Government House Christmas Message
I am delighted this year to send you Christmas greetings as your Governor. I am also very happy to be spending my first Christmas here in Montserrat, and to have family here with me to celebrate and to experience this beautiful place in the festive season. I sincerely hope that, for all of us, this will be a blessed time of companionship, contemplation and celebration.
Since arriving this summer, I have begun to get to know Montserrat, and so many of you here. I know we all hear over and over what a special place this is, but it cannot be said often enough just how physically beautiful the Island is, and how warm and engaging and generous the people are. I have been particularly struck by the amount of activity here – much of it voluntary – and the energy of people who are dedicated to making this a better place.
I arrived in early August just as the Island was commemorating 20 years since the volcanic eruption of 1995 that put Montserrat on a new path of disruption and recovery. During my short time here, I have become deeply aware of how those circumstances have shaped, and are shaping, Montserrat today.
As the year draws to a close, I would like to reflect on some of the joys and disappointments of the year behind us, and anticipate the year ahead.
I am particularly pleased that, together, the Premier and I launched a new approach to partnership, and have committed, in particular to working towards a vision for Montserrat that is shared with the UK Government and embodies the title of the 2012 White Paper on the Overseas Territories, “Security, Success, Sustainability”.
In 2015 we strengthened our budget preparation and reporting systems, which have put us on a stronger financial footing for budget discussions with the UK Government.
We also saw Montserrat strengthen its ability to protect its children, including the establishment of a dedicated Child Safeguarding Unit.
This year was a particularly vibrant year for celebrating Montserrat’s culture and achievements: the visit by the Juilliard School of Music from New York, the Alliouagana Festival of the Word, celebrating calypso, Chevening awards and
homecomings, awarding of medals to Montserratians for their impressive contributions to the Island, and the crowning of Miss Montserrat Sharissa Ryan as Miss Jaycees, to name a few.
Sadly, for all of us as part of the regional and international community, this has been busy year worldwide for natural disasters – a reminder of the earth’s vulnerability at a time of climate change. Storms, hurricanes and typhoons and other natural disasters have been a feature, especially in the Pacific and Asia regions. After thankfully emerging unscathed from Tropical Storms Danny and Erika in August, we rushed to offer assistance – through the skills and commitment of the Royal
Montserrat Defence Force, and through private efforts – to our close neighbour Dominica, which was ravaged by Tropical Storm Erika. We continue to mourn the loss of life and devastation caused by that storm.
We were grateful that the UK government was able to divert RFA Lyme Bay to provide immediate assistance as well, very soon after the ship visited Montserrat.
Erika remains a strong reminder to everyone that tropical storms cannot be taken lightly. I am very pleased to see the Royal Navy continues to provide support in the region. Two ships, HMS Severn and RFA Lyme Bay, came to the Caribbean this year, and visited Montserrat in February and August respectively. These ships patrol the Caribbean and the North Atlantic to provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance if needed. They also engage in counter-narcotics patrols. I am indebted to both ships’ companies for providing us with additional security this year and look forward to continued co-operation in 2016.
While we mourn the distress and loss of life from regional and global disasters during 2015 – in this season of thankfulness, we can be grateful that Montserrat has stayed safe and secure for another year.
Looking ahead to 2016, I hope that we will achieve some very important steps in our drive to make Montserrat a better and safer place to live, work and visit. And safer and better for everyone, especially the young, the elderly and the vulnerable.
The Premier and I agree that none of this can happen without significant changes and improvements in the way the Public Service operates – especially in the way it deals with the public. He and I have each spoken about various reforms that we will continue to prioritise in the months ahead.
We will also need to look at how to strengthen security in Montserrat – certainly we still have some way to go on disaster management, despite improvements made this year in strengthening our systems and procedures. Our security institutions – police, prison and fire service – need to become fit for purpose to maintain and enhance Montserrat’s reputation as a low crime jurisdiction. But in particular we need to work on the related protection and service elements – and ensure that the challenges facing our young people and the vulnerable are managed through greater connectivity among services.
And I have to say that I do not share the doom and gloom narrative about the economy, although it is clear that Montserrat needs to concentrate on getting our economy moving again. But there are some important infrastructure projects already underway. If we work together now to prepare, these will create jobs, training and experience, and propel the economy toward a path to self-sufficiency. In the New Year, with your input, we will build a concrete strategy towards achieving this. We will engage in a new agreement with the UK Government which involves putting Montserratians in the driving seat for these new developments and links them with improved social services, better governance (including stimulating private sector engagement and partnerships) and implements a realistic approach to tourism that builds on – but does not harm – the unique attractions of the Island.
This includes thinking carefully about how to ensure that the unique environment of the exclusion zone is protected while being developed appropriately and safely.
I feel I should say something about the protection of the natural environment.
Montserrat’s reputation as a visually stunning island is based on its unique terrestrial and marine environment. I have seen and heard of so much good work by government, non-governmental bodies and private initiatives to keep Montserrat and its waters clean and beautiful. I applaud all their efforts. However, there remains a sizeable minority who continue to treat the island as a vast rubbish tip. On my travels around the island I have seen evidence of the wanton discarding of domestic rubbish and, even worse, fly tipping of large quantities of commercial machinery and rubble. I have to ask why this is happening. Do some people not care about their island or respect what others are trying to do to protect it? I hope that 2016 will, among other things, bring a sense of pride in and care of the island’s beauty and the need to maintain it. Otherwise, visitors and tourists may go elsewhere.
I know none of this will be easy – there is a lot that needs to be overcome. As I am learning, a change of attitude is needed in many parts of the public service, where our hard working staff need to restore their sense of service to both the resident public and visitors, rediscover their ambition for excellence and restore their initiative to achieve for their community.
But now that I am aware of just how extraordinary Montserratians can be, I often ask myself, why not? Why can’t Montserrat again be a centre of excellence in a number of areas? I would like to enter the New Year with a sense of optimism. When someone says “We can’t”, I will want to ask “Why not?” When someone says “We can” (and I hope to be hearing this more and more often), I will also want to say “Why not?”
Let’s make 2016 a very special year for Montserrat, the year we turn the corner from recovering to rediscovering our huge potential (already evident in so many ways!) for excellence and achievement.
Thank you, on behalf of the community, to all of you who worked throughout 2015 to keep us safe and healthy- civil servants, emergency services, churches, clubs and voluntary organisations. To those who will continue to work throughout Christmas, so that we all can enjoy the holidays in peace and security – we are very grateful.
Finally, I would like to say: thank you for welcoming me into to your places of work, your schools, your communities, your homes, and to your events. Thank you for letting me pray and praise and celebrate and grieve with you. Thank you for this opportunity to work with you to continue to build Montserrat to be the place you want it to be.
May each of you have a happy and blessed Christmas and may you enter the New Year with health, energy and purpose.