2]           https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/sites/devco/files/methodology-aid-delivery-methods-project-cycle-management-200403_en_2.pdf

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