Categorized | Opinions, Politics

NO BLANK CHEQUE FOR GOVERNOR

By Howell Bramble

Why should the British Government, while investing so  much blood and  money in the continuing battle to bring democracy to Afghanistan, seek to impose upon Montserrat and other Overseas Territories a constitution which seeks to vest in their Governors a clumsily resurrected version of the “divine right of Kings?”

Since 1953 when the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir Oliver Lytleton, suspended British Guiana’s constitution, the British have argued, in the words of Clement Atlee that “the essence of a limited constitution is that it must have checks.” Fifty seven years later the greatest exponents of colonialism in all of human history are seeking to maintain those checks by the shamelessly racist assumption that the appointment of Governors automatically gives office holders  super human wisdom.

Lytleton, a Conservative, was described by a female Labour member of Parliament as “A man with an iron hand and a wooden head.” It would be grossly unfair to characterize any Liberal-Conservative Minister in such terms since that regime has just taken office and what is being considered now reflects the imperialistic philosophy of  Gordon Brown’s Labour party which colonial peoples have long regarded as the great champions of colonial freedom.

The imperialism inherent in the draft constitution and the bullying “accept it or take independence” tactics  of the British negotiating team, was calculated to scare legislators of a particularly struggling island into accepting a constitution which constitutes an affront to human dignity.

Legislators had better understand that capitulation in the face of threats is not an option, for having given them that round it would be too late to protest. Those who empowered the team of  bullies would meet every protest with “it’s  the constitution you accepted of your own free will”. It will be too late to confront the Foreign Office Minister with the powerful logic of the Pilkington Commission: “For a choice to be free the range of choice should be not unnecessarily restricted.”`

A recent High Court case demonstrates to Montserratians with absolute clarity that even when the Governor, as head of the public service acts in flagrant violation of General Orders, his Foreign Office superiors cannot be depended upon to restrain him in the interest of fairness and justice.
In the case under reference, (Claude Gerald v The Governor, The Public Service Commission and the Attorney General 2004) Montserratians schooled in the belief that the FCO could be trusted to come out in the interest of fairplay and justice were shocked when these key U.K. civil servants elected to send out counsel from Britain to defend an indefensible position. It took the unanimous decision of three erudite judges of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal to expose the illegality and unfairness of action taken by one Governor and upheld by his successors and the FCO.

It took the wisdom of a savvy Antiguan lawyer to make the point that the legal underpinnings of the Governor’s hamfisted action was “Wednesbury unreasonable”.  No less a legal authority than the great Lord Diplock  indicates that a decision is Wednesbury unreasonable when it is “so outrageous in its defiance of logic or accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question to be decided upon could have arrived at it.” It is obvious therefore, that Britain sent at least three Governors to Montserrat in recent years who did not enhance the image of the office.

It ought to be abundantly clear and pellucid that any unbiased review would indicate that Her Majesty’s white Foreign Office officials were moved not by the constraints of fairness and legality but by the determination to ensure that their colleague at Government House was spared embarrassment at the hands of any of Her Majesty’s black citizens on Montserrat.

The case underlines the sad and significant decline in British political morality in recent years. It maybe noted  that a Foreign Office headed by the late James Griffiths, Ian McLeod or Lord Carrington would have in such cases demanded the rolling of heads as sure as night follows day.

The  late Willie Bramble brought up his children to believe that “British rights and  British protection are without parallel in the world.” Poor old Willie died without learning how Her Majesty’s Government used lies, trickery, brutality and the most cruel forms of administrative force to expel the inhabitants of Diego Garcia to facilitate a secret treaty with Washington for the construction of “Camp Justice”, a large American base.

Thanks to John Pilger we have learnt how “In high secrecy the Labour Government of Harold Wilson conspired with two American administrations to sweep and sanitize the islands” “The FCO invented the fiction that the islanders were merely transient construction workers”.

Noting that the files also reveal “an imperious attitude of brutality”, Pilger  points out that in 1966 Sir Paul Gore-Booth the permanent under secretary at the Foreign Office wrote: “We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise was to get some rocks that will remain ours. There will be no indigenous population except seagulls”.

Montserratians who may want to retain blind faith in the rulers of the ancient Empire should be reminded  of the role of Sir Bruce Greatbatch in this evil scheme. Sir Bruce, former Director of the Barbados-based British Development Division in the Caribbean had been put in charge of the sanitizing and “ordered all pet dogs in Diego Garcia to be destroyed”.

Harold Wilson’s latter day disciple, Tony Blair was equally ruthless. In 2000 the High Court ruled the expulsion illegal and within hours of the judgement Blair’s Foreign Office announced it would not be possible for the islanders to return because of the Treaty with Washington, a Treaty which had been concealed from the British Parliament and the United States Congress. Blair’s Government “invoked the archaic Royal Perogative in order to crush the 2000 judgement,” and “a decree was issued that the islanders were banned forever from returning home.” Now their only hope for justice rests with the European Court.

If it was possible for Labour stalwarts like Nye Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell and Fenner Brockway to return from their graves they would certainly lead an effort to put Wilson and Blair behind bars, thereby redeeming the image of the British Labour Party.

Against the background of such political criminality, how can the Montserrat legislature consider giving the Governor the right to allocate land? If HMG genuinely intends to upgrade the constitutions of the Overseas Territories why are they reluctant to subject to Judicial review any discretion the Governor may be called upon to exercise?

Let us face it, stupidity at Government House has been a problem for quite some time. In the 1960s, Sir Alec Douglas Hume, an aristocrat and Conservative Prime Minister, diplomatically and politely resisted American efforts to block the sale of British buses to Cuba claiming that “the Cuban people will be better behaved when they enjoy the comfort our British buses”. That was during the cold war.

Contrast the  highly enlightened  attitude of Sir Alec with that of recent Governors who prevented the Government of Montserrat from accepting  Cuban gifts of energy saving bulbs and free eye care for the population.

The Montserrat Government would be well advised to put Britain’s good intentions to the test by urging the Foreign Office to reopen the negotiations. Given what is involved a British appointed Attorney General cannot be expected to advise the Government on this issue. A  commitment to good intentions by the Foreign Office would mean the allocation of funds to allow the Montserrat people to obtain the advice of at least two Caribbean legal experts.

It should not be forgotten that even in the old days Montserrat was an equal member of the Leeward Islands Federation. Anguilla and Nevis were administratively with St. Kitts, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands were administratively with Jamaica. Montserrat entered  the West Indies Federation on the same basis as the other members of that grouping.

Instead of giving in to blackmail tactics the Government of Montserrat should be leading the other Caribbean Territories in seeking the kind of constitutional arrangement which will better enable competent and honest politicians to establish the economic foundation for political independence.

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

By Howell Bramble

Why should the British Government, while investing so  much blood and  money in the continuing battle to bring democracy to Afghanistan, seek to impose upon Montserrat and other Overseas Territories a constitution which seeks to vest in their Governors a clumsily resurrected version of the “divine right of Kings?”

Since 1953 when the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir Oliver Lytleton, suspended British Guiana’s constitution, the British have argued, in the words of Clement Atlee that “the essence of a limited constitution is that it must have checks.” Fifty seven years later the greatest exponents of colonialism in all of human history are seeking to maintain those checks by the shamelessly racist assumption that the appointment of Governors automatically gives office holders  super human wisdom.

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Lytleton, a Conservative, was described by a female Labour member of Parliament as “A man with an iron hand and a wooden head.” It would be grossly unfair to characterize any Liberal-Conservative Minister in such terms since that regime has just taken office and what is being considered now reflects the imperialistic philosophy of  Gordon Brown’s Labour party which colonial peoples have long regarded as the great champions of colonial freedom.

The imperialism inherent in the draft constitution and the bullying “accept it or take independence” tactics  of the British negotiating team, was calculated to scare legislators of a particularly struggling island into accepting a constitution which constitutes an affront to human dignity.

Legislators had better understand that capitulation in the face of threats is not an option, for having given them that round it would be too late to protest. Those who empowered the team of  bullies would meet every protest with “it’s  the constitution you accepted of your own free will”. It will be too late to confront the Foreign Office Minister with the powerful logic of the Pilkington Commission: “For a choice to be free the range of choice should be not unnecessarily restricted.”`

A recent High Court case demonstrates to Montserratians with absolute clarity that even when the Governor, as head of the public service acts in flagrant violation of General Orders, his Foreign Office superiors cannot be depended upon to restrain him in the interest of fairness and justice.
In the case under reference, (Claude Gerald v The Governor, The Public Service Commission and the Attorney General 2004) Montserratians schooled in the belief that the FCO could be trusted to come out in the interest of fairplay and justice were shocked when these key U.K. civil servants elected to send out counsel from Britain to defend an indefensible position. It took the unanimous decision of three erudite judges of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal to expose the illegality and unfairness of action taken by one Governor and upheld by his successors and the FCO.

It took the wisdom of a savvy Antiguan lawyer to make the point that the legal underpinnings of the Governor’s hamfisted action was “Wednesbury unreasonable”.  No less a legal authority than the great Lord Diplock  indicates that a decision is Wednesbury unreasonable when it is “so outrageous in its defiance of logic or accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question to be decided upon could have arrived at it.” It is obvious therefore, that Britain sent at least three Governors to Montserrat in recent years who did not enhance the image of the office.

It ought to be abundantly clear and pellucid that any unbiased review would indicate that Her Majesty’s white Foreign Office officials were moved not by the constraints of fairness and legality but by the determination to ensure that their colleague at Government House was spared embarrassment at the hands of any of Her Majesty’s black citizens on Montserrat.

The case underlines the sad and significant decline in British political morality in recent years. It maybe noted  that a Foreign Office headed by the late James Griffiths, Ian McLeod or Lord Carrington would have in such cases demanded the rolling of heads as sure as night follows day.

The  late Willie Bramble brought up his children to believe that “British rights and  British protection are without parallel in the world.” Poor old Willie died without learning how Her Majesty’s Government used lies, trickery, brutality and the most cruel forms of administrative force to expel the inhabitants of Diego Garcia to facilitate a secret treaty with Washington for the construction of “Camp Justice”, a large American base.

Thanks to John Pilger we have learnt how “In high secrecy the Labour Government of Harold Wilson conspired with two American administrations to sweep and sanitize the islands” “The FCO invented the fiction that the islanders were merely transient construction workers”.

Noting that the files also reveal “an imperious attitude of brutality”, Pilger  points out that in 1966 Sir Paul Gore-Booth the permanent under secretary at the Foreign Office wrote: “We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise was to get some rocks that will remain ours. There will be no indigenous population except seagulls”.

Montserratians who may want to retain blind faith in the rulers of the ancient Empire should be reminded  of the role of Sir Bruce Greatbatch in this evil scheme. Sir Bruce, former Director of the Barbados-based British Development Division in the Caribbean had been put in charge of the sanitizing and “ordered all pet dogs in Diego Garcia to be destroyed”.

Harold Wilson’s latter day disciple, Tony Blair was equally ruthless. In 2000 the High Court ruled the expulsion illegal and within hours of the judgement Blair’s Foreign Office announced it would not be possible for the islanders to return because of the Treaty with Washington, a Treaty which had been concealed from the British Parliament and the United States Congress. Blair’s Government “invoked the archaic Royal Perogative in order to crush the 2000 judgement,” and “a decree was issued that the islanders were banned forever from returning home.” Now their only hope for justice rests with the European Court.

If it was possible for Labour stalwarts like Nye Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell and Fenner Brockway to return from their graves they would certainly lead an effort to put Wilson and Blair behind bars, thereby redeeming the image of the British Labour Party.

Against the background of such political criminality, how can the Montserrat legislature consider giving the Governor the right to allocate land? If HMG genuinely intends to upgrade the constitutions of the Overseas Territories why are they reluctant to subject to Judicial review any discretion the Governor may be called upon to exercise?

Let us face it, stupidity at Government House has been a problem for quite some time. In the 1960s, Sir Alec Douglas Hume, an aristocrat and Conservative Prime Minister, diplomatically and politely resisted American efforts to block the sale of British buses to Cuba claiming that “the Cuban people will be better behaved when they enjoy the comfort our British buses”. That was during the cold war.

Contrast the  highly enlightened  attitude of Sir Alec with that of recent Governors who prevented the Government of Montserrat from accepting  Cuban gifts of energy saving bulbs and free eye care for the population.

The Montserrat Government would be well advised to put Britain’s good intentions to the test by urging the Foreign Office to reopen the negotiations. Given what is involved a British appointed Attorney General cannot be expected to advise the Government on this issue. A  commitment to good intentions by the Foreign Office would mean the allocation of funds to allow the Montserrat people to obtain the advice of at least two Caribbean legal experts.

It should not be forgotten that even in the old days Montserrat was an equal member of the Leeward Islands Federation. Anguilla and Nevis were administratively with St. Kitts, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands were administratively with Jamaica. Montserrat entered  the West Indies Federation on the same basis as the other members of that grouping.

Instead of giving in to blackmail tactics the Government of Montserrat should be leading the other Caribbean Territories in seeking the kind of constitutional arrangement which will better enable competent and honest politicians to establish the economic foundation for political independence.