November 09, 2005
(Address by Victor F. Banks Nov. 9th, 2005)
Again I am privileged to make some stage-setting remarks at the opening of this Second Biennial National Development Conference for Anguilla. The theme last year was:- “Creating Centres of Excellence in Anguilla in the 21st Century” and in my feature address I chose the topic “The Development Dilemma”. This year’s theme is “Empowerment of a People” and I have been asked to focus my comments on “the critical economic roles that must be played by Anguillians as agents of sustainable development.”
I would like at this juncture to congratulate and commend the National Bank of Anguilla for hosting this very significant national event as well as the other sponsors who have been in solidarity with them. A solid future for Anguilla and Anguillians can be assured if we are able to encourage healthy dialogue in an orderly environment characterized by mutual respect and appreciation for each other and each others opinions.
On November 1st last week, our Chief Minister, the Honourable Osbourne B. Fleming delivered a press statement and a subsequent release declaring a moratorium on new major investments in tourism accommodations for the next two and a half years. Such a pronouncement is in stark contrast to his historic “Light at the end of the tunnel Speech” in July 2002 when Anguilla was struggling to stimulate investment both in the private and public sector. To quote him directly: “The light at the end of the tunnel ……. has now become so bright, that it threatens to blind us. It threatens to throw us off-course from the path of controlled, modest and steady economic growth”.
My presentation on the topic “The Development Dilemma” at the 1st Biennial Conference in 2003 may now appear to have been prophetic as it spoke directly to choices and their consequences in political and economic decision-making. From the decimation of Nauru’s environment by indiscriminate phosphate mining to the overcrowding and pollution of Acapulco’s natural beauty and tourism resources by excessive developmental sprawl --- I sought to illustrate the complex balancing act which must attend the governance process. In both of these cases their Governments were attempting to secure economic prosperity for their people while either ignoring or overlooking the impact those decisions could have on the longer term sustainable development of their people.
The theme this year speaks to the quality of development from a national standpoint because it captures the essence of true national development as being people-centred, that is, ensuring that development is characterized by substantial local participation and ownership. In many ways I view this theme as a response to the questions asked in my last topic, “the development dilemma”, because it points out that a government’s decision making process must take into account the issues inherent in the choices it makes so as to guarantee a steady path towards the empowerment of its people.
The topics selected for this year’s conference under the overarching theme “Empowerment of a People” signals the areas of focus that should be adopted in the policy and strategy options of decision makers to achieve that objective. While these topics are not exhaustive they do touch on some of the key issues which must be addressed so as to create an environment conducive to the realization of the vision of a nation “proud, strong and free.” And you may realize that all of these adjectives denote the optimal development of a people.
Presenters over the next two days are well-versed in the disciplines specific to the areas of focus under the theme and will no doubt give an in-depth analysis of the issues they have been asked to consider. However, since my focus is to be “the critical economic roles that must be played by Anguillians as agents of sustainable economic development” I am happy to be more general in my comments especially given the limitations inherent in being a politician. As I am wont to say: I got here in a beauty contest.
In my area of focus I have taken the term “Anguillians” to mean both government and citizens. In this context, there are specific economic roles for both ordinary citizens and those charged with governance in the quest for sustainable economic development. And furthermore, since my area of focus relates to the general theme for this conference, sustainable economic development must be interpreted to mean development in which the people are significant stakeholders. In other words people who are empowered.
If we were to be retrospective and revert to those times when Anguilla was a traditional society; where every family had its own piece of land; tended its own livestock, cultivated its own crops and so on --- we could reasonably ask the question: Could we consider them to have been empowered? Apart from the fact that there was no indigenous government, no adult suffrage, no representative democracy --- did the inhabitants have a sense of empowerment based on their level of self-sufficiency? Or should we consider the fact that there was an absence of direct foreign investment on a large scale an indicator of a high level of local participation and ownership --- in a word empowerment?
Obviously in terms of the modernization of the Anguillian economy, new technologies and the concomitant changes in lifestyle --- there are new realities which define what constitutes empowerment or alternatively sustainable economic development. These new realities include the fact that we have entered a new phase of national development which includes less reliance on external sources for the provision of social and infrastructural services, more autonomy in the governance processes, increases in employment opportunities, a higher standard of living and increased expectations in the society generally.
I must therefore in line with my focus point to at least six critical economic roles which Anguillians, that is, Government and citizens must play in this new dispensation as agents of sustainable economic development. In fact the process and the line of discussion which I will take is perhaps, though not accidentally the identical path and the existing conditions which facilitated Anguilla in achieving the level of economic development it now experiences.
Firstly, it was critically important that the Government of Anguilla made the decision to restore fiscal stability to Anguilla. The conditions which existed in 2002 were not conducive to the creation of an environment which would build investor confidence. Furthermore, it was imperative that a deliberate program was implemented to ensure that revenues generated were sufficient to meet the expenditure requirements necessary to meet the costs of the essential services provided to the community. This economic role played by Government in restoring fiscal stability through appropriate measures was a clear signal to the private sector, the administering power and the donor community that Anguilla was serious about creating a stable environment for sustainable development. Fiscal stability was therefore a critical economic role which the Anguillians had to play.
Secondly, in order to build a solid platform for development there was need to make investment in physical infrastructure and utility services. For Anguilla to attract development --- local and foreign investors must feel confident that appropriate physical infrastructure and services exist. In other words, the public sector investment program must be relevant to the needs of business community as well as the needs of citizens who are employed in those businesses. In the case of Anguilla in 2004 the expansion of the airport was a critical decision that had to be made for the survival of the Tourism Sector. The crafting of a relevant public sector investment program is a critical economic role that must be played by Anguillians as agents of sustainable economic development.
Thirdly, citizens of Anguilla, must if they wish to participate financially in the islands business opportunities or enhance their personal skills learn the basic principles of prudent financial management. It is a critical economic role that Anguillians have to play. They must position themselves through sound financial management practices to be able to accumulate savings to address personal development issues as well as capital for investment opportunities which may arise. The opportunity for wealth creation through such investments has already been established. Prudent financial management is therefore a critical economic role which Anguillians must play in the developmental process.
Fourthly, as I said earlier certain conditions conducive to entrepreneurship and investment in local ventures have existed in Anguilla for a long time. Anguillians have played a critical economic role in supporting indigenous financial institutions. Such support has not only been in the form of savings deposits, fixed deposits and credit card services but also in the purchase of available shares. As Anguilla continues to grow and develop --- shareholders in these institutions will experience a sense of empowerment --- indeed many already have. Supporting indigenous financial institutions is a critical economic role which Anguillians can play as agents of sustainable economic development.
A fifth consideration for Anguillians in the quest for sustainable development must be support for national investment in social and health insurance systems. The decision to establish a social security system in Anguilla twenty five years ago was the single most important contribution to social stability and justice. It is a critical economic role which government played to ensure the security of its people in their seniority or in the event that they should become physically incapacitated and unable to work for a living. The decision to now move on to national health insurance further signals the awareness of Government that sustainable development demands a system of efficient health services that is fully financed. Again a critical economic role which that must played by government in the process of implementation and citizens as they exercise compliance.
The last critical role which I will touch upon in this presentation in pursuance of sustainable economic development --- is proper regulation. While regulation may not be at once regarded as an economic role it certainly facilitates the process of sound economic development. In this context, Anguillians must be aware of the importance of an appropriate regulatory framework crafted to ensure that we all live in a community characterized by peace and harmony. Such regulation could be for financial transactions as well as for the safety, security and the good order of the community. To put it another way it would be useless to empower a people without an appropriate framework to facilitate good governance.
If it were possible to be exhaustive in listing critical economic roles which Anguillians would have to play to as agents of sustainable economic development I would still miss the mark in terms defining the main theme the “empowerment of a people.” Empowerment can be an extremely subjective term especially in the context of cultural differences, socialization and expectations. What we need to determine is the development vision for Anguilla --- and identify the optimal forms of participation and expression that constitute empowerment in the Anguillian context.
But we have a long list of topics and hours of debate and discussion over the next two days to explore the various elements and nuances of this theme. Undoubtedly, there will be differences of opinion but --- I am confident that this exercise itself is an indication of our empowerment as Anguillians (and friends of Anguilla) freely express their views on these issues in an environment devoid of acrimony, ridicule and personal abuse.
Let me take this opportunity to again thank the sponsors and the participants for their enthusiastic support for this important consultation on the occasion of the 2nd National Development Conference for Anguilla.
I thank you all very much for your kind attention.