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Where does the truth lie?

Fact-checking the Premier:

I have been listening with ever-increasing amazement to the unchallenged multitude of lies told by Premier Minister Reuben T Meade in furthering his political ambition and by his boldness in challenging us to fact-check his lies and confabulations. Please consider the following.

Was there any similarity between Mr Meade’s and Mr Hogan’s resignation from government to run for elected office in 1991 and 2014, respectively?

The following was excerpted from an interview of Premier Meade (RTM) by Jeevan Robinson (JR) aired on ZJB, August 25, 2014:

JR:         In 1991, you ran for elected office in this country. You were the Director of Development I think it was—you’ll correct me in terms of the actual title—under the John Osborne administration. Now, what is different (I have to ask you this.) what is different to what you did, leaving late hon. Osborne (Bless his soul) and what Mr Hogan has done in terms of leaving your office and running for elected office? What is the difference?

RTM:     I want you to fact check. I said to Mr Osborne at the end of my contract or close to the end of my contract, I will not renew my contract. Election was not in the air; elections was not around the corner. My contract finished in June and I terminated my services with the government of Montserrat in June.

JR:         With the full intention to run for office?

RTM:     No, no intention whatsoever to get involved in politics, none whatsoever and you can fact check that.

JR:         Were you part of CCM, Concerned Citizens Movement back then?

RTM:     We were part of Concerned Citizens Movement, which was not a political grouping. It was simply a pressure group to deal with…

JR:         With political aspirations?

RTM:     No, we did not have political aspirations at that time but we were a pressure group. We had civil servants who were in the group, senior civil servants as well. Sometime later in the year, I was on my way to Brazil—I was just about to start a consultancy with the Caribbean Development Bank and Partners of the Americas were having something in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil. The Minister of Communications and Works (you remember his name, Benjie Chalmers?) called me and said: Reuben, I’m going to bring down the government tomorrow; I would like to join you and let’s form a grouping. We had a meeting down at my house and a range of persons, including my good friend and colleague, Claude Gerald, was there. And there was a clash of views in terms of who should be in and who shouldn’t be out and should we form this grouping because we started off by saying, okay, we have three weeks before an election, let’s form a political grouping, which is then where NPP came out. Within three weeks, we formed a political party, registered it and won an election.

FACT CHECK FINDINGS (Emphasis in bold by author]

According to the September 18, 1991 edition of The Montserrat News (page 3), JB Chalmers submitted his resignation as Minister of Communications and Works to the Governor on September 13, 1991 and on the same date, submitted his resignation from the PLM Party to Chief Minister John Osborne. Exactly three months before, The Montserrat News published the following about Mr Meade on page 12 of its June 13, 1991 edition in an article titled “Who Will Captain the Ship of State: Three Men, One Boat”. “Every party has tried to enroll him. He is organised, he gets things done. […..] He is the unofficial leader of the Concerned Citizens Movement, a movement which started when it seemed certain that the government of Chief Minister John Osborne would fall.” Further evidence refuting Mr Meade’s confabulation above includes:

  • (NDP/CCM TALKS COLLAPSE, The Montserrat News, June 27 & July 4, 1991, pg. 3): “The CCM have no official slate of candidates because some of their candidates still have sensitive jobs….” [….]Both parties are getting prepared in case elections come quickly. Each party has caucus level discussions at least twice a week and they are hoping that by the time elections come they would be fully prepared.”
  • (New Party Pushes off, Montserrat News, July 11, 1991, pg. 5): “THE Concerned Citizens Movement have now become a party and will carry the name the National Progressive Party and Mr. Rueben [sic] Meade has been chosen “Leader in Waiting”. The decisions were taken at a meeting last Thursday Night. […..] Meade is presently the head of the Government Development Unit and is limited as to how far he can participate in politics. It is believed that he will resign shortly and publicly take over the leadership role.”
  • “MEADE’S LETTER OF RESIGNATION,” Montserrat News, August 8, 1991, pg. 10, reproduced below.

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In his resignation memo, Mr Meade refers to difficulties arising from accusations of wrong-doing, including buying a stolen car, unknowingly. Astonishingly, Mr Meade went to court in September 1992 to demand legal ownership of the car he knew to be stolen after it had been seized by Scotland Yard in July 1991.  The Montserrat Reporter (October 8, 1992 edition) reported under the front page headline, “JUDGE RULES on Stolen Cars. CM’s Explanation totally unacceptable”: “…. Meade told the Court that he paid around EC$44,000 for his BMW [535i] and conceded to the Judge that the disparity between the sale price and the insured value of £29,000 [approx. EC$145,000] which he had seen on an insurance certificate found by him in the pocket of his car was indeed large, but he understood that when rich peoples’ cars were defective they turned them in at much reduced values.” In rendering his decision against Chief Minister Meade on October 5, 1992, Justice Ephraim Georges said: “The sequence of events which emerged following the purchase of the BMW by the defendant clearly go beyond a matter of suspicion and confirm that this transaction could not have been legitimate.”

Was Reuben T. Meade’s nomination for elected office in 2009 valid?

Given information contained in the press release issued by the Electoral office to address “concerns over the decision of the Returning Officer, made on the 26th August 2009, to uphold the nomination of Mr. Reuben Meade as a candidate in the upcoming General Election” (http://www.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/electoral-office-press-release-dated-4-sept-2009.pdf), imagine my surprise when I saw the following two documents in L&M’s file at the Registrar of Companies’ Office. L&M’s Annual Return for 2008 (filed on September 2, 2009) indicates that Mr Meade resigned as a director, presumably in 2008. However, the Notice of Change of Directors (filed on March 4, 2013) shows that Mr Meade’s resignation did not come into effect until September 9, 2009, the day after the 2009 general election.

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Did MDC start constructing the Little Bay sports complex before planning permission was granted?

Responding to claims that on-going work on the Little Bay Sports Complex started without planning permission, Premier Meade said during the Supplementary Budget debate on July 22, 2014 that: “…. lest they continue with their misstatements, building permission and planning permission has been granted for it.” However, according to the Physical Planning Unit, the application for planning approval of the Little Bay basketball facility was submitted on July 1, 2014 and approval was granted on July 22, 2014, the same day Premier Meade tried to give the impression that persons who said that MDC was breaking the law were lying when, in fact, it was Premier Meade who was misleading the public and his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly.

Did the MCAP government try to deceive DFID during the 2014-15 budgetary aid discussions?

Apparently, government also tried to mislead DFID and failed to abide by agreed conditions set out in the Budgetary Aid MOU for 2013-14. According to the DFID’s 2014-15 Aid Memoire – Montserrat Budgetary Aid Discussions, under the heading, “Recommendations to improve budget-aid processes”: [Emphasis added by author]

  • GoM should continue to improve preparation for budget missions. The DFID budget aid team requires timely and full sight of both the current in-year budget position and of costed budget proposals for future years in order to properly inform the budget discussions.  
  • Related to this, GoM should be careful to appropriately inform DFID of the full range of policy measures that have significant budgetary implications, and to seek approval for the use of any in-year budget surpluses.   The budget aid team is concerned that it was not given a complete picture during the budget aid mission of how GoM planned to use the expected end-year budget surplus for 2013/14. This prevents a complete analysis of the following year’s spending needs and policy prioritisation, and undermines confidence in the budget setting process more generally.
  • In particular, DFID were not consulted in the lead up to the approval of a Supplementary Bill that used part of the 2013/14 surplus funds to fund a civil service bonus (although the subject of a performance-related bonus was briefly raised when the Premier and the Cabinet Secretary met with the DFID team in East Kilbride in December 2013). As discussed in March, GoM’s decision to press ahead with implementing this bill has meant that the budget proposal for a consolidated civil service pay increase from 1 April 2014 will not be pursued any further.   As a result DFID will amend the Budget Aid MoU to bring within its scope the use of any surplus funds, requiring DFID approval for the use of any surplus as well as specifying a minimum consultation period for seeking that approval. DFID is considering how the 2014/15 settlement will be further affected by the use of the surplus in this way.  
  • GoM needs to ensure the integrity of budget resources that are ring-fenced for particular purposes. For example, surplus funds in the Contingency Fund set up at the last budget were used without full consultation with DFID despite the agreed protocol stating that “any unspent amounts on the contingency budget line will be used as discussed and agreed with DFID at the end of the financial year”.
  • There should also be greater focus to ensure accuracy in financial reporting, including that spending is correctly categorised.
  • A Chief Economist and Director of Statistics should be urgently recruited to facilitate macroeconomic forecasting and to strengthen systems for socio-economic data management and analysis.

Have there been any negative consequences from the Premier’s decision to flout the budgetary aid conditions set by DFID?

During his appearance on the MCAP hour on August 1, 2014, Premier Meade gave the following lengthy and incoherent response to James White’s (Radio ZJB) question about government’s authority in relation to the 4th bulleted item above about spending surplus funds in the ring-fenced contingency fund:

Okay, the question is: What is contingency fund? The contingency fund, on the basis of the agreements which we had, was always signed off by your local DFID official so they are part of the discussions. If funds are not spent and I’ll use the global figure of March 31st but generally, the week before March 31st, you lose those monies. And if you are asking for a decision from East Kilbride and they are slow on making the decision, I will not send that money back. We will make a decision which we believe is reasonable and realistic and defend it in any further discussions. Contingency funds, for example, you have somebody sick and need to go overseas, contingency funds. The contingency fund also include an allocation in the event that there is a hurricane or something happens on the volcano so we don’t have to run and say okay, we need some more money; we can spend it out of that. Thank God, we did not have a hurricane last year. Thank God the volcano behaved itself so there would have been a set of money which you had to send back. As the Minister of Finance, I had to make a decision and signed off by the officials because we can’t spend it unless the officials sign off. And I say, look: we’re going talk about it when you come to the next mission. Okay?

Now, let us understand one of the….one of the variables that has happened here. Sometimes people will see us with the DFID team out liming after sessions. My statement to them, especially the new ones: as soon as you cross this line that is in the conference and the meeting starts, I am not your friend. As soon as the meeting finish and we close the door, we can go and have a drink, we are friends but the minute you step back inside here, we are at war again.

You had a new lady who came in as head of mission. She did not understand the Montserrat context. She was holding on for somebody or the head of unit who was on maternity leave. So she would not have been in discussions in East Kilbride in the first instance and therefore, her understanding of the arrangement was different to the understanding of the particular head that she was holding on for. As she said to me in London in June: Reuben, you know that I am going off to Africa. The substantive head is coming back so you deal with those issues with her. So whereas, yes, we have the aid memoire and as I indicate, we have still been having fruitful and frank discussions but I am not any figurehead in Montserrat. I am the Minister of Finance and the Premier of Montserrat and until that time, it is my right to fight to spend the money in the best interests of the people of Montserrat and argue about the consequences afterwards. You have not seen any negative consequences.

Now one the things which you have never heard a member of team MCAP in government say—I can tell you for a fact—you have never heard Mr Kirnon say it; you’ve never heard Mr Farrell say it; you’ve never heard Mr Riley say it; you’ve never heard Jermaine say it; and when Mundo was here with us, he never say it either: We never once said our hands are tied, never once. Why? Because we are going to fight and if we have to say to them: no we are not accepting what you are putting on the table, we will say to them, despite the consequences, we are a government who make decision and as long as cabinet ratify those decisions, the decisions are legal and lawful and we will defend them in any argument. If we can’t agree at the public service level and the people who come dung yah a public servants, I have the right to go to the minister as two politicians and indicate to him: look, this is what I had to do because of the situation and we had developed a sufficient rapport that we can pick up the telephone and call one another.

Given that the Aid Memoire is a document to which the government agreed, is the Premier saying that he agreed to a document that contains false information? Was he lying each time he told us that GoM must adhere to conditions attached to aid funding or suffer the consequences? Earlier, in the interview, Mr Meade admitted that surplus contingency funds were used: “… but at least we were able to meet some special project needs from within that including spending some money to rehabilitate the road going to New Windward.” In fact, at its January 2014 sitting, the Legislature approved the transfer of $850,000 from the ring-fenced Contingency Fund for the New Windward road as part of the Supplementary Appropriation Bill No 3 of 2013. And does the premier really expect anyone believes that DFID officials keep the minutes of meetings in their head rather than in writing? Clearly, one glaring negative consequence of the Premier’s decisions to use surpluses without permission is DFID’s decision not to pursue a pay increase to public servants effective April 1, 2014.

With respect to the Premier’s claim that he is “not any figurehead in Montserrat” consider the implications of the following from the 2014-15 Budget Aid Business Case: “Governor to discourage and potentially overrule conferment of tax exemptions where economic justification absent”in order to mitigate the risk (classified as medium) that “Public service reforms in revenue and customs fail to deliver increased effectiveness and efficiency, and / or political interference in the form of tax exemptions leading to lower revenues for GoM.

Did the MCAP government lay off government employees?

The Premier boasts continually that his government have not laid-off a single civil servant. Yet, according to paragraph 20 of the Montserrat Budget Aid Memoire, February 2013: “DFID is encouraged by progress made on the outsourcing of some government services. By January 2013 GoM had outsourced: (i) school bus services; (ii) school meals; and, (iii) cleaning services. This exercise has resulted in the removal of 31 staff or 13.5 FTE from the public service payroll with associated redundancy costs met from the recurrent budget. This reduces GoM FTE posts from 972 in 2012 to 959. GoM said a further 7 FTE posts would be deleted, reducing the number of FTE posts to 952. Further reductions through the planned GoM organisational review and outsourcing initiatives should provide opportunities to reduce this further.”

Do the people 31 people who lost their jobs from outsourcing not count as public servants in the eyes of MCAP? Is government telling us one thing and DFID another? Furthermore, if government receives funding for a significant number of unfilled vacant posts over several years (including 83 for 2014-15), why was it necessary to lay off any one? Per paragraph 85 of the 2014-15 Montserrat Budget Business Case: As of February 2014 approved headcount is at 955. Whilst this appears to be a slight increase put down to requirements for a new audit office, in fact only 877 are currently filled. The significant numbers of vacant posts that continue year on year suggest some room for efficiency improvements in the human resource structure. Meanwhile, the approved target for 2014/15 has risen to 960 due to restructuring of Finance. Once the organisational functional reviews have been completed (due March 2014) GoM will further consider headcount requirements.”

Remember, back in 1992, Chief Minister Reuben Meade said that the lay-offs in public works were caused by a re-organisation of the department which was aimed at making the work of the department more effective and more cost-efficient. Another 40+ were put on a 3-day work week.

Was the Internal Audit Unit created at DFID’s instigation?

On August 1, 2014, while attempting to clarify the 2014-15 Budget Aid Memoire, the Premier said: “In terms of public sector reform, there are funds which have been provided for public sector reform and within that, the statement is very clear. The agreement with DFID in terms of funding is that our full-time employees should not go beyond 950. This is number 14 in the Aid Memoire and it states that the full-time employees currently stand at 955. This is five more than of April 2013 but we attributed that to the internal audit department which was created at their instigation so therefore, give us a break on those five, five additional persons. The reason why I am mentioning the 955 is that people are claiming that we can do this and we can do that. The 955 is in relation to what is set as a standard for public finance and public financial management that personal emolument and benefits should not be higher than 50% of your total spend. Ours is currently—including pensions—way beyond the 50%. If one was to deal with a salary increase without a concomitant increase in certain other areas, we would go beyond that benchmark and we’ll be punished.”

Well, if the Internal Audit Unit was created just because DFID insisted on it, the Premier should be ashamed for not fulfilling his duties as Minister of Finance because not only is it international best practice but also section 10 of the Public Finance (Management and Accountability) Act 2008 requires the establishment of an internal audit “to review the financial management systems operated by Ministries, Departments, statutory bodies and public organisations.” And yes, this includes the Project Implementation Unit.

Concerning his reference to standards for public financial management, as indicated above, whereas government receives funding for 960 full-time employees, it only employs 877, which raises additional questions about the Premier’s unilateral decision to refuse an offer for a civil service pay increase effective April 1, 2014. According to the 2014-15 Budget Aid Memoire: “On the expenditure side, there has been an estimated EC$2m underspend on wages this year due [2013-2014] to unfilled posts in the civil service, which has offset the lower than expected tax receipts. There was a similar underspend on wages in the 2012/13 budget.” “Domestic revenues in 2013/14 have been lower than were forecast at the beginning of the financial year, in particular from income and property tax receipts. There has been limited progress in collecting tax arrears and little sign of an improvement in tax efficiency and compliance. Overall domestic revenues in 2013/14 are around $EC1½ million lower than assumed in the budget set at the beginning of the fiscal year.”

Is the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) a legally constituted government body?

After dodging answering this question since the creation of the PIU in 2009, the Premier, when interviewed by Jeevan Robinson on August 25, 2014, finally admitted that PIU’s operations would be “regularized” this fiscal year. Section 2.9 of the Auditor General Report for Fiscal Year 2009 says: “Our review revealed that there are several central government agencies that are operating bank accounts outside the ambit of the Treasury Consolidated Fund.” The Report listed 12 ‘below the line’ accounts, 11 of which fall within the Premier’s portfolio, including PIU’s bank account at the Bank of Montserrat. Paragraphs 55 – 57 of this report state:

55. This is contrary to the Public Finance (Management and Accountability) Act 2008 which states that all revenues should be deposited to the Consolidated Fund and all expenditures appropriated by Parliament. Such activities restrict the Treasury’s ability to manage government cash flows effectively and more importantly, prevent it from pooling resources in a manner that allows it to get better terms for short-term debts (overdrafts) or higher returns on investments.

56. Further, such arrangements dilute the Treasury’s responsibility to monitor all government expenditures and hence pose a fiduciary risk to government. When there are bank accounts outside the Treasury’s control it becomes more difficult to monitor and hence increases risk. Since transactions processed through these accounts are not reported publicly, they raise transparency issues and undermine the credibility of the public accounts as not all central government expenditures would be recorded in the accounts.

57. To mitigate the issues detailed above we recommend that all accounts be closed and paid into the Consolidated Fund.

Do able-bodied, unemployed persons qualify for social welfare?

We have all heard the Premier and some of his MCAP colleagues say that there’s a significant number of social welfare recipients who are able-bodied and capable of working. If this is truly the case, clearly, the Social Welfare Board has been contravening Schedule 2 of the Social Welfare Regulations (below) and with ministerial approval.

SCHEDULE 2 – ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA AND ENTITLEMENT

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The fact is that able-bodied persons of working age who cannot find work will find it extremely difficult to qualify for social welfare and of course, Montserrat has no unemployment benefits scheme.

Can government borrow money as it sees fit?

The Premier has made claims, repeatedly and dishonestly, which suggest that GoM can borrow money as it sees fit. For instance, on February 7, 2014 (Warren Cassell Show), he said: “When the MCAP administration came in, within the first year and said if we cannot get funding from elsewhere, we will go and borrow $30 million to develop our power supply here. And people say, dem fella they are crazy or who a go pay for this $30 million? Had we not started that process, DFID would not have been in a position to say, of the $30 million, we are going to give you $23 million; just go and borrow the other seven. So it is part of your strategic approach in terms of how do you negotiate. Are you going to sit back and say me nar do nutten but me a go start to negotiate? We are simply saying if you don’t give us the money, we’re going borrow it; the contingent liability is on you. So therefore, help us out here.” However, the following authoritative sources say otherwise:

• Per section 98(2) of the Montserrat Constitution Order, “The Government shall not borrow, guarantee or raise a loan on behalf of itself or any other public institution, authority or person except— (a) as authorised by or under an Act of the Legislature; and (b) in accordance with any borrowing guidelines agreed with Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom.”

• According to paragraph 20 of the 2013/14 Montserrat Budget Business Case & Summary: “As an aided Overseas Territory, Montserrat is not allowed to borrow according to HMT guidelines though one exception was made by HMG on value for money grounds (concessional loan and grant funding from the Caribbean Development Bank relating to the new power station).”

• Every Appropriation Act passed under the MCAP administration contains a similar section on Restrictions. For instance, Section 6 of the Appropriation Act 2014 is pellucid: “Notwithstanding the provisions of the Public Finance (Management and Accountability) Act 2008 or any other law in force in Montserrat, the following acts, whether by the Government or by any statutory authority shall require the prior approval of a Secretary of State— (a) the incurring of any expenditure additional to that provided for under this Act other than expenditure financed wholly by grant; (b) borrowing from any source except by means of the fluctuating overdraft referred to in section 5; or (c) the giving of any loan guarantee.”

 

Has outsourcing reduced the cost of the school bus service?

Recently, the Premier publicly denigrated a former MCAP colleague in the Legislative Assembly when the opposition member dared school bus - modsuggest that outsourcing of the school bus service did not achieve value for money as the cost of delivering this service had actually increased, which the Premier denied emphatically. It appears that opposition member was correct. Paragraph 24 of the 2014-15 Budget Aid Memoire says: Education expenditure is an estimated 8.3% of the total 2014/15 budget, compared with a Caribbean regional average of 11.9% and a global median of 14.4% in 2011. New spend requests this year include EC$600,000 (two thirds of overall spend requests) for the school bus subsidy, following outsourcing of the service from government last year, which has significantly increased the cost.”

In contrast, the Premier delivered the following convoluted and deceptive explanation about outsourcing of the school bus service during MCAP’s Hour on Radio ZJB on August 1, 2014:

You look at the expenditure side and therefore, you’re looking at where the pressures were on the budget. And I want to look at item 6 on the Aid Memoire. One was to deal with the contingency fund, less dilaster-related [sic] spending needs in the previous year; that also put some pressure on the budgets but at least we were able to meet some special project needs from within that including spending some money to rehabilitate the road going to New Windward.

One of the things which they highlighted was an overspend of half a billion [sic] dollars on the school bus service. We need to understand what is understood by ‘overspend’. Because there was no provision for these resources within the budget as discussed by the ministry then we needed to ask them for additional money in order to pay for the school bus service and therefore, we had to ask for that additional money of half of million dollars based on a contract which we have in relation to the school bus service. But we’ll come back to the school bus situation in a bit.

But just touching on the school bus service is that the outsourcing of the school bus service was an element which was agreed on between ourselves and DFID in a prior-year discussion. I know that some of the ministers were totally against the whole element of outsourcing but because it was a condition of the aid funding, we had to agree on the outsourcing. The other element is that outsourcing of a school bus service has to be tendered, has to be negotiated and confirmed by the Tenders Board where ministers of government do not have any say whatsoever.

What has come out of the outsourcing? Coming out of the outsourcing now is additional (of the school bus service) is an additional allocation which will be given to deal with putting up new buildings at the Montserrat Secondary School. So you’re giving on something so you outsource the school bus because it’s a condition which they have established for you and as a result of doing that you then now have the resources available for building the two additional blocks at the secondary school within the coming financial year.

But here’s what government posted on its website December 10, 2012 concerning the privatization of the school bus service (http://www.gov.ms/2012/12/10/school-bus-service-privatised-as-of-january-1-2013-fees-to-be-increased/):

School bus service privatised as of January 1, 2013, fees to be increased

BRADES, Montserrat – As of January 3, 2013 the school bus service will be in the hands of a private company. The Cabinet made a decision on November 29, to turn the service over to the successful tenderer. The Cabinet also noted that fees will increase to $10 for Secondary School students and $5 for Primary School students per week and will go in to effect for the new academic year in September 2013. Previously passes were $70 per term or $5 per week. Contract arrangements are presently being finalised with the Attorney General’s Chambers while the Deputy Governor’s Office is also preparing to transfer all terminal benefits and staff to other government departments. This is one of several government services that has been earmarked for outsourcing in 2013 and is part of the Strategic Growth Plan to increase private sector growth.

The Premier is also being disingenuous when he intimates that outsourcing of school bus services occurred solely because it was a condition of aid funding since he announced in his 1992 budget speech (paragraph 19.20) that: “Moreover, it is government’s intention to privatize a number of its operations where it appears prudent to do so. To begin with, we are considering the privatization of the school bussing service and garbage collection.”Garbage collection was outsourced during his first administration and school bussing under his second. Interestingly, both services have been omitted from recent Budget estimates in the past requiring subsequent supplementary appropriations.

What special qualities does Reuben T Meade possess that possibly outweigh his critical flaws?

Some people think it’s in poor taste to reveal unflattering truths about prominent people—particularly those in high office. Others will think that they are irrelevant distractions to be ignored. But can we claim to support good governance, transparency and accountability when we tolerate the opposite? Really, can it be in Montserrat’s best interests to select as leader of government business an individual who (to borrow some words):

  • Lies habitually and thinks it is part of his job description to abuse his political colleagues (self-admittedly) and anyone else who dares to disagree with him?
  • Boycotts all media outside his control, including The Montserrat Reporter, (which he seems intent on destroying) thereby making nonsense of MCAP’s claim as being “committed to open government and the participation of the peoples of Montserrat in whose name we govern and to whom we report.” He fails to realize that thousands of Montserratians and other readers prefer to receive their news from independent sources as well as the constructive role that credible media can play in the country’s development by informing and educating the public.
  • Views others as prey to treat like dirt or tear down in order to prop up his delusions of superiority, in other words, is a moral cannibal?
  • Seeks to glorify himself by degrading you, gain respect by denying any to you, make himself important by treating you like dirt, and improve his reputation by ruining yours?
  • Thinks that all the regard, respect, love, attention, worth, and appreciation he robbed you of, now belong to him?

Look forward to hearing your answer.

Sylvia White Gabriel

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

Fact-checking the Premier:

I have been listening with ever-increasing amazement to the unchallenged multitude of lies told by Premier Minister Reuben T Meade in furthering his political ambition and by his boldness in challenging us to fact-check his lies and confabulations. Please consider the following.

Was there any similarity between Mr Meade’s and Mr Hogan’s resignation from government to run for elected office in 1991 and 2014, respectively?

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The following was excerpted from an interview of Premier Meade (RTM) by Jeevan Robinson (JR) aired on ZJB, August 25, 2014:

JR:         In 1991, you ran for elected office in this country. You were the Director of Development I think it was—you’ll correct me in terms of the actual title—under the John Osborne administration. Now, what is different (I have to ask you this.) what is different to what you did, leaving late hon. Osborne (Bless his soul) and what Mr Hogan has done in terms of leaving your office and running for elected office? What is the difference?

RTM:     I want you to fact check. I said to Mr Osborne at the end of my contract or close to the end of my contract, I will not renew my contract. Election was not in the air; elections was not around the corner. My contract finished in June and I terminated my services with the government of Montserrat in June.

JR:         With the full intention to run for office?

RTM:     No, no intention whatsoever to get involved in politics, none whatsoever and you can fact check that.

JR:         Were you part of CCM, Concerned Citizens Movement back then?

RTM:     We were part of Concerned Citizens Movement, which was not a political grouping. It was simply a pressure group to deal with…

JR:         With political aspirations?

RTM:     No, we did not have political aspirations at that time but we were a pressure group. We had civil servants who were in the group, senior civil servants as well. Sometime later in the year, I was on my way to Brazil—I was just about to start a consultancy with the Caribbean Development Bank and Partners of the Americas were having something in Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil. The Minister of Communications and Works (you remember his name, Benjie Chalmers?) called me and said: Reuben, I’m going to bring down the government tomorrow; I would like to join you and let’s form a grouping. We had a meeting down at my house and a range of persons, including my good friend and colleague, Claude Gerald, was there. And there was a clash of views in terms of who should be in and who shouldn’t be out and should we form this grouping because we started off by saying, okay, we have three weeks before an election, let’s form a political grouping, which is then where NPP came out. Within three weeks, we formed a political party, registered it and won an election.

FACT CHECK FINDINGS (Emphasis in bold by author]

According to the September 18, 1991 edition of The Montserrat News (page 3), JB Chalmers submitted his resignation as Minister of Communications and Works to the Governor on September 13, 1991 and on the same date, submitted his resignation from the PLM Party to Chief Minister John Osborne. Exactly three months before, The Montserrat News published the following about Mr Meade on page 12 of its June 13, 1991 edition in an article titled “Who Will Captain the Ship of State: Three Men, One Boat”. “Every party has tried to enroll him. He is organised, he gets things done. […..] He is the unofficial leader of the Concerned Citizens Movement, a movement which started when it seemed certain that the government of Chief Minister John Osborne would fall.” Further evidence refuting Mr Meade’s confabulation above includes:

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In his resignation memo, Mr Meade refers to difficulties arising from accusations of wrong-doing, including buying a stolen car, unknowingly. Astonishingly, Mr Meade went to court in September 1992 to demand legal ownership of the car he knew to be stolen after it had been seized by Scotland Yard in July 1991.  The Montserrat Reporter (October 8, 1992 edition) reported under the front page headline, “JUDGE RULES on Stolen Cars. CM’s Explanation totally unacceptable”: “…. Meade told the Court that he paid around EC$44,000 for his BMW [535i] and conceded to the Judge that the disparity between the sale price and the insured value of £29,000 [approx. EC$145,000] which he had seen on an insurance certificate found by him in the pocket of his car was indeed large, but he understood that when rich peoples’ cars were defective they turned them in at much reduced values.” In rendering his decision against Chief Minister Meade on October 5, 1992, Justice Ephraim Georges said: “The sequence of events which emerged following the purchase of the BMW by the defendant clearly go beyond a matter of suspicion and confirm that this transaction could not have been legitimate.”

Was Reuben T. Meade’s nomination for elected office in 2009 valid?

Given information contained in the press release issued by the Electoral office to address “concerns over the decision of the Returning Officer, made on the 26th August 2009, to uphold the nomination of Mr. Reuben Meade as a candidate in the upcoming General Election” (http://www.gov.ms/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/electoral-office-press-release-dated-4-sept-2009.pdf), imagine my surprise when I saw the following two documents in L&M’s file at the Registrar of Companies’ Office. L&M’s Annual Return for 2008 (filed on September 2, 2009) indicates that Mr Meade resigned as a director, presumably in 2008. However, the Notice of Change of Directors (filed on March 4, 2013) shows that Mr Meade’s resignation did not come into effect until September 9, 2009, the day after the 2009 general election.

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Did MDC start constructing the Little Bay sports complex before planning permission was granted?

Responding to claims that on-going work on the Little Bay Sports Complex started without planning permission, Premier Meade said during the Supplementary Budget debate on July 22, 2014 that: “…. lest they continue with their misstatements, building permission and planning permission has been granted for it.” However, according to the Physical Planning Unit, the application for planning approval of the Little Bay basketball facility was submitted on July 1, 2014 and approval was granted on July 22, 2014, the same day Premier Meade tried to give the impression that persons who said that MDC was breaking the law were lying when, in fact, it was Premier Meade who was misleading the public and his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly.

Did the MCAP government try to deceive DFID during the 2014-15 budgetary aid discussions?

Apparently, government also tried to mislead DFID and failed to abide by agreed conditions set out in the Budgetary Aid MOU for 2013-14. According to the DFID’s 2014-15 Aid Memoire – Montserrat Budgetary Aid Discussions, under the heading, “Recommendations to improve budget-aid processes”: [Emphasis added by author]

Have there been any negative consequences from the Premier’s decision to flout the budgetary aid conditions set by DFID?

During his appearance on the MCAP hour on August 1, 2014, Premier Meade gave the following lengthy and incoherent response to James White’s (Radio ZJB) question about government’s authority in relation to the 4th bulleted item above about spending surplus funds in the ring-fenced contingency fund:

Okay, the question is: What is contingency fund? The contingency fund, on the basis of the agreements which we had, was always signed off by your local DFID official so they are part of the discussions. If funds are not spent and I’ll use the global figure of March 31st but generally, the week before March 31st, you lose those monies. And if you are asking for a decision from East Kilbride and they are slow on making the decision, I will not send that money back. We will make a decision which we believe is reasonable and realistic and defend it in any further discussions. Contingency funds, for example, you have somebody sick and need to go overseas, contingency funds. The contingency fund also include an allocation in the event that there is a hurricane or something happens on the volcano so we don’t have to run and say okay, we need some more money; we can spend it out of that. Thank God, we did not have a hurricane last year. Thank God the volcano behaved itself so there would have been a set of money which you had to send back. As the Minister of Finance, I had to make a decision and signed off by the officials because we can’t spend it unless the officials sign off. And I say, look: we’re going talk about it when you come to the next mission. Okay?

Now, let us understand one of the….one of the variables that has happened here. Sometimes people will see us with the DFID team out liming after sessions. My statement to them, especially the new ones: as soon as you cross this line that is in the conference and the meeting starts, I am not your friend. As soon as the meeting finish and we close the door, we can go and have a drink, we are friends but the minute you step back inside here, we are at war again.

You had a new lady who came in as head of mission. She did not understand the Montserrat context. She was holding on for somebody or the head of unit who was on maternity leave. So she would not have been in discussions in East Kilbride in the first instance and therefore, her understanding of the arrangement was different to the understanding of the particular head that she was holding on for. As she said to me in London in June: Reuben, you know that I am going off to Africa. The substantive head is coming back so you deal with those issues with her. So whereas, yes, we have the aid memoire and as I indicate, we have still been having fruitful and frank discussions but I am not any figurehead in Montserrat. I am the Minister of Finance and the Premier of Montserrat and until that time, it is my right to fight to spend the money in the best interests of the people of Montserrat and argue about the consequences afterwards. You have not seen any negative consequences.

Now one the things which you have never heard a member of team MCAP in government say—I can tell you for a fact—you have never heard Mr Kirnon say it; you’ve never heard Mr Farrell say it; you’ve never heard Mr Riley say it; you’ve never heard Jermaine say it; and when Mundo was here with us, he never say it either: We never once said our hands are tied, never once. Why? Because we are going to fight and if we have to say to them: no we are not accepting what you are putting on the table, we will say to them, despite the consequences, we are a government who make decision and as long as cabinet ratify those decisions, the decisions are legal and lawful and we will defend them in any argument. If we can’t agree at the public service level and the people who come dung yah a public servants, I have the right to go to the minister as two politicians and indicate to him: look, this is what I had to do because of the situation and we had developed a sufficient rapport that we can pick up the telephone and call one another.

Given that the Aid Memoire is a document to which the government agreed, is the Premier saying that he agreed to a document that contains false information? Was he lying each time he told us that GoM must adhere to conditions attached to aid funding or suffer the consequences? Earlier, in the interview, Mr Meade admitted that surplus contingency funds were used: “… but at least we were able to meet some special project needs from within that including spending some money to rehabilitate the road going to New Windward.” In fact, at its January 2014 sitting, the Legislature approved the transfer of $850,000 from the ring-fenced Contingency Fund for the New Windward road as part of the Supplementary Appropriation Bill No 3 of 2013. And does the premier really expect anyone believes that DFID officials keep the minutes of meetings in their head rather than in writing? Clearly, one glaring negative consequence of the Premier’s decisions to use surpluses without permission is DFID’s decision not to pursue a pay increase to public servants effective April 1, 2014.

With respect to the Premier’s claim that he is “not any figurehead in Montserrat” consider the implications of the following from the 2014-15 Budget Aid Business Case: “Governor to discourage and potentially overrule conferment of tax exemptions where economic justification absent”in order to mitigate the risk (classified as medium) that “Public service reforms in revenue and customs fail to deliver increased effectiveness and efficiency, and / or political interference in the form of tax exemptions leading to lower revenues for GoM.

Did the MCAP government lay off government employees?

The Premier boasts continually that his government have not laid-off a single civil servant. Yet, according to paragraph 20 of the Montserrat Budget Aid Memoire, February 2013: “DFID is encouraged by progress made on the outsourcing of some government services. By January 2013 GoM had outsourced: (i) school bus services; (ii) school meals; and, (iii) cleaning services. This exercise has resulted in the removal of 31 staff or 13.5 FTE from the public service payroll with associated redundancy costs met from the recurrent budget. This reduces GoM FTE posts from 972 in 2012 to 959. GoM said a further 7 FTE posts would be deleted, reducing the number of FTE posts to 952. Further reductions through the planned GoM organisational review and outsourcing initiatives should provide opportunities to reduce this further.”

Do the people 31 people who lost their jobs from outsourcing not count as public servants in the eyes of MCAP? Is government telling us one thing and DFID another? Furthermore, if government receives funding for a significant number of unfilled vacant posts over several years (including 83 for 2014-15), why was it necessary to lay off any one? Per paragraph 85 of the 2014-15 Montserrat Budget Business Case: As of February 2014 approved headcount is at 955. Whilst this appears to be a slight increase put down to requirements for a new audit office, in fact only 877 are currently filled. The significant numbers of vacant posts that continue year on year suggest some room for efficiency improvements in the human resource structure. Meanwhile, the approved target for 2014/15 has risen to 960 due to restructuring of Finance. Once the organisational functional reviews have been completed (due March 2014) GoM will further consider headcount requirements.”

Remember, back in 1992, Chief Minister Reuben Meade said that the lay-offs in public works were caused by a re-organisation of the department which was aimed at making the work of the department more effective and more cost-efficient. Another 40+ were put on a 3-day work week.

Was the Internal Audit Unit created at DFID’s instigation?

On August 1, 2014, while attempting to clarify the 2014-15 Budget Aid Memoire, the Premier said: “In terms of public sector reform, there are funds which have been provided for public sector reform and within that, the statement is very clear. The agreement with DFID in terms of funding is that our full-time employees should not go beyond 950. This is number 14 in the Aid Memoire and it states that the full-time employees currently stand at 955. This is five more than of April 2013 but we attributed that to the internal audit department which was created at their instigation so therefore, give us a break on those five, five additional persons. The reason why I am mentioning the 955 is that people are claiming that we can do this and we can do that. The 955 is in relation to what is set as a standard for public finance and public financial management that personal emolument and benefits should not be higher than 50% of your total spend. Ours is currently—including pensions—way beyond the 50%. If one was to deal with a salary increase without a concomitant increase in certain other areas, we would go beyond that benchmark and we’ll be punished.”

Well, if the Internal Audit Unit was created just because DFID insisted on it, the Premier should be ashamed for not fulfilling his duties as Minister of Finance because not only is it international best practice but also section 10 of the Public Finance (Management and Accountability) Act 2008 requires the establishment of an internal audit “to review the financial management systems operated by Ministries, Departments, statutory bodies and public organisations.” And yes, this includes the Project Implementation Unit.

Concerning his reference to standards for public financial management, as indicated above, whereas government receives funding for 960 full-time employees, it only employs 877, which raises additional questions about the Premier’s unilateral decision to refuse an offer for a civil service pay increase effective April 1, 2014. According to the 2014-15 Budget Aid Memoire: “On the expenditure side, there has been an estimated EC$2m underspend on wages this year due [2013-2014] to unfilled posts in the civil service, which has offset the lower than expected tax receipts. There was a similar underspend on wages in the 2012/13 budget.” “Domestic revenues in 2013/14 have been lower than were forecast at the beginning of the financial year, in particular from income and property tax receipts. There has been limited progress in collecting tax arrears and little sign of an improvement in tax efficiency and compliance. Overall domestic revenues in 2013/14 are around $EC1½ million lower than assumed in the budget set at the beginning of the fiscal year.”

Is the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) a legally constituted government body?

After dodging answering this question since the creation of the PIU in 2009, the Premier, when interviewed by Jeevan Robinson on August 25, 2014, finally admitted that PIU’s operations would be “regularized” this fiscal year. Section 2.9 of the Auditor General Report for Fiscal Year 2009 says: “Our review revealed that there are several central government agencies that are operating bank accounts outside the ambit of the Treasury Consolidated Fund.” The Report listed 12 ‘below the line’ accounts, 11 of which fall within the Premier’s portfolio, including PIU’s bank account at the Bank of Montserrat. Paragraphs 55 – 57 of this report state:

55. This is contrary to the Public Finance (Management and Accountability) Act 2008 which states that all revenues should be deposited to the Consolidated Fund and all expenditures appropriated by Parliament. Such activities restrict the Treasury’s ability to manage government cash flows effectively and more importantly, prevent it from pooling resources in a manner that allows it to get better terms for short-term debts (overdrafts) or higher returns on investments.

56. Further, such arrangements dilute the Treasury’s responsibility to monitor all government expenditures and hence pose a fiduciary risk to government. When there are bank accounts outside the Treasury’s control it becomes more difficult to monitor and hence increases risk. Since transactions processed through these accounts are not reported publicly, they raise transparency issues and undermine the credibility of the public accounts as not all central government expenditures would be recorded in the accounts.

57. To mitigate the issues detailed above we recommend that all accounts be closed and paid into the Consolidated Fund.

Do able-bodied, unemployed persons qualify for social welfare?

We have all heard the Premier and some of his MCAP colleagues say that there’s a significant number of social welfare recipients who are able-bodied and capable of working. If this is truly the case, clearly, the Social Welfare Board has been contravening Schedule 2 of the Social Welfare Regulations (below) and with ministerial approval.

SCHEDULE 2 – ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA AND ENTITLEMENT

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The fact is that able-bodied persons of working age who cannot find work will find it extremely difficult to qualify for social welfare and of course, Montserrat has no unemployment benefits scheme.

Can government borrow money as it sees fit?

The Premier has made claims, repeatedly and dishonestly, which suggest that GoM can borrow money as it sees fit. For instance, on February 7, 2014 (Warren Cassell Show), he said: “When the MCAP administration came in, within the first year and said if we cannot get funding from elsewhere, we will go and borrow $30 million to develop our power supply here. And people say, dem fella they are crazy or who a go pay for this $30 million? Had we not started that process, DFID would not have been in a position to say, of the $30 million, we are going to give you $23 million; just go and borrow the other seven. So it is part of your strategic approach in terms of how do you negotiate. Are you going to sit back and say me nar do nutten but me a go start to negotiate? We are simply saying if you don’t give us the money, we’re going borrow it; the contingent liability is on you. So therefore, help us out here.” However, the following authoritative sources say otherwise:

• Per section 98(2) of the Montserrat Constitution Order, “The Government shall not borrow, guarantee or raise a loan on behalf of itself or any other public institution, authority or person except— (a) as authorised by or under an Act of the Legislature; and (b) in accordance with any borrowing guidelines agreed with Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom.”

• According to paragraph 20 of the 2013/14 Montserrat Budget Business Case & Summary: “As an aided Overseas Territory, Montserrat is not allowed to borrow according to HMT guidelines though one exception was made by HMG on value for money grounds (concessional loan and grant funding from the Caribbean Development Bank relating to the new power station).”

• Every Appropriation Act passed under the MCAP administration contains a similar section on Restrictions. For instance, Section 6 of the Appropriation Act 2014 is pellucid: “Notwithstanding the provisions of the Public Finance (Management and Accountability) Act 2008 or any other law in force in Montserrat, the following acts, whether by the Government or by any statutory authority shall require the prior approval of a Secretary of State— (a) the incurring of any expenditure additional to that provided for under this Act other than expenditure financed wholly by grant; (b) borrowing from any source except by means of the fluctuating overdraft referred to in section 5; or (c) the giving of any loan guarantee.”

 

Has outsourcing reduced the cost of the school bus service?

Recently, the Premier publicly denigrated a former MCAP colleague in the Legislative Assembly when the opposition member dared school bus - modsuggest that outsourcing of the school bus service did not achieve value for money as the cost of delivering this service had actually increased, which the Premier denied emphatically. It appears that opposition member was correct. Paragraph 24 of the 2014-15 Budget Aid Memoire says: Education expenditure is an estimated 8.3% of the total 2014/15 budget, compared with a Caribbean regional average of 11.9% and a global median of 14.4% in 2011. New spend requests this year include EC$600,000 (two thirds of overall spend requests) for the school bus subsidy, following outsourcing of the service from government last year, which has significantly increased the cost.”

In contrast, the Premier delivered the following convoluted and deceptive explanation about outsourcing of the school bus service during MCAP’s Hour on Radio ZJB on August 1, 2014:

You look at the expenditure side and therefore, you’re looking at where the pressures were on the budget. And I want to look at item 6 on the Aid Memoire. One was to deal with the contingency fund, less dilaster-related [sic] spending needs in the previous year; that also put some pressure on the budgets but at least we were able to meet some special project needs from within that including spending some money to rehabilitate the road going to New Windward.

One of the things which they highlighted was an overspend of half a billion [sic] dollars on the school bus service. We need to understand what is understood by ‘overspend’. Because there was no provision for these resources within the budget as discussed by the ministry then we needed to ask them for additional money in order to pay for the school bus service and therefore, we had to ask for that additional money of half of million dollars based on a contract which we have in relation to the school bus service. But we’ll come back to the school bus situation in a bit.

But just touching on the school bus service is that the outsourcing of the school bus service was an element which was agreed on between ourselves and DFID in a prior-year discussion. I know that some of the ministers were totally against the whole element of outsourcing but because it was a condition of the aid funding, we had to agree on the outsourcing. The other element is that outsourcing of a school bus service has to be tendered, has to be negotiated and confirmed by the Tenders Board where ministers of government do not have any say whatsoever.

What has come out of the outsourcing? Coming out of the outsourcing now is additional (of the school bus service) is an additional allocation which will be given to deal with putting up new buildings at the Montserrat Secondary School. So you’re giving on something so you outsource the school bus because it’s a condition which they have established for you and as a result of doing that you then now have the resources available for building the two additional blocks at the secondary school within the coming financial year.

But here’s what government posted on its website December 10, 2012 concerning the privatization of the school bus service (http://www.gov.ms/2012/12/10/school-bus-service-privatised-as-of-january-1-2013-fees-to-be-increased/):

School bus service privatised as of January 1, 2013, fees to be increased

BRADES, Montserrat – As of January 3, 2013 the school bus service will be in the hands of a private company. The Cabinet made a decision on November 29, to turn the service over to the successful tenderer. The Cabinet also noted that fees will increase to $10 for Secondary School students and $5 for Primary School students per week and will go in to effect for the new academic year in September 2013. Previously passes were $70 per term or $5 per week. Contract arrangements are presently being finalised with the Attorney General’s Chambers while the Deputy Governor’s Office is also preparing to transfer all terminal benefits and staff to other government departments. This is one of several government services that has been earmarked for outsourcing in 2013 and is part of the Strategic Growth Plan to increase private sector growth.

The Premier is also being disingenuous when he intimates that outsourcing of school bus services occurred solely because it was a condition of aid funding since he announced in his 1992 budget speech (paragraph 19.20) that: “Moreover, it is government’s intention to privatize a number of its operations where it appears prudent to do so. To begin with, we are considering the privatization of the school bussing service and garbage collection.”Garbage collection was outsourced during his first administration and school bussing under his second. Interestingly, both services have been omitted from recent Budget estimates in the past requiring subsequent supplementary appropriations.

What special qualities does Reuben T Meade possess that possibly outweigh his critical flaws?

Some people think it’s in poor taste to reveal unflattering truths about prominent people—particularly those in high office. Others will think that they are irrelevant distractions to be ignored. But can we claim to support good governance, transparency and accountability when we tolerate the opposite? Really, can it be in Montserrat’s best interests to select as leader of government business an individual who (to borrow some words):

Look forward to hearing your answer.

Sylvia White Gabriel