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Geothermal, Social Security and OECS Treaty news from DFID Minister Allan Duncan’s brief visit

DFID Minister of State Alan Duncan, speaking to Bennette Roach on Thursday, Dec. 8 at the Govener's Office

The Department for International Development (DFID) Minister of State Alan Duncan paid a visit which lasted less than 24 hours to Montserrat arriving by ferry on Wednesday evening and leaving by air at 5.00 p.m. He crammed a tour which took him mostly by helicopter, and on the ground to the site earmarked for geothermal exploration, as well as Little Bay and Carrs Bay to assess the proposed two options coming out of the September Charrette on the development of a new town and port.

The minister was following up on a visit to the TCI. He was accompanied by Ian McKendry, DFID Deputy Director for Caribbean & Overseas Territories, who visited just under two months ago for his first time; Jonny Baxter, Private Secretary to the Minister and Joy Hutcheon, Director General.

With the press briefing which lasted less than 15 minutes beginning 15 minutes before schedule, The Montserrat Reporter was afforded a less than sufficient 12 minute exclusive with the Minister, with Premier Meade sitting-in along with H.E. Governor Davis and his entourage and local DFID representatives. The minister who from photographs sat immediately next to Henry Bellingham, Minister for the Overseas Territories at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FC)) at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC) meeting, brought news on three main front to Montserrat.

He began his interview by compounding that the previous government, “didn’t focus as much as it should have done on our Overseas  Territories generally…” continuing on the note by which they intend to be better than their immediate predecessors, and the now becoming familiar words of caution, made throughout the year by every visit.

His makes the third major DFID visit since February when his senior, Secretary of State – Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP did so. “We have this duty care and we are going to exercise it properly and responsibly, but also raise an eye on value for money and results we are going to get from spending tax payers money at a very difficult economic time,” he said while initially pointing out that their overarching interest, “to make clear the absolute nature of our long term commitment to Montserrat.”

The Minister expressed the well-known and most important fact of the case for Montserrat and its need for “special attention”. “…Montserrat has had unique difficulties; there is nowhere else in our responsibility which has had its main capital town swamped in by a volcano…so there are special challenges,” he admitted.

He then announced his first good news which perhaps was about one of the main topics of peeve by Premier Meade as he denounced studies and delays. Montserrat has been waiting since February following the promise by Secretary of State Mitchell.  “There is opportunity for geothermal, so we are going to accelerate as far as we can, as quickly as we can, going through the third phase of this to explore the feasibility if we can actually discover if exactly two megawatt (or four) production generated possible,” he said adding , “we’ll just check with the private sector, that there isn’t just an offer we can’t refuse.”

He expressed however,”… but we expect probable this will have to be done with our money which if there’s no private sector alternative we will do and do quickly.”

I asked the Minister what is then holding up this progress and he responded: “There is nothing that’s holding it up now but I think what has held it up before was uncertainty about the commercial nature…generation. Would it make sense only to generate geothermal power for Montserrat only or would there be a scenario in which there was massive economic opportunity, built on exporting it to Antigua (e.g.), we think the export option is less likely most people said at the beginning, so we really want to focus on getting Montserrat’s needs sorted as quickly as possible…,” and on that he concluded, “…I think the economics are pretty compelling…”

The Minister who was questioned about his experience was pleased to announce that he will have twenty (20) years as a parliamentarian, come next April. Premier Meade was brought into the discussion on this point, noting that he is already in his 21st year as a parliamentarian having been elected in November, 1991. Alan Duncan joined Parliament in 1992 as the Conservative Member for Rutland and Melton. Since then he served in many capacities including shadow minister for various ministries while his Conservative party was in opposition to the Labour government. He was appointed as Minister of State for International Development on May 13, 2010.

Another point the minister made had to do with the Little Bay and Carrs Bay development. This brought him to the point again of their advocacy of ‘value for money’. He noted that with hard times in Britain, DFID did not suffer budget cuts like most other departments, but “…we’re not just a check book;  we have always made that clear where we are prepared to sign a check we want to prove value for money…spending the money for the greatest long-term economic opportunity…”

The visiting DFID team with two local staff members, Governor David and Premier Meade

“Looking at Little Bay and Carrs Bay, he said: “… access, communications in general in the island are crucial. You can’t have a sustainable economy without good communications, transport or information…so I appreciate the ferry its small and inadequate but if you’re going to have a bigger ferry then you need investment in the port. We’ve got to look at how much is justified. Do you go straight to making it big enough for larger ships; is there a private sector aspect to it where someone outside government might invest? So, we’re exploring all that with the Premier. Something is going to have to be done to improve access so that’s what…people are working on all the time.”

He also made the following announcements which he thought were the most exciting. “Montserrat can sign the treaty which establishes the OECS Economic Union,” speaking on behalf of the FCO. That gives the go ahead from the foreign office, he said.

That matter will surely surprise opposition leader Hon. Don Romeo, who is strong of the opinion, taking the matter to the public, that the people of Montserrat are not knowledgeable about the matters pertaining to the treaty nor have they been consulted about it.

Then this: “…and I can announce that today, the second issue is that on the Social Security side t,ere has been a long outstanding issue about the short fall of funding following the court case (in 2005-2006), he said pleasingly, mentioning that he had made the announcement at the previous evening’s reception for him and his team, which was hosted by H.E. Governor Davis at Government House.

He said he had made the decision, “to tidy this up to bring an end to the matter conclusively, announcing today that we will remit 4.2 million pounds to bring it 100% up to the level it used to be which will allow the Premier to pay pensions in full.” Concluding that issue, he said: “I hope it will bring an end to an issue that has been dragging on years.”

Finally the Minister was asked whether he could be specific about what would be done to change the current situation of Montserratians continuing to leave and those wanting to return not finding it possible because of the poor state of the local economy. His response was not specific but he said that this was a question they have been asking themselves. Following is the first part of his response. That’s absolutely the same question we are asking ourselves, and it’s a challenge we face in any small island economy or some remote dependent economy and one of the thing I can say for the start is that we have enormous confidence in Premier Meade and the partnership that is built up which is very frank, very straight forward, very honest and open on each side, to try and work out the best way forward…”

The minister had more to say on this matter, but on the promise of the Premier to delve further on this matter and hopefully more in depth information as the discussions that took place recently in London and then here, we leave the rest for our next issue.

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

DFID Minister of State Alan Duncan, speaking to Bennette Roach on Thursday, Dec. 8 at the Govener's Office

The Department for International Development (DFID) Minister of State Alan Duncan paid a visit which lasted less than 24 hours to Montserrat arriving by ferry on Wednesday evening and leaving by air at 5.00 p.m. He crammed a tour which took him mostly by helicopter, and on the ground to the site earmarked for geothermal exploration, as well as Little Bay and Carrs Bay to assess the proposed two options coming out of the September Charrette on the development of a new town and port.

The minister was following up on a visit to the TCI. He was accompanied by Ian McKendry, DFID Deputy Director for Caribbean & Overseas Territories, who visited just under two months ago for his first time; Jonny Baxter, Private Secretary to the Minister and Joy Hutcheon, Director General.

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With the press briefing which lasted less than 15 minutes beginning 15 minutes before schedule, The Montserrat Reporter was afforded a less than sufficient 12 minute exclusive with the Minister, with Premier Meade sitting-in along with H.E. Governor Davis and his entourage and local DFID representatives. The minister who from photographs sat immediately next to Henry Bellingham, Minister for the Overseas Territories at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FC)) at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC) meeting, brought news on three main front to Montserrat.

He began his interview by compounding that the previous government, “didn’t focus as much as it should have done on our Overseas  Territories generally…” continuing on the note by which they intend to be better than their immediate predecessors, and the now becoming familiar words of caution, made throughout the year by every visit.

His makes the third major DFID visit since February when his senior, Secretary of State – Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP did so. “We have this duty care and we are going to exercise it properly and responsibly, but also raise an eye on value for money and results we are going to get from spending tax payers money at a very difficult economic time,” he said while initially pointing out that their overarching interest, “to make clear the absolute nature of our long term commitment to Montserrat.”

The Minister expressed the well-known and most important fact of the case for Montserrat and its need for “special attention”. “…Montserrat has had unique difficulties; there is nowhere else in our responsibility which has had its main capital town swamped in by a volcano…so there are special challenges,” he admitted.

He then announced his first good news which perhaps was about one of the main topics of peeve by Premier Meade as he denounced studies and delays. Montserrat has been waiting since February following the promise by Secretary of State Mitchell.  “There is opportunity for geothermal, so we are going to accelerate as far as we can, as quickly as we can, going through the third phase of this to explore the feasibility if we can actually discover if exactly two megawatt (or four) production generated possible,” he said adding , “we’ll just check with the private sector, that there isn’t just an offer we can’t refuse.”

He expressed however,”… but we expect probable this will have to be done with our money which if there’s no private sector alternative we will do and do quickly.”

I asked the Minister what is then holding up this progress and he responded: “There is nothing that’s holding it up now but I think what has held it up before was uncertainty about the commercial nature…generation. Would it make sense only to generate geothermal power for Montserrat only or would there be a scenario in which there was massive economic opportunity, built on exporting it to Antigua (e.g.), we think the export option is less likely most people said at the beginning, so we really want to focus on getting Montserrat’s needs sorted as quickly as possible…,” and on that he concluded, “…I think the economics are pretty compelling…”

The Minister who was questioned about his experience was pleased to announce that he will have twenty (20) years as a parliamentarian, come next April. Premier Meade was brought into the discussion on this point, noting that he is already in his 21st year as a parliamentarian having been elected in November, 1991. Alan Duncan joined Parliament in 1992 as the Conservative Member for Rutland and Melton. Since then he served in many capacities including shadow minister for various ministries while his Conservative party was in opposition to the Labour government. He was appointed as Minister of State for International Development on May 13, 2010.

Another point the minister made had to do with the Little Bay and Carrs Bay development. This brought him to the point again of their advocacy of ‘value for money’. He noted that with hard times in Britain, DFID did not suffer budget cuts like most other departments, but “…we’re not just a check book;  we have always made that clear where we are prepared to sign a check we want to prove value for money…spending the money for the greatest long-term economic opportunity…”

The visiting DFID team with two local staff members, Governor David and Premier Meade

“Looking at Little Bay and Carrs Bay, he said: “… access, communications in general in the island are crucial. You can’t have a sustainable economy without good communications, transport or information…so I appreciate the ferry its small and inadequate but if you’re going to have a bigger ferry then you need investment in the port. We’ve got to look at how much is justified. Do you go straight to making it big enough for larger ships; is there a private sector aspect to it where someone outside government might invest? So, we’re exploring all that with the Premier. Something is going to have to be done to improve access so that’s what…people are working on all the time.”

He also made the following announcements which he thought were the most exciting. “Montserrat can sign the treaty which establishes the OECS Economic Union,” speaking on behalf of the FCO. That gives the go ahead from the foreign office, he said.

That matter will surely surprise opposition leader Hon. Don Romeo, who is strong of the opinion, taking the matter to the public, that the people of Montserrat are not knowledgeable about the matters pertaining to the treaty nor have they been consulted about it.

Then this: “…and I can announce that today, the second issue is that on the Social Security side t,ere has been a long outstanding issue about the short fall of funding following the court case (in 2005-2006), he said pleasingly, mentioning that he had made the announcement at the previous evening’s reception for him and his team, which was hosted by H.E. Governor Davis at Government House.

He said he had made the decision, “to tidy this up to bring an end to the matter conclusively, announcing today that we will remit 4.2 million pounds to bring it 100% up to the level it used to be which will allow the Premier to pay pensions in full.” Concluding that issue, he said: “I hope it will bring an end to an issue that has been dragging on years.”

Finally the Minister was asked whether he could be specific about what would be done to change the current situation of Montserratians continuing to leave and those wanting to return not finding it possible because of the poor state of the local economy. His response was not specific but he said that this was a question they have been asking themselves. Following is the first part of his response. That’s absolutely the same question we are asking ourselves, and it’s a challenge we face in any small island economy or some remote dependent economy and one of the thing I can say for the start is that we have enormous confidence in Premier Meade and the partnership that is built up which is very frank, very straight forward, very honest and open on each side, to try and work out the best way forward…”

The minister had more to say on this matter, but on the promise of the Premier to delve further on this matter and hopefully more in depth information as the discussions that took place recently in London and then here, we leave the rest for our next issue.