Opposition member and former premier Donaldson Romeo on Tuesday challenged the government of Premier Joseph Farrell to ask the British Government to honour its commitment to support Montserrat with the resources to provide for its people and build the economy. If they are unwilling to do this, Romeo said Farrell and his team should resign and call for fresh elections.
Romeo was one of the speakers in a new parliamentary topical debate on “Impact of decisions taken by countries in the international arena on small island developing states (SIDS)”.
Speaker of the House Charliena White said, “in trying to improve what we do in parliament and responding to public inquiry into how the house can address issues that are not just bills, we have made provision throughout the year for topical debates.”
In his opening contribution, Deputy Premier Dr. Samuel Joseph said larger nations such as the United Kingdom have given themselves the “right to rule. The right to exploit the resources of the rest of the world for the benefit of their own people, regardless of the destruction it causes in the rest of the world.”
“The minority still has the power to make rules to their benefit. We must find our own way,” he stated.
Joseph shared that global warming continues to affect small island development states in the Caribbean and Oceania. He reminded the House of the new UK policy that they have committed to no longer investing in fossil fuel production in the Third World/Global South and will only fund renewable energy projects.
While on paper this is what is stated, the deputy premier said that their actions are what we need to look at.
The minister, with responsibility for communications and works, continued to say that with rising energy prices the members of the G8 and G20 countries threw out this statement and restarted their coal factories. Internally they reversed their pledge even if islands will disappear, storms increase, or that they will create a migrant crisis as places become unlivable. With no additional investment/compensation for the destruction it will cost, these decisions are to their benefit.
“We must fight for our fair share of the resources of the world,” Dr. Joseph added.
“A country with three different prime ministers in four years will lecture us about governance and what we need to do to receive financial aid,” he continued.
The deputy premier referenced the current issue with the British pound which has dropped dramatically this year. This has reduced Montserrat’s expected UK aid contribution by 20%. However, the UK is unwilling to fill the shortfall that has been created in the local budget.
“Why do these colonies have to come back to you hat in hand, begging for the money you decided we need? It is not what is written, it is what is done.”
Minister Joseph continued that when the British Virgin Islands experienced governance issues, the recommendation was to suspend the constitution of the BVI and take back the power from the elected people and invest it in the governor. Not to assist them in getting their systems into the way it should. “They [the UK] are better suited to guiding the island to better governance. This is the same thinking that was used in 1831 and they argued that slaves didn’t know how to be free, so it was extended to 1834.”
He reminded the parliament that the wealth of these imperial powers was from the exploitation of the people of this globe.
Minister of Agriculture Crenston Buffonge said Montserrat does not have the autonomy to access investment and is often excluded in investments and aid that come to the Caribbean.
He said Montserrat’s relationship with the UK ties the island to laws and decisions that “we do not have a say in.”
Using the example of the CIPREG Memorandum of Understanding (2019), Minister Buffonge said the UK will not bail us out on our side of the contribution if we are unable to raise it, unless there are extenuating circumstances. Who decides what those extenuating circumstances are? he asked.
He said Montserrat is at a disadvantage which heightens the island’s vulnerability.
The minister called the June 2022 Financial Aid Report a slap in the face as it clearly states that better wages are required, yet they did not grant any of the new spending requests to increase salaries. He also added that because of our status “our marijuana decriminalization bill died before it even got off the ground.”
He said the UK used an archaic law to remind us of why we couldn’t do it.
“It is not a result of the government not wanting to [pass the law]. In the meantime, our regional and international partners are reaping the benefits of the industry,” Minister Buffonge explained.
“Brexit is another decision we did not sign up for. We were not consulted but we are bearing the brunt of that loss of funding from the European Union and the UK has not replaced those funds.”
He also referenced the war in Ukraine which is having a global impact. As Ukraine is the largest producer of sunflower oil, wheat and barley, the price of goods has risen as traders rush to find other sources.
“We did not initiate it, but we are surely a part of the consequence. Insurance premiums for vessels in the black sea, skyrocketing prices of freight, upsurge of fuel prices, unavailability of goods as demand is greater than supply. For countries like Montserrat which depend heavily on imports, this creates a world of problems.”
Despite the challenges, Minister Buffonge said, “…what we have going for us is our minds. We have been able to accomplish significant milestones despite what is happening.”
Agriculture production has increased from 0.48% to 0.84% in 2020 and “as a government we will be pushing agriculture and agro-processing. We will continue to encourage our farmers to be our partners and take this trade seriously.”
Premier Joseph Farrell, who has responsibility for finance used his time to discuss the impact of de-risking and the loss of correspondent banks on SIDS.
“There’s never any intention for SIDS to develop beyond the begging position. History has shown that SIDS fueled the development of the developed states. Every time we try to get our heads above water we are pushed down; always some new measure put in place to ensure we do not rise above the mendicancy state.”
Farrell said the Caribbean has been the most affected by the decline in correspondent banking. “Every other month they are asking for new regulations. We don’t have the resources to put in place the regulations they ask for, which means we will never be compliant.”
He mentioned the constant fear that ministries such as finance and the attorney general have of the island being blacklisted. “All of this is a means of restricting development of small island states.”
He added that all countries in the region are penalized if one is guilty. Montserrat, he said, has been sanctioned by organisations such as OECD for things they have not done, which has the same impact as the sanctions on Russia for its part in the war in Ukraine.
“Now that they’ve taken our resources and built their own economies, they are controlling us,” Minister Farrell added. “The Caribbean has been exploited, cotton, sugar cane, and lime juice. The intention is not to safeguard but to keep us from growing.”
Former premier and member of the Opposition Donaldson Romeo said the current government should take the word begging out of their vocabulary as it is the right of Montserrat to ask for what it needs as Montserratians are equally British citizens.
Romeo said he agreed with what the government shared in the debate, however, there was no plan. He challenged Farrell and team that by October 2022, they should have a plan for how Britain is to honour its written commitment to provide the resources to develop the island. He said that a proper port, hospital, geothermal power, housing, and the provision of shovel-ready jobs and all the necessities for running a nation, should be in the plan.
“If you’re not going to do it resign. Let us have elections.”
Romeo said Montserrat has not taken advantage of what is written that explains the island’s rights and entitlement.
“Premier Farrell said there is no intention for us to rise above, but the UN put in place something that empowers us, but we have to use it. We keep saying we have self-government. It is not true. We are a colony still,” the opposition member stated.
Romeo said the UK’s primary legal responsibility derives from United Nations Charter Article 73 which speaks to the sacred trust and obligation to promote to the utmost the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories.
Adding that the UK’s former aid agency DFID now FCDO wrote that to meet these legal responsibilities it has been the settled policy of their government that the development needs of territories are a first call. “We have a priority on the aid budget. If you don’t agree with that you are arguing against yourself.”
Romeo said that UK has publicly boasted that they gave St. Helena with a population of 5,000 300 million pounds to build an airport. London gets money to support its people. “It has to happen here.”
“We must put in place a request initiated by us, that provides a funded programme and plan. Every year that we sign off on the business case we are saying that we are satisfied with what the UK is doing.
“I am ashamed.
“What would our brothers and sisters in the OECS, and CARICOM say if they heard what we have said today but we are not using it? What would our African family think of the treatment we accept as British citizens. What would Russia say, if they knew that the funds, we receive were used to keep us dependent rather than to get us out of dependency?”
“What would the British taxpayers think if they knew this was all a game? We must be the ones to tell the British taxpayers the truth. They are waiting for this honorable house to take advantage of what was put in place in 2019.
“What would Russia think when they find out that the Ukraine gets two billion pounds from the UK while we are starving?”
“After this course today, we will be to blame. The Governor of Montserrat cannot tell me there are no funds to provide jobs for capital projects. She cannot tell me we have to cut while they are propping up their country,” added Romeo.
“Lead the country. You’re not happy with what you’re getting, say it. The country is dying because we are not assuming the legal rights we have. The depopulation that is taking place is the same deprivation that happened after the volcano. We are running to the UK for safety when safety should be right here. We have the golden opportunity to be the government that breaks the stronghold of colonialism on the people of Montserrat. Colonialism is the daughter of slavery,” the former premier challenged.
“By October, there needs to be some clear evidence that the Government of Montserrat is addressing the urgent as well as the development needs of the people of Montserrat.
“You are not begging. You’re arguing against yourself every time you use the word begging,” Romeo added.
Romeo said there should be projects to address the housing issues that remain in Davy Hill and Lookout.
“Banks are failing, social security is failing. “Unless we have jobs, we are dead. The British are creating jobs. If you’re not going to do it let us have a change.”