BRADES – His Excellency the Governor Adrian Davis and his wife Sujue wrap up a four-year posting to Montserrat this week. Discover Montserrat spoke with the couple about their experiences on island and the lessons learned.
“We’ve very much enjoyed living on Montserrat. The warnings we were given about living in a small community and feeling like a goldfish bowl have not materialised,” revealed Governor Davis. “We’ve found living here quite refreshing. Going from Beijing with 20 million people and the pollution that is suffered there and coming to a community of 5000 people was about as big a contrast you could get. We haven’t found the goldfish bowl oppressive. I haven’t felt the need to leave the island as some of my predecessors have.”
Mrs Davis added that Montserrat felt a lot like home in China. “I have found that Montserratian’s feelings to members of family are exactly like what we do in China. The caring for the old and love of the young is so lovely. At the beginning I was unsure if I could fit in nicely but in fact this is just my other home.”
“You can’t tell somebody just go there and you will love the island,” the governor’s wife continued. “You have to let that person live there and explore all the possibilities themselves.”
Governor Davis said he’s considered his time on island a very lucky one without many challenges. Not having to deal with any major natural disasters like his predecessors made his job easier. “I haven’t had to make those difficult choices about where people live” and the community backlash which can come with those decisions.”
The broader role of the governor is to handle defense, which he said did not occupy “one moment of my time”, police, which he stated is woefully under budget and financial services. Often he is asked to respond to queries on matters within the remit of the government such as taxation. “My role in the broader spheres is through my chairmanship of the cabinet.” In this capacity he has queried the decisions on how import duty waivers are granted and the loss of tax revenue as companies and individuals are not prosecuted for non-payment which could serve as a deterrent to others “but it is up to the government.”
While Governor Davis is pleased that he was able to have “very cooperative relationships” with both former premier Reuben T. Meade and the current one, he’s disappointed that he’s not had a great deal of success with being an advocate for Montserrat in the UK.
His lessons learned on dealing with the press and making off the cuff remarks which often are dissected ad nauseam is becoming part of the training for new governors hired by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). “It really is a good idea to have some legal experience which I didn’t. I would have liked to have a more solid ground in administrative law. What you say is poured over and I should have taken longer to reply rather than speak off the cuff,” he confessed.
Throughout his time on island, the governor attempted and for the most part held monthly press conferences to keep the media and community abreast of what was happening from his perspective. This, he said had been a part of a conscious decision to be more visible, open and transparent with sharing information. “Before arriving we’d asked Janice Panton in the Montserrat UK Office what we could do differently. Her answer was to bring expats and locals together. I didn’t do much but Sujue did most of that with coffee mornings.”
Coffee morning diplomacy is what the governor called Sujue’s efforts to bring people together who would not normally socialise or connect for a common cause. Her initial informal chats with about eight people became anticipated monthly meetings with up to 70 people. “There are lots of people with experience on island but they are very modest. This was a way to get them to share their knowledge with others.”
The coffee events held at Government House in Woodlands became a social space to learn about local happenings, information on mental health, the environment and helped normally obscure community endeavours gain a platform. Mrs Davis also built a reputation as a champion for the under served, working as Patron for the Montserrat Red Cross, the Pink Ribbon Charity and leading on fundraising efforts for many local causes. Her weekly Mandarin classes for students at St. Augustine Primary School and another for adults were a big hit, and she hopes they will continue to learn by seeking out lessons online. She could often be spotted along with the governor attending local social activities even when they had no official roles to play.
Both agree that the hospitality and friendliness of people are two of the things they will miss the most. Governor Davis remarked that “what was quite surprising was that most of the “expatriates” said the same thing about choosing to settle on Montserrat. They spent a lot of time travelling around the Caribbean then came here and knew it was where they wanted to stay. Many came when it was covered with ash and they knew it was where they wanted to spend their time, despite the disadvantages.”
The governor said the island’s low crime rate, water you can drink from the tap are added benefits to life here. He is hopeful that completion of the geothermal project will bring the added advantage of lower power rates which can attract enterprise and improve life on island.
“An increase in population is necessary to become sustainable. The Sustainable Development Plan calls for 9000 people. There is an acute economies of scale and lack of opportunity. Public sector dominates and the very people that leave are exactly the people we need to stay,” he said.
Mrs Davis believes that despite the small numbers all is not lost. Everyone “must concentrate on keeping surroundings beautiful. People would love to come for the fresh air, nice people, and safety but we need to beautify the island first.” The governor added that there was a relatively quick fix available, if the day trip market could be resurrected. In 2005, “there were 20,000 day trippers and this had a multiplier effects on the economy. It would take an efficient ferry and for customs to be more efficient and process visitors in a more timely manner. It can make a difference and now that we can go into Plymouth this is an added benefit.”
Governor Adrian and Mrs Sujue Davis will leave island on Tuesday, July 7th. The new Governor Ms Elizabeth Carriere, OBE is expected to arrive in early August.