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In the News

Follow the links as you wish in this brief of news :

Spain stepped up and offered to take in a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants after Italy and Malta refused.

Pancake chain IHOP teased a name change to “IHOb,” finally revealing that the new “b” stood for “burgers.”

The repeal of “net neutrality” has taken effect, six months after the FCC voted to undo Obama-era rules which had barred broadband and cellphone companies from favoring their own services and discriminating against rivals such as Netflix.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed a landmark 2014 decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals to rule that fleeing from domestic abuse and gang-related violence should not be considered a basis for being granted asylum in the United States, except in rare cases.

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De Ole Dawg – Part 9: 2018 –Montserrat and DE-colonialisation (not RE-colonialisation!)

De Ole Dawg – Part 9: 2018 –Montserrat and DE-colonialisation (not RE-colonialisation!)

Why did so many people across the region find it so difficult to make sense of Montserrat’s recent request to remain on the UN Decolonialisation list?

BRADES, Montserrat – It is astonishing to see how a recent request by Premier Donaldson Romeo to the UN Decolonisation Committee to withdraw a request by an earlier Premier to be removed from the list of seventeen remaining Non Self-Governing Territories was widely misunderstood across the region. Much of our local discussion was also sadly misinformed. It is as though the UN Committee that was meeting in Grenada with the territories on the list were instead a “RE-colonialisation” Committee. But, obviously, it is a DE-colonialisation Committee. One, that acts under Article 73 of the UN Charter and linked General Assembly resolutions, especially 1514 and 1541 of December 14 & 15, 1960.

The UN Charter, of course, is the cornerstone of modern International Law; as, after two ruinous world wars in 1914 – 18 and 1939 – 45 devastated continents and left up to eighty millions dead it was felt that relations between the nations had to be re-founded on principles of peace. As a part of that re-founding, it was recognised that seventy-two territories were under rule by other territories and that such rule was too often oppressive, abusive and unjust.  There is a reason why “Colonialism” is a dirty word.

So, in Article 73 of the Charter, principles were laid down, starting with these words:

“Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories . . . ”

This is why the UK has an acknowledged legal obligation to ensure . . .  political, economic, social, and educational advancement . . . just treatment, and . . . protection against abuses” for Montserrat and other Overseas Territories, as well as to promote constructive measures of development.”  The UK is even supposed to “co-operate” with other countries and international bodies to such ends.  In that context, the UK is also bound to “transmit regularly to the Secretary-General . . . statistical and other information . . . relating to economic, social, and educational conditions.”

Under this Article, the UN Decolonialisation Committee of twenty-four receives and addresses the annual reports on Montserrat and other Territories on the list of seventeen. And yes, Premier Romeo was quite correct: Montserrat was never actually taken off the list, although the request for de-listing is put in annual reports on Montserrat. [1]

Now, UN General Assembly Resolution 1541 in 1960, Principle VI, lays out three alternative solutions to the non-self-governing territory challenge:

“A Non-Self-Governing Territory can be said to have reached a full measure of self-government by:

(a) Emergence as a sovereign independent State [→ e.g. Antigua];

(b) Free association with an independent State [ → e.g. Puerto Rico]; or

(c) Integration with an independent State [ → e.g. Martinique or Guadeloupe].”

The UK has apparently taken the view – after its experience with Antigua and other EC states from 1967 on, that “Associated State” status[2] should be tied to a definite date for independence. However, as the annual reports also point out, in 2015, the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) communicated the view that remaining UK OT’s enjoy constitutional democratic governments and a “modern relationship” with the UK.[3] (Fair comment: this seems to be a name for a weak form of Associated State!)  Also, the recent passing of an Act by the UK House of Commons mandating public beneficial ownership registers in OT’s has raised serious questions in many minds here and in the other OT’s.  The decolonisation issue, obviously, is not settled.

Premier Romeo, has long said that one of his main goals is for Montserrat to “stand up on its own two feet” economically. Clearly, economic self-sufficiency is a key step to self-government: he who pays the piper calls the tune. So it is no mystery why the theme of the 2018/19 Budget is “Advancing our Journey to Self-Sustainability through Strategic Investments.”  In this budget, Mr Romeo has therefore announced five “breakthrough” initiatives as key steps towards self-sufficiency[4]: 1] the sea port breakwater, 2] subsea fibre optic cable, 3] geothermal energy development, 4] EC$ 60 millions from the European Union (to go with EC$ 54 millions from the UK for the port) and 5] the ten-year Economic Growth Strategy.[5] The Premier also intends to speak before the UN and to invite a visit by the Committee, obviously to request much-needed development assistance.

Now, too, the UN has a publication, “What the UN Can Do To Assist Non-Self Governing Territories.”[6] Montserrat is listed in it as an associate member of UN ECLAC and UNESCO, the UNICEF EC office has Montserrat on its beat, UNDP (acting through CARTAC) has helped us, we can apply to UNEP through its Panama City office, FAO has an office in Barbados, we routinely work with PAHO/WHO. ILO (International Labour Organisation) services are available to us, and doubtless UNIDO[7] (the UN Industrial Development Organisation) will be equally willing. The IEA[8] (International Energy Agency) though technically not part of the UN may be helpful too. Some years ago we received a technical mission from the IMF.  Beyond the UN, regional agencies such as OECS, ECCB, CARICOM, UWI, CDB and more are quite willing to work with us. Obviously, the JMC of the other OT’s and the UK is another key contact and through it we may find ways to work with other UKG Departments, not just DfID and FCO.

 History gives a yardstick: it took twenty years from the 1960’s to 1980’s to modernise our economy sufficiently for us to fund our recurrent budget. (We were still heavily dependent on the UK for development aid.) But, the volcano struck and we lost 2/3 of our people, lost access to 2/3 of our land, lost much of our key infrastructure and housing, etc. Our power station went out of use. Our refurbished and upgraded hospital was lost, as was our brand new Government Headquarters. A project to greatly expand the W H Bramble Airport was killed by the eruption and the just completed replacement jetty for the one lost to Hugo in 1989 was rendered largely useless.  Our economy is half what it was in 1994 in “real” terms, investor confidence is low and with many key initiatives delayed for twenty years, DfID has not given us a vote of confidence as a good development prospect.

So, we have a much more difficult development challenge today than back in the 1960’s – 90’s.

Clearly, the UN can help us meet the challenge, and the legal force of the UN Charter Article 73 provides urgently needed balance to the bureaucrats in DfID and FCO. Yes, better infrastructure and a supportive climate will attract catalytic foreign investments, too. But in the end it is we of Montserrat who must work together with one heart and mind, to create economic self-sufficiency over the next ten to twenty years.

[1]           See the 2017 report: https://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/GetFile?Open&DS=A/72/456&Lang=E&Type=DOC

[2]           See Wikipedia for a useful, accessible “101”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Associated_state

[3]           See the 2010 Constitution Order: http://agc.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Montserrat-Constitution-Order-2010-SI-2010-No-2474.pdf

[4]           See the 2018/19 Citizen’s Guide: http://finance.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Citizens-Guide-Montserrat-2018-19.pdf

[5]           See TMR, https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-8-2018-budget-breakthroughs-vs-the-naysayers/

[6]           See UN, https://www.un.org/en/decolonization/pdf/English_JUNE%202017.pdf

[7]           See: https://www.unido.org/

[8]           See: https://www.iea.org/

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De Ole Dawg – Part 8: 2018 - Budget “breakthroughs” vs the naysayers

De Ole Dawg – Part 8: 2018 – Budget “breakthroughs” vs the naysayers

Why are so many of our pundits seemingly compelled to dismiss (or shift credit for) the five “breakthroughs” announced in the 2018/19 budget?

BRADES, Montserrat, May 25, 2018 – During his 2018/19 budget presentation,[1] Premier Donaldson Romeo announced five “breakthrough” initiatives that he believes will help us to “Advanc[e] [in] Our Journey To Self-Sustainability Through Strategic Investments.” According to the Budget Highlights that were circulated at the time on Facebook,[2] the theme:

“. . . reflects a number of strategic breakthroughs realised in 2017/18 that can credibly lead to sustainable growth in our economy, which is the outcome of the vision that my Government presented in 2015/16.

[I] Port Development – signed Financing Agreement . . . with the CDB, estimated at the current exchange rate to be around EC$ 54.5 million. The Project aims to improve efficiency, effectiveness and resilience of the Port facilities which will provide a safe harbour.

[II] European Development Fund (EDF) – signed Financing Agreement with the EU . . . estimated at the current exchange rate to be around EC$60 million. [Note: That puts the total to about EC$ 114 millions.] This will support the transition towards reliable, affordable and renewable solar energy which will reduce usage of fossil fuels and will enhance Montserrat’s tourism offer.

[III] The Subsea Fibre Optic Cable project[3] – this will go ahead in 2018 with approval now given. This project will provide a secure and fast data communication link to the Island increasing the resiliency of the island with regard to the threat from hurricanes.

[IV] Geothermal Energy Development – progressing well, with several expressions of interest and have hosted site visits.

[V] Economic Growth Strategy and Delivery Plan[4] – now delivered giving us the blueprint to create sustainable and inclusive economic growth for all Montserratians.”

What was astonishing – then sadly instructive on the state of politics and policy discussion in Montserrat – was the response in the media and in the Assembly.

One heavily promoted commenter correctly explained the theme but then proceeded to declare that the budget’s theme “bore no relevance” to its contents.  He and his host then went on to repeatedly dismiss the details of the budget as “you can say what you want,” clearly suggesting a deceitful budget. In this vein, an Opposition Member opened his remarks by outright declaring that the budget was a case of “bamboozling” (that is, fraud) – and he was not corrected for his unparliamentary language. Another pundit suggested that whatever was good was the work of just one Minister, who he favours.  A third dissmissed the budget as “timid, tepid and vague.”

Had the commenters instead challenged the Premier to improve his manner of presentation (which was again disappointingly reluctant and stumbling) that would be understandable. Had they started out by drawing a line from the less than 50% spend on the 2017/18 capital budget and then challenged Government and DfID to find a way to do a lot better, that would clearly have been fair comment and a needed corrective. Especially, given the Government’s silence on the impact of shattering the new Programme Management Office by frog marching its first Head out of Government Headquarters and then dragging out putting a replacement in place. [5]

But, that was not the pivot of the responses.

For one, it is outright falsehood to say that the substance of a budget led by the above announcement of five specific initiatives as above is “irrelevant” to the goals and vision expressed in its theme. Where, if the Government can work with DfID to move the above forward, that would indeed begin the long hoped for turnaround for our economy, building room for growth and sharply enhancing our prospects for attracting investments. Starting with tourism and with ICT’s.  Likewise, the initiatives have been in the media for weeks and months, so they are clearly not empty figments of the imagination or frauds. 

They indeed credibly mark a breakthrough that has been a long time coming, over twenty years in the case of the sea port, and perhaps ten years in the case of the Fibre Optic Cable. Geothermal energy has been a point of serious discussion since the early 1990’s, and has been under exploration since about 2008. Such developments are an achievement of the whole government[6] and indeed of all of our governments going back for twenty years at least.  What is needed is to move on from breakthroughs – which can be sealed off by determined opponents – to breakouts that make major strategic advances.[7] “Onward unto the breach, dear friends, once more . . .” and all of that.

Last but not least, these five initiatives were announced in the budget speech for one simple but telling reason: they are to be initially operationalised across this year and money is to be spent.

Why, then, did we see the sort of reactions outlined above?

Deep polarisation, multiplied by frustration and doubts or even desperation over long delayed economic turnaround will obviously be a part of the story. 

But that cannot explain the sort of attitude that implies that the budget was a lie, or even outright calls it an act of fraud. That sort of hitman tactic[8] of destructive and false, disrespectful accusation suggests something we may not wish to think about; but we need to consider it as a matter of prudence. For, the Apostle James warns us that “. . .  where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” [See James 3:16.] Such attitudes easily create a deeply hostile, angry, polarised and ill-informed state of public opinion.

That sort of mentality cannot do Montserrat any good, and we must turn away from even its shadow.

Nor, can we excuse what has happened as “that’s politics.”

That is exactly the kind of slander driven politics we do not need. As fair comment, those who have indulged in what we have seen raise serious or even decisive questions about their own character and fitness for high office. At minimum, they have some serious explaining and apologising to do.

It is time to do better than this, high time.

[1]           See, GoM Ministry of Finance: http://finance.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/FINAL-Budget-Speech-2018-19-002.pdf & also cf. details: http://finance.gov.ms/?page_id=686 )

[2]               See the budget highlights: https://www.facebook.com/notes/government-information-unit-montserrat/2018-2019-budget-highlights/239873123238704/  (Also see the 2018/19 Citizen’s Guide: http://finance.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Citizens-Guide-Montserrat-2018-19.pdf )

[3]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-232017-the-fibre-optic-cable-project-and-development-aid-to-montserrat/

[4]           See GoM: http://www.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Growth-Strategy-Delivery-Plan-2017-DRAFT-.pdf 

[5]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-22-2017-failing-the-opportunity-test/

[6]           See GoM MoF budget instructions to Depts: http://finance.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018-2019-to-2020-2021-Budget-Instructions.pdf

[7]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-5-2018-montserrats-culture-vs-strategy-challenge/

[8]           See, TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-7-2018-truth-answers-to-the-project-and-policy-hitmen/

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Wait a minute

De Ole Dawg – Part 7: 2018 -Truth answers to the project and policy hitmen

Why we must build Montserrat’s future on credible truth (instead of political “spin” and “hit jobs”)

BRADES, Montserrat-  Montserrat’s future lies in the balance, we are at what the Spanish call un momento de verdad, a moment of truth.  But, what is the truth, how may we credibly, reliably, confidently know, trust and act on it in the face of contention, controversy, confusion, hostility, spin tactics and outright deceit?

(Where, as the Lenten season reminds us all, notoriously, Governor Pilate once had The Truth Himself standing before him and cynically dismissed his duty to do the right with: what is truth? He then washed his hands as though he was not knowingly going along with gross injustice, the judicial murder of an innocent man. Thank God, that was Friday, but Sunday was a-coming! A sobering lesson of hard-bought history, one that many of our local and UK decision makers, movers, shakers and pundits who are tempted to go along with wrong because it seems to be the path of least resistance would do well to heed.)

Ironically, what truth is, is simplicity itself (as Aristotle long ago pointed out in his Metaphysics 1011b): truth says of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not.  Or, saying it like it is. That is, truth accurately describes reality, so if we are to build a sound future, we must prize, seek, warrant and build upon it. There, we have said it, and once said it is actually obvious. This instantly sweeps away ever so much of the cynical rhetoric and the dirty power games that too often drive decisions in a world where we are all finite, fallible, morally struggling and too often ill-willed. Including, right here in Montserrat. Well did the same Jesus (who stood before Pilate at his failed moment of truth) counsel us in the all-time best case of “a good man speaking well” – the right use of rhetoric:

Matt 6:  22  “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23  but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  24  No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” [ESV]

This gem is a little parable about the power of sound insight, of sound thinking. A healthy mind reliably “sees” accurately and fills us with a true picture of our world and circumstances, guiding sound decision and action. By contrast, the unsound mind driven by lust for money and what it buys blinds us, leading us to error and even ruin. Where, in another gem of wisdom, the same great teacher counselled that the blind can lead the blind about as far as the nearest ditch. A third, points out that it is knowledge of and acting on the truth that makes us free. (And yes, this time of year reminds us that our attitude to the wisdom in the scriptures – especially that in the mouth of Messiah – is one test of our spirit towards truth. Nowadays, Montserrat’s social media over-brims with those who foolishly fail this test.)

By contrast (and as TMR has noted so many times), to lie is to speak with disregard to truth, in hope of profiting by what one says or suggests being taken as true.  Willful, cynical deceit for “advantage.” And, frankly, there is far too little of the truth and there is far too much of the deceitful and unjust in our public discussion and decisions for and about Montserrat’s future. Here, and in the UK. Last time, we had to deal with a case, hitmen hurting us badly in the UK press. And, there are a lot more hitmen about; people who without good cause willfully damage or even wreck decisions, people, projects and policies alike.  “Advantage never done.”

Let us be utterly, coldly clear: that which is false is just that which fails to fit with reality, so it will lead us astray and ends in ruin. Never mind the power that backs it up and promotes or even demands that we accept it, or else.  Let us be equally clear on this: the destructive hitmen, the lying spin masters, the bought- and paid- for half-truth telling technicos and their backers betray us.

But, how can we know what is true and what is false?

Let’s put it this way: we are most at risk of being deceived or falling into error when we are ignorant, angry or ill-willed. So, we must diligently seek knowledge, the peace of justice within and without, and the common good. Where, knowledge is best understood as well-warranted, credibly true (and reliable) belief.

That is, our mind’s eyes must be good, and we must diligently seek to ground what we accept as credibly true.  Where, our emotions are no better than the perceptions, expectations and judgements that lie at their roots. Similarly, no authority – no expert, no witness, no book, no news anchor, no spokesman, no teacher, no leader – is better than his or her soundness on the facts, logic and peace of justice in his/her heart. For, it is only when we start from the whole, undiluted, untainted truth that makes a difference to our decisions and then reason soundly, prudently and justly that we credibly have a trustworthy basis for action. We may still err, for that is human, but this is the path to soundness. Where, too, the old saying is right: “a half truth is a whole lie.”

By these yardstick principles, far too much of what passes for conventional wisdom or even knowledge here, in the UK and across the whole world in our time fails the test. King David of old is right: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” [Psalm 146:3, ESV.] Political messianism is idolatry and idols will be broken. No politico can deliver heaven on earth. S/he who pretends otherwise is a fraud or a fool.

For example, on matters of economics, we would be well advised to know that several decades ago the world passed through a period of great ferment and deep disagreement, but after the Cold War era ended in the 1990’s,  there is now much more of a consensus on what leads to sound development – and our Economic Growth Strategy[1] builds on that. But to get to the “catalytic” infrastructure and access projects that would open up tourism and other high growth potential sectors, we have to address sound governance, including sound project and programme management and sound financial management as well as the legal basis for our development partnership with the UK, the UN Charter, Article 73.  Which will also require that we face some bitter truths.

And, to build a solid informed consensus that will check hitmen, spin doctors and their backers, we have to become a much better aware, prudent public. That requires sound public education. Such has been a major focus of The Reporter, and it will continue to be a main focus going forward. Happy Resurrection Sunday!  END

[1]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-1-2018-what-are-montserrats-economic-realities-challenges-and-opportunities/

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My Glendon Hospital Stay: A Good Experience

My Glendon Hospital Stay: A Good Experience

By Gracelyn Cassell

About a month ago, April 10th to be exact, I ended up at Glendon Hospital for emergency surgery.  I left four days later and friends are astounded when I say that I actually enjoyed the experience.  I’ve had medical issues for years but kept hoping that the new hospital would be in place before things came to a head.  That was not to be.

Glendon Hospital

So there I was on Tuesday evening April 10th, listening to the Nurse on duty in Casualty telephoning the many persons needed for my surgery.  As each person arrived, I quickly apologised for ruining plans for the evening.  I felt particularly bad that Dr. Braimah Kassim, who, after a full day of surgery, would not have the pleasure of a break. Everyone, however, hastened to reassure me that it was okay, it was all part of the job.  Blood had to be drawn for testing, x-rays taken and other unmentionables done in preparation. I discovered that my recent manicure/pedicure would present a problem for monitoring during the operation, so the polish had to be removed.  I must admit that being surrounded by seasoned nurses like Sister Noleen Meade, Nurse Anaesthetist Brenda Daley, and others who prepared me for theatre, actually helped me to relax.    

It is funny how in life we take so much for granted. Sister Icilda Stanley, a former schoolmate, took charge of my personal belongings, and I realise now that I would not have had that level of comfort in an overseas facility.  In fact, immediately after I was back on the ward just before 2 am on Wednesday April 11th, I noticed my bag waiting for me near to what would be my bed for the next several days.  My cell-phone was registering the concern of relatives and friends who needed to know how the operation had gone.

Fortunately, my brother Joseph, the first person I recognised once the anaesthesia wore off, and who I had instructed not to wait around, answered all of the queries. It was really nice to wake up and see him! He explained to me later that I was complaining about being hungry and in pain but I only remember being very calm and collected.  So, it’s good that he was there as a witness to the true state of affairs.  I do remember being offered a cup of bush-tea and that was like music to my ears.  I also received a pain injection and that was it. 

I slept soundly until late afternoon when, my youngest brother, Norman, came and without my knowing, took a photo of me which was sent to the family ‘whatsapp’ group.  They found that photo most reassuring but now seeing Kate Middleton all bright and glowing after giving birth to a third child, I realised that I should have included a make-up kit in my hospital bag!

However, the team that came to check on me the next day didn’t seem worried by my lack of makeup.  They explained what had transpired the night before and seemed happy to see me awake and in good spirits.  I shared a vague recollection that I might have been protesting at some point and they laughingly told me that when I was returned to the ward and placed in bed on my back, I made several attempts to roll on to my side complaining that “I always sleep on my side!”

I was placed on a liquid diet which I actually enjoyed because there were interesting items on the menu like arrowroot porridge which I had not had in years. The plantain porridge reminded me of my student days in Jamaica when I first savoured banana porridge prepared with coconut milk.  In fact, once I was allowed to move to a more solid diet, I actually refused to leave the hospital when Dr. Kassim gave the all clear for me to be discharged on the Friday.  I told him that the menu on Saturday was far too interesting to be missed.  So I went home after supper the following evening.  Little did I know that a hot meal was waiting there for me!

My fears about the post-crisis, makeshift hospital which has no private ward were not realised.  I always felt that noise and light would prevent me from resting but I had the best sleep that I had enjoyed in years and many visitors kept saying that I didn’t look like someone who had undergone surgery.  Once I got home, however, I was thrown off schedule with both rest and medication because I’ve never really liked alarms!  I actually missed having the nurses wake me up when it was time for meds.  And of course, at home, you end up doing all kinds of things which get in the way of sleep or taking meds!

But I can hear you asking – How was this a good experience?  First of all, I am deeply appreciative of all that was done by doctors and staff to facilitate my surgery and make my stay comfortable. They work daily with many challenges. I am impressed that the team includes nutritionists who have incorporated local produce and traditional dishes on the menu.  This assures me that once there is cheaper electricity, if the geothermal project ever comes on stream, there are people who will ensure that the many many seasonal fruits and vegetables that now go to waste, will be put to good use.  I also feel strongly that the proposed hospital plan, developed with the input of this dedicated staff, will be the best for Montserrat. I sincerely hope that someone will dust it off and make the business case for its implementation.  Medical tourism could certainly provide an income stream since I am sure others would love to have my experience.

I was really touched by the many persons near and far, friends and family, who went out of their way to demonstrate their love and caring during my hospital stay and after. I had all kinds of offers: to do my laundry, prepare meals for me, get me fruits, coconut water and jelly, do my shopping and more. This outpouring of support also contributed to my very positive experience.  To be honest, I am trying to resist the temptation to prolong the recovery period.  My sincere thanks to all and kudos to the staff at Glendon! 

Gracelyn Cassell
Head
The University of the West Indies
Open Campus Montserrat

Posted in Columns, Features, General, Health, Letters, Opinions0 Comments

De Ole Dawg – Part 6: 2018 -Hunting down some hitmen

De Ole Dawg – Part 6: 2018 -Hunting down some hitmen

Were recent ill-informed volcano hazard articles in the UK the result of deliberate hit jobs on Montserrat’s credibility?

BRADES, Montserrat, March 16, 2018 – Montserrat’s viability was recently seriously questioned in two UK newspapers, leading to much concern. Let’s pause to see what was said:

UK Guardian, March 6[1]:  “for the past eight years the volcano has been completely silent, and locals are impatient to return to their homes. So is it safe?  Prof Jurgen Neuberg, a volcanologist at the University of Leeds, is chairman of the scientific advisory committee to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, tasked with assessing the risk of the volcano . . .  Neuberg and his colleagues can see that around one cubic metre (35 cubic ft) of fresh magma is accumulating under the island every seven seconds. “Except for the gas plume there is nothing visible on the surface, but the instruments show us clearly that the deformation is ongoing and the entire island is still inflating,” says Neuberg. Sadly, [Guardian adds,] Montserratians must continue to wait.”

UK Express, March 7[2]:  “Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcano, the ‘Pompei of the Caribbean’, was rumbled by a “swarm” of five volcanic-tectonic earthquakes last week, sparking fears of eruption  . . .  volcanologists monitoring the volcano have noted increased volcanic stirring underneath Montserrat . . . . Professor Neuberg said: “Except for the gas plume there is nothing visible on the surface, but the instruments show us clearly that the deformation is ongoing and the entire island is still inflating.” Poisonous Sulphur Dioxide flux measurements last Monday February 26 have also revealed leaks amounting to hundreds of tonnes per day.”

These remarks that appear in two UK newspapers just a day apart are obviously potentially damaging, and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory therefore replied[3]:

“Monitoring data recorded and interpreted by Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) shows no changes that suggest that new activity is imminent. The newspaper articles are misleading and, in the case of The Express, alarmist. Since the end of the last phase of lava extrusion on 11 February 2010, MVO has observed a slow, steady movement of the ground surface across the whole of Montserrat . . . . research suggests that, since February 2010, the underground magma system that feeds the SHV has been slowly recharged by the influx of magma at depth. This causes the pressure inside the system to increase, which is then seen as upwards and outwards movement of the ground surface around the volcano. The news articles suggest that the research has produced new information. In the Express article this, when combined with a very small swarm of small-magnitude earthquakes on 25 February 2018, indicates that a new eruption may be imminent. This is not the case. Brief swarms of such earthquakes have occurred on more than one hundred occasions since 2007.”

Is such reporting just a case of poorly researched journalism on a scientific topic? Or, is it something a bit more sinister – a continuation of a string of media hit jobs on Montserrat’s credibility or even viability? For, deeply planted perceptions that are inaccurate can have damaging effects. That’s why The Reporter’s Editor noted in his introduction to the MVO response how in 1997 – 98: “UK Government authorities broadcasted and said that there might be a cataclysmic eruption that would cause Montserrat to completely evacuated . . . in spite of vehement denial of that situation from the Government and scientists on Montserrat, it was not until 2008 the UK relented on the misinformation.” Such needless doubts have likely contributed to delays in our rebuilding and redevelopment efforts.

Now, over the years we have had occasional articles in the well-respected UK Guardian on Montserrat’s challenges.  So, it would not be unusual for them to pick up something in the research news and comment on it; especially given the focus of their Terrawatch feature.

However, Terrawatch should have noted from the source they used[4]: “[d]espite the ongoing inflation, the magma volume in the reservoir that existed before the eruption started has not yet been reached.”  COMET illustrates this with a graph (shown) and goes on to say: “[h]owever, in the past, the volcano did not wait until the reservoir was refilled, but started the next eruptive phase sooner . . . the ash venting in the beginning of 2012 might have been a ‘failed eruption’ and the next eruptive phase is overdue.”  They are also quite explicit that: “the eruption is far from over and that fresh magma is accumulating in a reservoir below the island .”

“Overdue” and “far from over” or the like might indeed be of concern. However, a check with MVO by telephone or email would also have instantly shown that for many years the North has been regarded as quite safe, and that access restrictions for zones nearer to the volcano have been longstanding. 

On balance, the Express article clearly merits MVO’s comment: “alarmist.” That poor tone suggests that it is possible that more than mere failure to do proper journalistic cross-checks was at work. For, a reasonable person would note that – though it has fairly frequent articles on volcanoes – Montserrat is not usually on the UK Express’ beat. So, for cause s/he would pause while waiting at the Clapham bus stop, and would wonder if someone deliberately prompted the misleading report.

In both cases, a correction is due (but don’t hold your breath).

Moreover, these articles follow on a string of rather negative reports in various UK media since 2015 that have questioned aid to Montserrat, have challenged spending £5 millions to bring back fibre optic cable access[5] (vital for our development), have suggested widespread corruption and have generally left the ill-founded impression[6] that aid to Montserrat is in the main, a dodgy business and a huge waste of the British taxpayer’s money.  In short, too many of these pieces have come across as hit jobs, likely based on “leaks” from seemingly credible sources, but all aiming to foster an unjustifiably hostile climate of opinion in the UK public and among UK decision-makers. Hit jobs, of course, would be carried out by hitmen, who in turn would be sent by hostile Godfathers.  (Where, too, if you believe that hit jobs, hit men, Godfathers, irresponsible journalists and outright propagandists are only found in and around the UK tabloid press, please think again.[7])

All of this is always hard to prove, but something just does not smell right.

It is therefore time for our Government and our friends in the UK to take a closer look and to make a sustained effort to clear the air through a balanced, sound communication, public education and outreach strategy.  For, where credible, regular, balanced, substantial, clearly accurate information is lacking [especially on doing a Google search], that invites misinformation, spin games, irresponsible “tabloid” sensationalism, hit jobs and outright propagandistic manipulation. In an Internet age, failure to adequately communicate on a regular, sound basis has damaging consequences.

[1]               See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/06/terrawatch-montserrats-volcano-remains-a-risk?CMP=share_btn_fb

[2]           See: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/928274/montserrat-volcano-update-eruption-risk-will-it-erupt-soufriere-hills

[3]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/mvo-director-stewart-fixes-uk-guardian-express-newspapers-misrepresentation/

[4]               COMET: http://comet.nerc.ac.uk/montserrat-continues-inflate/

[5]           TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-12017-dissecting-a-smear-fibre-optics-facts-vs-uk-tabloids/

[6]           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

[7]               TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-12-2016-how-can-we-break-through-the-divide-and-rule-spiral-of-silencing/

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Features, General0 Comments

Christopher Cushing

United States partners with region in support of youth development and crime prevention

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, May 10, CMC The United States, through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative is partnering with regional governments in an effort to stem crime and violence by focusing on at risk youths and vulnerable populations.

This is according to Christopher Cushing, the Mission Director for the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, who was   delivering remarks on Thursday on behalf of Linda Taglialatela,the US Ambassador to Barbados, Eastern Caribbean, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), during the opening ceremony for the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative 8th Meeting of the Technical Working Group on Crime Prevention .

Christopher Cushing
Christopher Cushing

He said the partnership will be done through programmes that will empower young people to lead better and more positive lives, which will redound to the benefit of the region in improving citizen security and creating more stable democracies.

“Since 2010, the U.S. Government, through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), has invested US$437 million, towards improving citizen security in the Caribbean and addressing the root causes of crime and violence. To date, more than 30,000 youth, across the region, have participated in CBSI education and work-force development programmes, with more than $50 million allocated to support these programmes, he said.

“The CBSI embodies our mutual commitment to greater shared security throughout the Caribbean. It is an initiative that works towards building the health, resiliency and safety of Caribbean countries, all important elements for sustained growth, prosperity and strong democracies in the Caribbean and the United States.”

Cushing noted the importance of the conference to the future development of youth and citizen security and said that the Technical Working Group is critical to advancing the said goal.

“Your discussions will continue to help shape the broader framework for action and bring sharper focus to the needs of the region’s youth,” added the mission director. “Over the next three days, I expect you will have robust exchanges in which you, as Caribbean leaders, learn from each other and international experts, and take the time to pause, reflect, generate new ideas, and identify concrete priorities to address challenges posed by transnational crime.”

He commented on the theme adopted for this year’s conference, which is: “Changing Social Norms Through Youth Engagement”.

“This is a timely theme and an important reminder to all of us that the change we seek cannot be achieved without the support and full participation of young people. Around the world, youth are making their voices heard and spearheading powerful initiatives to address poverty, health concerns, environmental challenges, school violence and more. Here in the Caribbean, it’s no different,” noted Cushing, adding that “the U.S. Government firmly believes in the power of youth, and has partnered with regional Governments for many years to support youth development.”

The Conference, which runs from May 10-11, will culminate with a youth rally on Saturday.

Representatives are drawn from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and host country St. Kitts and Nevis.

The Community Family and Youth Resilience Programme, OECS Commission and USAID are also represented.

Posted in General, International, Local, News, Police, Regional, Youth0 Comments

Indonesia

CARICOM and Indonesia strengthen links

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, May 3, CMC – Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Ambassador Irwin LaRocque described the presentation of credentials by Indonesia’s Ambassador as “a hallmark in relations” between the Community and Indonesia.

Indonesia's first Amb. To CARICOM 2018Drs. Dominicus Supratikto, who is based in Suriname, became the first Ambassador of Indonesia to CARICOM when he presented his letters of credence to the Secretary-General on Wednesday at the CARICOM Secretariat Headquarters here.

LaRocque said that with this accreditation, relations between Indonesia and CARICOM would only go from strength to strength. Both the Secretary-General and Ambassador Supratikto agreed that climate change was one area that lent itself to co-operation.

The Ambassador noted that the forming of official links allowed for more engagement between the two parties and this latest initiative was in keeping with Indonesia’s thrust to extend relations with non-traditional partners.

 

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, General, International, Local, News, Politics, Regional0 Comments

DSC_3849

Nerissa Golden Launches Return to Love Book Series

BRADES – Author and entrepreneur Nerissa Golden launched her Return to Love book series February 21, 2018, in the presence of colleagues and friends at the Montserrat Public Library.

There are currently two books in the series, with Golden aiming to add two more. Love’s Sweet Joy is book one and tells the story of Monique Sinclair, a single mother who returns to Montserrat after she inherits a small pastry shop and is struggling to get her business together. Callen Saunders has Montserrat roots and is hired to coach a local basketball team after he is injured but he is extremely bitter.

Local business consultant and teacher, Angela Greenaway said she enjoyed the first novel and has been anxiously awaiting the second book.

Hon. Minister of Education Delmaude Ryan who was read both novels, congratulated Golden on the series.

Golden said she took a different path with book two, In Plain Sight. It is a romantic suspense and centres around a Dutch police officer who is hired to train the local police team. However, his job becomes more difficult as trouble washes up on local beaches.

The author said her vision was to create stories which showed possibilities for love and job creation on Montserrat.  “I’ve had women tell me they recognize their story in the book or it feels like therapy. That makes me feel good as sometimes we just need a bit of encouragement and hope to keep going. Montserrat is a character in the book as well because there are so many beautiful locations to feature and stories waiting to be told.

Both books are available online and locally from the author.

Posted in Entertainment, Features, General, International, Local, News, Regional0 Comments

De Ole Dawg – Part 4: 2018 -Montserrat’s project governance challenge

De Ole Dawg – Part 4: 2018 -Montserrat’s project governance challenge

Why has DfID pointed to “gaps in GoM’s project management capacity”?

BRADES, Montserrat, Mar 1, 2018 – When DfID reviewed[1] the Montserrat Hospital and Health Care Improvement Project the first time, in January 2014 it indicated that it was nine months behind and held a “medium” risk rating. Where, eight months of that delay were due to how long it took for its DfID-prepared business case to be approved.  They also spoke of several failed tenders for equipment and rated goals to date as partially achieved.  In the same review, DfID was already challenging the construction concept: “A property appraisal, conducted in September 2011, found that many of the facilities are not fit for purpose and space standards are generally inadequate[2].”   By the second review in November 2014,  risk was rated as “high,”  the project was seen as “poorly performing . . . failing DFID’s value for money test” and there was an understandable shift in construction concept from upgrading on the present site to going to a site next door.  (This would have then opened the door to requiring an evaluation of alternative sites thus the eventual choice of Hill Top after a study of site-options.) 

It is no surprise, then, to see that it is in the November 2014 evaluation report that DfID spoke of “gaps in GoM’s project management capacity.”

But it is also quite clear that such a remark was doubtless informed by concerns over the Montserrat Development Corporation (MDC) and  the pattern of delays with the building projects for Agriculture, for Customs & Revenue and for Radio Montserrat (ZJB). DfID would also have been aware of significant problems with the road improvement project.

Even more tellingly, by January 2014, questions were already being asked about how health care in Montserrat was to be financed going forward (which eventually led to the now infamous Mott-MacDonald study). 

The termination of the project was predictable. The task of doing a fresh business case for a new hospital project was put on the table. (Which, of course, would re-open all the underlying issues and points of debate.)

Now, too, many people in Montserrat are unaware that by 2012 DfID said that MDC “ha[d] not performed to date as expected,” speaking of “this failure.” In the business case to improve MDC’s performance, DfID requested over EC$ 5 millions and proposed:

“. . . to reconstruct MDC with improved governance arrangements, staffing, technical assistance and resources. It will have a direct project management function as well as a facilitation role. It is a semi-autonomous agency, reporting to a Board and in turn to the GoM. It will employ strong commercial skills and technical support   within   a   framework   of   strong   governance   and   accountability.   It   is   the   key   part   of   the institutional framework for economic development and without it the island lacks the leadership and project management capacity required to put the foundations in place for strategic and catalytic public investments.”

However, by 2014, we saw whistleblowers, audits, investigations and questions over procurement as well as management of money. In 2015, there was a scandal in the UK tabloid press.  A DfID-sponsored 2016 Business Environment Reform Facility consultancy study[3] then summed up: “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 MDC in March 2015.”

It is therefore fair comment to conclude that Montserrat has a significant, longstanding challenge with project governance (and with linked capacity and credibility).

The Programme Management Office (PMO) that was introduced last year was clearly an effort to address this challenge. It sought to do so in key part through consultancies and the introduction of PRINCE2 and other Axelos project, programme and portfolio management frameworks, training and certification.  However, our governance problem then exploded into crisis, through the firing of the first Head of the PMO by frog-marching him out of Government Headquarters. And that, on a “no cause clause” dismissal.  Since then, the PMO has obviously stalled, to the detriment of ready small and major projects.

How can we restore credibility, build capacity and reform project governance?

(For sure, that will be necessary to help us move forward with the key, “catalytic” infrastructure and related projects that will lay a foundation for self-sustaining growth.)

A good place to start is obviously the PMO and the Axelos system for project, programme and portfolio management.  A new head is needed and the dropped strands of work with Axelos and International Project Management bodies have to be picked up. Since the Axelos framework is designed to be tailored to circumstances, it needs to be explicitly integrated with EU-style Programme-based Project Cycle Management.

We will obviously need to develop a robust system for expediting – as opposed to delaying and obstructing – work on the key priority projects.

Procurement and financial management reforms need to be tailored to fit with the needed expediting also.

The question is, are we willing to expedite these changes? If we don’t, Montserrat will continue to pay a stiff price. END

[1]           See DfID’s Dev’t Tracker: https://devtracker.dfid.gov.uk/projects/GB-1-114508/documents

[2]               Glendon Hospital Montserrat Property Appraisal, Planning for Health Ltd, September 2011

[3]           See: http://www.businessenvironmentreform.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/BERF-Montserrat-BE-Capacity-Building_FINAL_31Jan2017.pdf

Posted in Features, General0 Comments

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