UK government is reneging on development policy

As Montserrat government accuses

By Bennette Roach

Premier Donaldson Romeo

On a rare occasion, Premier Donaldson Romeo, speaking to reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, October 17, 2017, following the visit here of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) Deputy Head of Overseas Territories Department, Indranil Chakrabarti, and as he prepared to travel to the UK for pre Joint Ministerial Council meeting, said “that is exactly the question and in my view that is what has to be resolved.”

The Premier and Minister of Finance was speaking on the matter front-paged … following which he confirmed Britain has changed its policy on development aid to the British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean during the DFID’s Indranil Chakrabarti, senior British official who indicated that London would not now be funding a £5-million fibre optic project for the island.

He expressed that Montserrat now needed to seek private sector partners to execute the project to completion.

“I’ve had a number of discussions about fibre optics this week with the relevant stakeholders here on the island. It’s not really for me to say what the next steps are; it’s with the relevant stakeholders here to set those out but, as with the broader reconstruction effort, it will require a joint government, private sector potentially.” Chakrabarti said repeatedly after his statement to the press two weeks ago.

This, the premier said is not what DFID had agreed to in 2016. “I have been reading through the

FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) policies and other policies for the past 20 years, since 1997 and they have all consistently spoken to helping Overseas Territories especially those like Montserrat getting out of dependency” Romeo said, adding that if the policies are followed “we would not be having this conversation right now”.

Nerissa Golden and Tanisha Christopher

Romeo confirmed to reporters that the fibre optic project has been worked on the drawing board for at least seven years and the DFID had been working with the government here on developing the project.

“The business case shows that the fibre optic cable is a crucial step to help grow our economy, to create business opportunities, to better deal with health and other government services and more. It is also a key resiliency move to protect our communications if there is a hurricane.”

He confirmed, noting that the business case argued that DFID should fund at least 97 per cent of the cost, estimated at nearly five million pounds (One British Pound =US$1.31 cents), adding that Montserrat has already spend an estimated £100,000 to bring this “project to this stage.

“Approximately 50% of the GoM EDF 9 and 10 allocated EC$0.3m (£0.075m) has already been spent on consultancy costs. The remaining funds will also be used for specialist and consultancy cost,” he explained.

The Minister of Finance said the business case was finally approved in July 2016, went through the pre-qualification stage for procurement led by the DFID procurement team in August 2016. He said the prequalification responses were evaluated in September last year “and unfortunately there has been no further action since September 2016.

“Recently they are asking us to find co-financing for the project. However, co-financing was ruled out in the business case which argued there were market barriers…Given the market barriers and the modest size and cost of the project we will be in discussions with DFID …on the best solution”.

Both the current telecommunications providers have indicated that the potential financial return on investment cannot justify the level of capital investment required to re-establish the fibre optic link. However, other competing providers have recognised the wider potential to service Montserrat with broadband-based services. A 2012 study commissioned by GoM highlighted examples of where the lack of affordable, reliable and abundant international bandwidth was likely to continue to serve as a deterrent to future investment and could also devalue existing investments in the public and private sectors (Terabit Consulting, 2012).

The DFID official had earlier described the discussions here as “fruitful and productive” but Romeo told reporters “that is left to be seen because we are still in discussion…“Clearly we were not able to put forward as many of the points and concerns that we had to him. We had great concerns about resiliency and what the British government would be doing to support us going forward and I would say that’s why I am calling this press conference.

“There are some concerns people have raised to me after hearing the press conference that need to be cleared up and that’s why I raised the fibre optic project as one such concern.

“The fact that we are being asked to go out to the market to find as he said investment institutions to support us as opposed to what the business case had argued in the first place”.

The 55-year-old Premier said that in 2012, DFID had written a document indicating that together with the government of Montserrat, “we are appraising investment opportunities which could help boost Montserrat’s GDP (gross domestic product) and have the potential to substantially improve government of Montserrat revenues”

He said the document went on to state, “if approvals prove to be positive then the UK government is likely to provide the majority of the public funds needed for any investment needed. (see Fibre Optic story with earlier references at www.themontserratreporter.com)

“That goes for the port, that goes for the hospital, that goes for our road projects, that goes for the fibre optic and clearly the business case that was put forward for the fibre optic argued that and was in keeping with the policy,” Romeo added.

“The fact that we are being asked now whether to go borrow money, or seek new partners when that very business case made the point that they had already researched and found that was not the route to go, that it would not be successful going out to the market, we are now having to re-affirm to the people of Montserrat that the government of Montserrat position will be to seek to influence her Majesty’s government to stick to the policies that have been agreed and that make good sense for the people of Montserrat.”

During the recent passing of Hurricane Irma, the island suffered loss of connectivity due to damage sustained on other islands which provide internet via microwave. During Hurricane Maria, connectivity was lost by one of the telecommunication providers after the microwave dishes and network suffered severe damage.

The premier who leaves here this weekend for the UK said he plans to bring this development to the attention of his fellow Overseas Territories colleagues when they meet for Pre-Joint Ministerial Council next week. Premier Romeo added that now several OTs including Tortola and Anguilla are in need of development support after the devastation caused by the hurricanes, it was necessary to approach DFID together.

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As Montserrat government accuses

By Bennette Roach

Premier Donaldson Romeo

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On a rare occasion, Premier Donaldson Romeo, speaking to reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, October 17, 2017, following the visit here of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) Deputy Head of Overseas Territories Department, Indranil Chakrabarti, and as he prepared to travel to the UK for pre Joint Ministerial Council meeting, said “that is exactly the question and in my view that is what has to be resolved.”

The Premier and Minister of Finance was speaking on the matter front-paged … following which he confirmed Britain has changed its policy on development aid to the British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean during the DFID’s Indranil Chakrabarti, senior British official who indicated that London would not now be funding a £5-million fibre optic project for the island.

He expressed that Montserrat now needed to seek private sector partners to execute the project to completion.

“I’ve had a number of discussions about fibre optics this week with the relevant stakeholders here on the island. It’s not really for me to say what the next steps are; it’s with the relevant stakeholders here to set those out but, as with the broader reconstruction effort, it will require a joint government, private sector potentially.” Chakrabarti said repeatedly after his statement to the press two weeks ago.

This, the premier said is not what DFID had agreed to in 2016. “I have been reading through the

FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) policies and other policies for the past 20 years, since 1997 and they have all consistently spoken to helping Overseas Territories especially those like Montserrat getting out of dependency” Romeo said, adding that if the policies are followed “we would not be having this conversation right now”.

Nerissa Golden and Tanisha Christopher

Romeo confirmed to reporters that the fibre optic project has been worked on the drawing board for at least seven years and the DFID had been working with the government here on developing the project.

“The business case shows that the fibre optic cable is a crucial step to help grow our economy, to create business opportunities, to better deal with health and other government services and more. It is also a key resiliency move to protect our communications if there is a hurricane.”

He confirmed, noting that the business case argued that DFID should fund at least 97 per cent of the cost, estimated at nearly five million pounds (One British Pound =US$1.31 cents), adding that Montserrat has already spend an estimated £100,000 to bring this “project to this stage.

“Approximately 50% of the GoM EDF 9 and 10 allocated EC$0.3m (£0.075m) has already been spent on consultancy costs. The remaining funds will also be used for specialist and consultancy cost,” he explained.

The Minister of Finance said the business case was finally approved in July 2016, went through the pre-qualification stage for procurement led by the DFID procurement team in August 2016. He said the prequalification responses were evaluated in September last year “and unfortunately there has been no further action since September 2016.

“Recently they are asking us to find co-financing for the project. However, co-financing was ruled out in the business case which argued there were market barriers…Given the market barriers and the modest size and cost of the project we will be in discussions with DFID …on the best solution”.

Both the current telecommunications providers have indicated that the potential financial return on investment cannot justify the level of capital investment required to re-establish the fibre optic link. However, other competing providers have recognised the wider potential to service Montserrat with broadband-based services. A 2012 study commissioned by GoM highlighted examples of where the lack of affordable, reliable and abundant international bandwidth was likely to continue to serve as a deterrent to future investment and could also devalue existing investments in the public and private sectors (Terabit Consulting, 2012).

The DFID official had earlier described the discussions here as “fruitful and productive” but Romeo told reporters “that is left to be seen because we are still in discussion…“Clearly we were not able to put forward as many of the points and concerns that we had to him. We had great concerns about resiliency and what the British government would be doing to support us going forward and I would say that’s why I am calling this press conference.

“There are some concerns people have raised to me after hearing the press conference that need to be cleared up and that’s why I raised the fibre optic project as one such concern.

“The fact that we are being asked to go out to the market to find as he said investment institutions to support us as opposed to what the business case had argued in the first place”.

The 55-year-old Premier said that in 2012, DFID had written a document indicating that together with the government of Montserrat, “we are appraising investment opportunities which could help boost Montserrat’s GDP (gross domestic product) and have the potential to substantially improve government of Montserrat revenues”

He said the document went on to state, “if approvals prove to be positive then the UK government is likely to provide the majority of the public funds needed for any investment needed. (see Fibre Optic story with earlier references at www.themontserratreporter.com)

“That goes for the port, that goes for the hospital, that goes for our road projects, that goes for the fibre optic and clearly the business case that was put forward for the fibre optic argued that and was in keeping with the policy,” Romeo added.

“The fact that we are being asked now whether to go borrow money, or seek new partners when that very business case made the point that they had already researched and found that was not the route to go, that it would not be successful going out to the market, we are now having to re-affirm to the people of Montserrat that the government of Montserrat position will be to seek to influence her Majesty’s government to stick to the policies that have been agreed and that make good sense for the people of Montserrat.”

During the recent passing of Hurricane Irma, the island suffered loss of connectivity due to damage sustained on other islands which provide internet via microwave. During Hurricane Maria, connectivity was lost by one of the telecommunication providers after the microwave dishes and network suffered severe damage.

The premier who leaves here this weekend for the UK said he plans to bring this development to the attention of his fellow Overseas Territories colleagues when they meet for Pre-Joint Ministerial Council next week. Premier Romeo added that now several OTs including Tortola and Anguilla are in need of development support after the devastation caused by the hurricanes, it was necessary to approach DFID together.