Government and Politics

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

The Governmental System

In the late 1980s, all three territories remained British dependencies. British officials were responsible for defense and foreign relations, and local elected officials were responsible for most internal affairs except security. As mentioned, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat were crown colonies, and Anguilla was an associated state. Because of their links to Britain, all three territories were part of the Commonwealth of Nations (see Appendix B).

A new constitution was introduced in the British Virgin Islands in April 1967. An amended Constitution took effect on June 1, 1977, giving local citizens more extensive self-government. Under its terms, the British-appointed governor is responsible for defense and internal security, external affairs, terms and conditions of service of public officers, and administration of the courts. The governor also possesses reserved legislative powers over matters affecting his or her special responsibilities. There is an Executive Council, with the governor as chairman, one ex officio member (the attorney general), a chief minister (the leader of the elected members of the Legislative Council) who has responsibility for finance, and three other ministers (appointed by the governor on the advice of the chief minister). The Executive Council makes administrative decisions and oversees public agencies. Finally, there is a Legislative Council, consisting of a speaker (chosen from outside the council), one ex officio member (the attorney general), and nine members elected from single-member districts. The Legislative Council makes laws and ordinances. The voting age is eighteen. Elections are held at least once every five years.

Anguilla is administered under the Anguilla Constitution Order of 1982 and the Constitution, which took effect on April 1, 1982. Government arrangements are similar to those in the British Virgin Islands. The British monarch is represented locally by a governor, who presides over the Executive Council and the House of Assembly. The governor is responsible for defense, external affairs, internal security (including the police), the public service, the judiciary, and the audit. On matters of internal security (including the police), the public service, and the appointment of an acting governor, however, the governor is required to consult the chief minister before making major decisions. The Executive Council consists of the chief minister and not more than three other ministers (appointed by the governor from the elected members of the House of Assembly) and two ex officio members (the attorney general and the permanent secretary for finance). The House of Assembly is elected for five years by universal adult suffrage and consists of seven elected members, two ex officio members (the attorney general and the permanent secretary for finance), and two other members who are nominated by the governor after consultation with the chief minister. There is provision for a speaker.

Montserrat's Constitution took effect on January 1, 1960. The territory is governed by a British-appointed governor and has its own Executive Council and Legislative Council. As in the other two territories, the governor is responsible for defense, external affairs, and internal security. The Executive Council consists of the governor as president, the chief minister and three other ministers, the attorney general, and the secretary for finance. The Legislative Council consists of a speaker chosen outside the council, seven elected members, two official members, and two appointed members.

The Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court is the principal judicial body for all three territories. Appeals can be made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

Political Dynamics

The British Virgin Islands had a highly stable two-party system in the late 1980s. One observer has called the territory a haven of political tranquillity with little apparent interest in political activity, virtually immune to the political, social, and economic pressures that beset the region.

H. Lavity Stoutt, leader of the Virgin Islands Party (VIP), became the islands' first chief minister in April 1967. In a 1975 election, Stoutt's party and the rival United Party (UP) each won three of the seven elective seats on the Legislative Council. Willard Wheatley, then an independent, won the last seat and held the balance of power. He served as chief minister, with Stoutt as deputy chief minister.

In the first election held under the new Constitution (of June 1, 1977), in November 1979, independent candidates won five of the nine (increased from seven) elective seats, and the VIP won the other four. Stoutt became chief minister. In the November 1983 election, the VIP and the UP, the latter then headed by Wheatley, each gained four seats. The one successful independent candidate, Cyril Romney, became chief minister and formed a coalition government with the UP. In September 1986, Stoutt again became chief minister as the VIP captured a majority in the Legislative Council elections.

These transfers of power did not result in great changes in policy. There was real reluctance among the populace to discuss independence or constitutional change. Most citizens apparently preferred continued affiliation with Britain.

Since Anguilla's 1969 secession from St. Kitts and Nevis, politics on the island has been a contest between Ronald Webster, who led the secession, and his political rivals. In the mid-1980s, the territory's two major parties--the Anguilla Democratic Party and the rival Anguilla National Alliance--had no real policy differences. Both supported continued affiliation with Britain.

In the March 1976 House of Assembly elections, Webster, then head of the PPP, won and was appointed chief minister. In February 1977, Webster lost a motion of confidence, and Emile Gumbs replaced him as chief minister and as leader of the PPP (renamed the Anguilla National Alliance in 1980). Webster returned to power at the head of the recently formed Anguilla United Party in a May 1980 general election. In 1981, after political friction within the House of Assembly, Webster formed yet another party, the Anguilla People's Party (APP), and won that June's election. An early general election was held in March 1984, which resulted in the ANA's capturing of four of the seven House of Assembly seats. Evidently, Webster's plan to cut dependency on Britain by reducing British aid and increasing internal taxes had proved highly unpopular.

Gumbs became chief minister after the 1984 election and, under great popular pressure, abandoned Webster's tax plan. He then emphasized a policy of revitalizing the island's economy through tourism and foreign investment. Webster resigned from the leadership of the APP, since renamed the Anguilla Democratic Party (ADP). New party leader Victor Black vowed to resist any attempt by Webster to regain control of the ADP.

Although the majority of the population expressed no desire for independence, in 1985 the new government did request and was granted wider powers for the Executive Council. It also asked Britain for more aid and investment.

Anguillians have traditionally had high economic expectations and until the mid-1980s strongly favored economic development. At that point, doubts arose over three issues. One was the uncontrolled growth of foreign-owned villas, which caused soaring beachside real estate prices. Anguilla responded with strict height and size regulations and new restrictions on expatriate land sales. Second, debate raged over whether or not to allow casino operations. One minister resigned over the proposal, and it appeared that casino development would not proceed in deeply religious Anguilla. Finally, the island increased offshore financial activity, only to find fee income low and both the British Treasury and the United States Internal Revenue Service concerned about suspect operations, particularly the "laundering" of money from drug trafficking.

In September 1984, a United Nations (UN) decolonization mission made one of its periodic visits to assess island attitudes toward possible independence. Summarizing current sentiments on Anguilla, the mission noted general dissatisfaction with economic conditions and the limits of self-rule under the existing Constitution. Nevertheless, the report concluded: "While independence remains an ultimate aim for Anguilla, there was a genuine apprehension among the people of the territory that independence without a substantial measure of economic viability might, in fact, place Anguilla in a new situation of external dependence on one land or another."

In the 1970s and 1980s, Montserratian politics were dominated by Austin Bramble, leader of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), and John Osborne, head of the People's Liberation Movement (PLM). Bramble served as chief minister for eight years beginning in 1970. In November 1978, however, he was replaced by Osborne as the PLM captured all seven elective seats in the Legislative Council. Osborne's control of the chief minister's post was ratified on two subsequent occasions. The PLM won five seats in the February 1983 election and four in the August 1987 election. The latter ballot marked the first electoral effort of the National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP, which was headed by Bertrand Osborne, won two seats on the Legislative Council.

Although personality issues appeared to dominate Montserratian politics, some policy distinctions among the parties could be identified. The PLM supported independence, a position rejected by both the PDP and the NDP. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the only party advocating independence was the United National Front, a small movement headed by George Irish, leader of the Montserrat Allied Workers Union. In 1984, however, John Osborne startled Montserratians by suddenly calling for independence. Osborne's proposal was rooted in his anger over the British veto of Montserrat's participation in the Caribbean Peace Force dispatched to Grenada. Although intervention in Grenada was popular with most citizens on Montserrat, independence was not. As a consequence, Osborne promised that no decision on independence would be made until a referendum was held.

The PLM, PDP, and NDP also differed on economic development strategies. In the early 1980s, the government unveiled a multimillion-dollar casino and hotel development plan for the northern side of the island. The plan was strongly criticized by the PLM's opponents, who argued unsuccessfully that the measure should be put to a referendum. The situation became quite complicated in 1984 when two different Miami-based development companies each claimed that they had been granted rights to the casino and hotel project. In a strange twist, Bramble and his brother were arrested by the Palm Beach, Florida, police on burglary charges, while allegedly seeking a videotaped deposition on the matter made by a government official. In mid-1987 the PDP and the NDP were accusing the government of mismanaging the development project and the overall economy.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress