De Ole Dawg – Part 14:The Don Romeo Factor

Has Premier Romeo single-handedly wrecked Montserrat?

BRADES, Montserrat – It is a commonplace talking point in various media and on the streets, that the present government is a failure led by a non-entity who somehow bamboozled his way into the Premier’s Office. Where, he has almost single-handedly managed to wreck Montserrat’s economy. Which, is “dead.”  (Oh, we must not leave out: he is also a puppet, dangling from the wires manipulated by devious “badvisors” and incompetent, over-paid TC’s backed up by their racist colonial masters in DfID and FCO.)

Does this reflect “a true and fair view” of our circumstances and choices going forward?

“True” and “fair” are key. For, we need a sober, accurate, sound and manifestly fair-minded assessment of where we are, how we got there and what our realistic alternatives are. 

Now, let’s focus: how did Mr Romeo ever get into office?

For one, because our technocrats and highly credentialled politicians destroyed their own credibility and so for cause lost the trust of ordinary people. People therefore voted for a clean person who had a track record of telling the hard truth when it was not popular. One, who also reached out to and stood up for the vulnerable and needy[1] again and again. That meant that, from the outset, Mr Romeo was going to face bitter and sometimes dirty resistance from the rejected technocrats and insider politicians.  (In fact, such bitterness started while he was in opposition.)

From day one, he also had to address the collapse of confidence in the Montserrat Development Corporation,[2] which was facing whistle-blowers, audits and DfID’s 2012 evaluation that it had “fail[ed].” Cabinet set up a committee, but they publicly shared only a summary of its findings.[3]  Notwithstanding, the diagnosis was clear enough: credibility-destroying persistent governance failures, financial issues, failure to become self-supporting or to get actual major development investments on the ground after seven years.  Looking at the recommended options, the new administration closed it; likely imagining that they could then work with DfID to set up a fresh-start statutory corporation similar to others across the region.[4] However, once MDC was closed DfID obviously refused to support such a fresh start. This left the new government holding the empty bag.

Later, based on consultancies, a Programme Management Office was set up to bring our development initiatives portfolio, programmes and projects up to world class standard through the Axelos system. But soon after it started, the head of the new PMO was frog marched out of Government Headquarters on flimsy grounds – the “no cause” clause dismissal tells us the sad story.[5] And, a year later – surprise, surprise (NOT) – no replacement is here. That’s another big clue on the real power game being played. Similarly, urgently needed reforms for the Premier’s Office developed through years of consultancy have been road-blocked for over a year.  Yet another clue.

Add, how questions and answers in the July 31st parliament sitting[6] just exposed that early drafts for an urgently needed good governance charter and for a similarly urgently needed development partnership MoU were blocked to the point that they have not got beyond preliminary consultations.   Where, DfID has long since implied[7] that if we do not seriously reform governance, financial management and project management we will not have the credibility to attract their support for economy-transforming infrastructure investments. Clue number three.

Clearly, we must move beyond power plays, needless delays and trying to compromise between “stop” and “go.” We need a lot more transparency and accountability. We need robust change incubators backed by serious godfathers. And, when Cabinet issues an implementation order, our Premier and his Ministers must not tolerate endless delays and excuses.

Likewise, the growing list of sudden publicly humiliating dismissals on flimsy grounds and linked dragging out of recruitment for key posts is an outrage.

DfID is part of the problem, too. The ferry fiasco across 2016 clearly showed that DfID and our own government tend to fall into deadlock and needless quarrelling, or even into holding sorely needed projects, services and vulnerable people hostage. There can be no excuse for how it has taken years and years to get approval from DfID for seven sorely needed “emergency” – yes, EMERGENCY – houses. Stories about repeated attempts to impose utterly unsuitable house designs keep on leaking out.

The no-brainer fibre optic cable project should have long since been completed. Instead, it was hit by smear jobs in the UK tabloid press that obviously trace to willfully destructive leaks. This cost Montserrat at least two years of needless, economically damaging delay. 

Likewise, recent alarmist articles in the UK press tried to suggest that the volcano was about to blow up again, so “obviously” further aid to Montserrat would be a waste.  Who is leaking destructively, why? Who is dragging out project development/approval and cutting budgets into the bone, why?

In short, can we be led by soft voices of reason, facts and responsible compromise, or do we slavishly “need” the strong man’s raised fist holding a whip?

The evidence, frankly, does not look so good.

But, what about our wrecked economy?

What “economy”? As, because we did not heed credible scientific warnings from McGregor and Perret in the 1930’s down to Wadge and Isaacs in the 1980’s, we put all our economic eggs in the Plymouth basket. The goose and its golden eggs were therefore swept away from 1995 – 97.  What we have as a result is a shocked, broken-back consumption-led economy with weak productive sectors. Until this is solved, we are debating little more than how much the hard-pressed, increasingly frustrated UK taxpayer is willing to subsidise our consumption.

Since 1995, we have only been kept afloat by about £500 millions of UK aid provided under the legal force of the UN Charter, Article 73.[8]  So, from year to year, our governments have to go hat in hand to beg line by line, getting £22 millions on average. That is why the Premier rightly pointed out that 60% of Opposition Salaries and of the costs of the Opposition Office from year to year come through that commitment. It is also why cumbersome, delay-prone bureaucracy and want of capacity have too often led to a gap between budgeted and actual expenditure across several administrations, deflating the economy below its hoped-for level.

Bottomline: we have known for years what we need to do – seriously fix governance and build capacity so that catalytic infrastructure projects can trigger self-sustaining, private sector led growth (much as the Economic Growth Strategy[9] envisions). That is going to require a drastic change of the way we usually do business. 

Mr Romeo, clearly, needs to pull up his socks. So does the rest of Cabinet. So does the Opposition. So do our Senior Civil Servants. So do DfID and the FCO.  So does the media.

So, which will be our priority: getting things set right, or playing self-defeating scapegoating, delaying, dog-eat-dog politics and bureaucratic obstructionism as usual? END

[1]           See 2009 CDB-GOM report on living conditions: http://www.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/MSLC_FINAL-vol-1_v7.pdf

[2]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/mdc-shut-down/

[3]           See: https://discovermni.com/2015/04/02/summary-report-on-mdc-task-force-review/

[4]           See: https://discovermni.com/2015/04/02/mdc-to-close-at-end-of-may-future-relaunch-in-the-works/

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

[6]           See: https://montserratradioecho.wordpress.com/2018/07/31/tuesday-july-31-2018-a-sitting-of-the-legislative-assembly-of-montserrat/

[7]           See DfID 2012, p.1: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/67426/DFID-work-overseas-territories.pdf

[8]           See DfID 2017: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/636551/Overseas-Territories1.pdf

[9]           See GoM: http://www.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Economic-Growth-Strategy-Delivery-Plan-Final.pdf

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Has Premier Romeo single-handedly wrecked Montserrat?

BRADES, Montserrat – It is a commonplace talking point in various media and on the streets, that the present government is a failure led by a non-entity who somehow bamboozled his way into the Premier’s Office. Where, he has almost single-handedly managed to wreck Montserrat’s economy. Which, is “dead.”  (Oh, we must not leave out: he is also a puppet, dangling from the wires manipulated by devious “badvisors” and incompetent, over-paid TC’s backed up by their racist colonial masters in DfID and FCO.)

Does this reflect “a true and fair view” of our circumstances and choices going forward?

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“True” and “fair” are key. For, we need a sober, accurate, sound and manifestly fair-minded assessment of where we are, how we got there and what our realistic alternatives are. 

Now, let’s focus: how did Mr Romeo ever get into office?

For one, because our technocrats and highly credentialled politicians destroyed their own credibility and so for cause lost the trust of ordinary people. People therefore voted for a clean person who had a track record of telling the hard truth when it was not popular. One, who also reached out to and stood up for the vulnerable and needy[1] again and again. That meant that, from the outset, Mr Romeo was going to face bitter and sometimes dirty resistance from the rejected technocrats and insider politicians.  (In fact, such bitterness started while he was in opposition.)

From day one, he also had to address the collapse of confidence in the Montserrat Development Corporation,[2] which was facing whistle-blowers, audits and DfID’s 2012 evaluation that it had “fail[ed].” Cabinet set up a committee, but they publicly shared only a summary of its findings.[3]  Notwithstanding, the diagnosis was clear enough: credibility-destroying persistent governance failures, financial issues, failure to become self-supporting or to get actual major development investments on the ground after seven years.  Looking at the recommended options, the new administration closed it; likely imagining that they could then work with DfID to set up a fresh-start statutory corporation similar to others across the region.[4] However, once MDC was closed DfID obviously refused to support such a fresh start. This left the new government holding the empty bag.

Later, based on consultancies, a Programme Management Office was set up to bring our development initiatives portfolio, programmes and projects up to world class standard through the Axelos system. But soon after it started, the head of the new PMO was frog marched out of Government Headquarters on flimsy grounds – the “no cause” clause dismissal tells us the sad story.[5] And, a year later – surprise, surprise (NOT) – no replacement is here. That’s another big clue on the real power game being played. Similarly, urgently needed reforms for the Premier’s Office developed through years of consultancy have been road-blocked for over a year.  Yet another clue.

Add, how questions and answers in the July 31st parliament sitting[6] just exposed that early drafts for an urgently needed good governance charter and for a similarly urgently needed development partnership MoU were blocked to the point that they have not got beyond preliminary consultations.   Where, DfID has long since implied[7] that if we do not seriously reform governance, financial management and project management we will not have the credibility to attract their support for economy-transforming infrastructure investments. Clue number three.

Clearly, we must move beyond power plays, needless delays and trying to compromise between “stop” and “go.” We need a lot more transparency and accountability. We need robust change incubators backed by serious godfathers. And, when Cabinet issues an implementation order, our Premier and his Ministers must not tolerate endless delays and excuses.

Likewise, the growing list of sudden publicly humiliating dismissals on flimsy grounds and linked dragging out of recruitment for key posts is an outrage.

DfID is part of the problem, too. The ferry fiasco across 2016 clearly showed that DfID and our own government tend to fall into deadlock and needless quarrelling, or even into holding sorely needed projects, services and vulnerable people hostage. There can be no excuse for how it has taken years and years to get approval from DfID for seven sorely needed “emergency” – yes, EMERGENCY – houses. Stories about repeated attempts to impose utterly unsuitable house designs keep on leaking out.

The no-brainer fibre optic cable project should have long since been completed. Instead, it was hit by smear jobs in the UK tabloid press that obviously trace to willfully destructive leaks. This cost Montserrat at least two years of needless, economically damaging delay. 

Likewise, recent alarmist articles in the UK press tried to suggest that the volcano was about to blow up again, so “obviously” further aid to Montserrat would be a waste.  Who is leaking destructively, why? Who is dragging out project development/approval and cutting budgets into the bone, why?

In short, can we be led by soft voices of reason, facts and responsible compromise, or do we slavishly “need” the strong man’s raised fist holding a whip?

The evidence, frankly, does not look so good.

But, what about our wrecked economy?

What “economy”? As, because we did not heed credible scientific warnings from McGregor and Perret in the 1930’s down to Wadge and Isaacs in the 1980’s, we put all our economic eggs in the Plymouth basket. The goose and its golden eggs were therefore swept away from 1995 – 97.  What we have as a result is a shocked, broken-back consumption-led economy with weak productive sectors. Until this is solved, we are debating little more than how much the hard-pressed, increasingly frustrated UK taxpayer is willing to subsidise our consumption.

Since 1995, we have only been kept afloat by about £500 millions of UK aid provided under the legal force of the UN Charter, Article 73.[8]  So, from year to year, our governments have to go hat in hand to beg line by line, getting £22 millions on average. That is why the Premier rightly pointed out that 60% of Opposition Salaries and of the costs of the Opposition Office from year to year come through that commitment. It is also why cumbersome, delay-prone bureaucracy and want of capacity have too often led to a gap between budgeted and actual expenditure across several administrations, deflating the economy below its hoped-for level.

Bottomline: we have known for years what we need to do – seriously fix governance and build capacity so that catalytic infrastructure projects can trigger self-sustaining, private sector led growth (much as the Economic Growth Strategy[9] envisions). That is going to require a drastic change of the way we usually do business. 

Mr Romeo, clearly, needs to pull up his socks. So does the rest of Cabinet. So does the Opposition. So do our Senior Civil Servants. So do DfID and the FCO.  So does the media.

So, which will be our priority: getting things set right, or playing self-defeating scapegoating, delaying, dog-eat-dog politics and bureaucratic obstructionism as usual? END

[1]           See 2009 CDB-GOM report on living conditions: http://www.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/MSLC_FINAL-vol-1_v7.pdf

[2]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/mdc-shut-down/

[3]           See: https://discovermni.com/2015/04/02/summary-report-on-mdc-task-force-review/

[4]           See: https://discovermni.com/2015/04/02/mdc-to-close-at-end-of-may-future-relaunch-in-the-works/

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

[6]           See: https://montserratradioecho.wordpress.com/2018/07/31/tuesday-july-31-2018-a-sitting-of-the-legislative-assembly-of-montserrat/

[7]           See DfID 2012, p.1: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/67426/DFID-work-overseas-territories.pdf

[8]           See DfID 2017: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/636551/Overseas-Territories1.pdf

[9]           See GoM: http://www.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Economic-Growth-Strategy-Delivery-Plan-Final.pdf