Good Governance, the BVI, and Montserrat’s development challenge

Part 108/2021 (Contribution)

Should we pass a Charter of Good Governance Resolution in our Assembly?

BRADES, Montserrat, January 25, 2021 –  In recent days, UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab has called for a Commission of Inquiry in the BVI. It is to be led by British judge Gary Hickinbottom and is to report its findings in six months’ time. According to Reuters, the Minister wrote to the UK Parliament that[1]:

Rt. Hon. Dominic Raab MP

“The UK is extremely concerned about the state of good governance in the British Virgin Islands”  . . . Raab listed several concerns [raised by local, BVI institutions and the community], including misappropriation of funds set aside to cope with the pandemic, political interference in public appointments, intimidation of people in public service and misuse of taxpayers’ money . . . [also] citing a November 2020 discovery of a 2.35-tonne haul of cocaine worth more than [US] $250 million. [“UK ‘very concerned’ overrunning of British Virgin Islands – Raab,” Jan. 18, 2021.]

Sobering, and we hope that all works out well for the Virgin Islanders.

However, as they say, when your neighbour’s house is afire, wet your roof. Especially, if there is concern that our own government has failed to make an adequate case for pandemic relief and stimulus, with concerns swirling that even the tiny amount of aid received has not been well handled.

For a half-year now, neither struggling people nor businesses worried about keeping their heads above water have received any Covid-19 relief; the token relief packages in the March to June 2020 period, of course, have long since dried up.  And all too many were locked out because of how the aid distribution criteria were set. The Government Minister responsible for Education, Health and Social Services, Hon. Charles Kirnon, who got support, has been dismissive in the Assembly when issues of poverty and hardships have been raised.

There has been no stimulus package, and to date, there has been no adequate explanation regarding how a projected $22 millions hole in revenues was revised to $3 million, given those concerns. Attempted questions on this in parliament have been road-blocked.  When a popular morning call-in show became a platform where community members voiced concerns, it was threatened with a shut-down.

All of these are good governance concerns.

BVI Premier Andrew Fahie

Let us recall, the pledge on p. 13 of the 2012 FCO White Paper on OT’s[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.

The key bit of International Law is Article 73 of the UN Charter[3] – which actually says that the UK is to “ensure”  political, economic, social and educational advancement and is to “promote” constructive measures of development. All of these lend focus to the long-delayed December 17 – 20, UN Decolonisation Committee visit to Montserrat December 17 – 20 2019,[4] which was postponed so that it would not have a direct impact on our November 18th 2019 General Election. According to the UN, the field mission’s objective was:

 “ . . . gathering first-hand information on the situation in  Montserrat,  focusing  on  the  Territory’s  political,  economic,  social  and environmental  development  and  the  challenges  to  sustainable  development, particularly the impacts of the volcanic eruptions since 1995.” [p. 4.]

Premier, Easton Farrell, Montserrat

This is of course exactly what the FCO White Paper acknowledges as having force of International Law. It is worth pausing a moment to note the view of a “constitutionalist”:

 “It had taken the administering  Power  25 years to realize that Montserrat needed basic infrastructures such as a hospital, schools, a port and housing. Programmes to assist returnees, especially young people, were lacking. Incentives had been provided to go to the  United  Kingdom but not to return. The reality  was that  the  Department for International  Development  was the  only  entity supporting the island.” [p. 14.]

These views are not strictly true, but they reflect widespread frustration and want of a viable, credible agreed programme of action to expedite projects with clear accountability over proper management and similarly clear management of disbursed funds.  Roots of the frustration can be seen in the report’s remarks on the new CIPREG programme for infrastructure projects:

“The Montserrat Capital Investment Programme for Resilient Economic Growth [= CIPREG] was a five-year plan for the period from 2019 to 2024. Funded by the United Kingdom Department for International  Development,  it included projects to improve critical infrastructure by building a  new hospital  (a priority for the previous and current Administrations), installing a subsea fibre-optic cable, and improving the only airport. The total cost of the Programme was estimated at £30 million, and funding for the period after 2024 had not been determined.” [p. 8.]

Why did it take twenty-four years to mobilise an obviously needed infrastructure rebuilding programme of projects?  Why is it so small? (Where, it has come out that there is an error of scale and scope in the Port Project, which needs to be addressed.) Why is there not a follow on programme already in the works?

Especially as, we can also see that:

“The economy,  which had shrunk to just over half its former size  [c. 1994] by 2016,  is dominated by the Government of Montserrat, which accounts for 46 percent of output and employs about  40 percent of the workforce.  The public sector in  Montserrat remains dependent on budgetary aid from the United Kingdom, which provides over 60 percent of the Territory’s current income [= recurrent budget];  the proportion is higher if capital is included. The Territory also benefits from an allocation of approximately €18.4 million for the period 2014–2020 under the eleventh European Development Fund.” [p. 5.]

There is an obvious point to the longstanding complaint that we have been in the Economic ICU for twenty-five years now, and have been on slow drip basic life support. That is not good enough.

The ghost in the middle of the room has been a concern on good governance and related want of a properly agreed comprehensive development partnership MoU, with a properly set up, credible, agreed long term programme and project management framework with a strong capacity-building component. The current Programme Management Office and the earlier initiative stopped under questionable means in July 2017, which are just a first step. The Project Implementation Unit was not broad enough or sufficiently established to carry forward the needed program. The MDC, after seven years, was under clouds regarding concerns on financial and general management and regarding how it had failed to deliver on its intended targets of major partnerships with investors. Want of key infrastructure likely played a part in that failure.

We have the CIPREG and the current, cut-down PMO. They are a start, we need to broaden the scope of both. That points to a comprehensive agreed Development Partnership MoU that grows out of a broad-based participative stakeholder consultation process. If we can get the UN Facilitator for Development requested by the former premier, that would help. But we need more, we need a strong Charter of Good Governance, preferably passed by our Assembly as a Resolution, with the Development Programme as an agreed component. This should set our policy framework to address the sound governance challenge; including, not only our long term development programme and the usual issues on financial management but also how various governance concerns up to and including constitutional matters are to be handled. On fair comment, the 2010 Constitution Order is grossly defective.

Before we even get there, we desperately need pandemic relief, business rescue support and a serious stimulus package. Especially as, now it is clear that there is no end in sight.

Let us continue to see how we can work together to find a good way forward.


[1] See https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-bvi-idUKKBN29N1NO

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

[3] See, https://legal.un.org/repertory/art73.shtml

[4] See https://www.undocs.org/pdf?symbol=en/A/AC.109/2020/20

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Part 108/2021 (Contribution)

Should we pass a Charter of Good Governance Resolution in our Assembly?

BRADES, Montserrat, January 25, 2021 –  In recent days, UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab has called for a Commission of Inquiry in the BVI. It is to be led by British judge Gary Hickinbottom and is to report its findings in six months’ time. According to Reuters, the Minister wrote to the UK Parliament that[1]:

Rt. Hon. Dominic Raab MP

“The UK is extremely concerned about the state of good governance in the British Virgin Islands”  . . . Raab listed several concerns [raised by local, BVI institutions and the community], including misappropriation of funds set aside to cope with the pandemic, political interference in public appointments, intimidation of people in public service and misuse of taxpayers’ money . . . [also] citing a November 2020 discovery of a 2.35-tonne haul of cocaine worth more than [US] $250 million. [“UK ‘very concerned’ overrunning of British Virgin Islands – Raab,” Jan. 18, 2021.]

Insert Ads Here

Sobering, and we hope that all works out well for the Virgin Islanders.

However, as they say, when your neighbour’s house is afire, wet your roof. Especially, if there is concern that our own government has failed to make an adequate case for pandemic relief and stimulus, with concerns swirling that even the tiny amount of aid received has not been well handled.

For a half-year now, neither struggling people nor businesses worried about keeping their heads above water have received any Covid-19 relief; the token relief packages in the March to June 2020 period, of course, have long since dried up.  And all too many were locked out because of how the aid distribution criteria were set. The Government Minister responsible for Education, Health and Social Services, Hon. Charles Kirnon, who got support, has been dismissive in the Assembly when issues of poverty and hardships have been raised.

There has been no stimulus package, and to date, there has been no adequate explanation regarding how a projected $22 millions hole in revenues was revised to $3 million, given those concerns. Attempted questions on this in parliament have been road-blocked.  When a popular morning call-in show became a platform where community members voiced concerns, it was threatened with a shut-down.

All of these are good governance concerns.

BVI Premier Andrew Fahie

Let us recall, the pledge on p. 13 of the 2012 FCO White Paper on OT’s[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.

The key bit of International Law is Article 73 of the UN Charter[3] – which actually says that the UK is to “ensure”  political, economic, social and educational advancement and is to “promote” constructive measures of development. All of these lend focus to the long-delayed December 17 – 20, UN Decolonisation Committee visit to Montserrat December 17 – 20 2019,[4] which was postponed so that it would not have a direct impact on our November 18th 2019 General Election. According to the UN, the field mission’s objective was:

 “ . . . gathering first-hand information on the situation in  Montserrat,  focusing  on  the  Territory’s  political,  economic,  social  and environmental  development  and  the  challenges  to  sustainable  development, particularly the impacts of the volcanic eruptions since 1995.” [p. 4.]

Premier, Easton Farrell, Montserrat

This is of course exactly what the FCO White Paper acknowledges as having force of International Law. It is worth pausing a moment to note the view of a “constitutionalist”:

 “It had taken the administering  Power  25 years to realize that Montserrat needed basic infrastructures such as a hospital, schools, a port and housing. Programmes to assist returnees, especially young people, were lacking. Incentives had been provided to go to the  United  Kingdom but not to return. The reality  was that  the  Department for International  Development  was the  only  entity supporting the island.” [p. 14.]

These views are not strictly true, but they reflect widespread frustration and want of a viable, credible agreed programme of action to expedite projects with clear accountability over proper management and similarly clear management of disbursed funds.  Roots of the frustration can be seen in the report’s remarks on the new CIPREG programme for infrastructure projects:

“The Montserrat Capital Investment Programme for Resilient Economic Growth [= CIPREG] was a five-year plan for the period from 2019 to 2024. Funded by the United Kingdom Department for International  Development,  it included projects to improve critical infrastructure by building a  new hospital  (a priority for the previous and current Administrations), installing a subsea fibre-optic cable, and improving the only airport. The total cost of the Programme was estimated at £30 million, and funding for the period after 2024 had not been determined.” [p. 8.]

Why did it take twenty-four years to mobilise an obviously needed infrastructure rebuilding programme of projects?  Why is it so small? (Where, it has come out that there is an error of scale and scope in the Port Project, which needs to be addressed.) Why is there not a follow on programme already in the works?

Especially as, we can also see that:

“The economy,  which had shrunk to just over half its former size  [c. 1994] by 2016,  is dominated by the Government of Montserrat, which accounts for 46 percent of output and employs about  40 percent of the workforce.  The public sector in  Montserrat remains dependent on budgetary aid from the United Kingdom, which provides over 60 percent of the Territory’s current income [= recurrent budget];  the proportion is higher if capital is included. The Territory also benefits from an allocation of approximately €18.4 million for the period 2014–2020 under the eleventh European Development Fund.” [p. 5.]

There is an obvious point to the longstanding complaint that we have been in the Economic ICU for twenty-five years now, and have been on slow drip basic life support. That is not good enough.

The ghost in the middle of the room has been a concern on good governance and related want of a properly agreed comprehensive development partnership MoU, with a properly set up, credible, agreed long term programme and project management framework with a strong capacity-building component. The current Programme Management Office and the earlier initiative stopped under questionable means in July 2017, which are just a first step. The Project Implementation Unit was not broad enough or sufficiently established to carry forward the needed program. The MDC, after seven years, was under clouds regarding concerns on financial and general management and regarding how it had failed to deliver on its intended targets of major partnerships with investors. Want of key infrastructure likely played a part in that failure.

We have the CIPREG and the current, cut-down PMO. They are a start, we need to broaden the scope of both. That points to a comprehensive agreed Development Partnership MoU that grows out of a broad-based participative stakeholder consultation process. If we can get the UN Facilitator for Development requested by the former premier, that would help. But we need more, we need a strong Charter of Good Governance, preferably passed by our Assembly as a Resolution, with the Development Programme as an agreed component. This should set our policy framework to address the sound governance challenge; including, not only our long term development programme and the usual issues on financial management but also how various governance concerns up to and including constitutional matters are to be handled. On fair comment, the 2010 Constitution Order is grossly defective.

Before we even get there, we desperately need pandemic relief, business rescue support and a serious stimulus package. Especially as, now it is clear that there is no end in sight.

Let us continue to see how we can work together to find a good way forward.


[1] See https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-bvi-idUKKBN29N1NO

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

[3] See, https://legal.un.org/repertory/art73.shtml

[4] See https://www.undocs.org/pdf?symbol=en/A/AC.109/2020/20