Full Disclosure
February 27, 2009
Antigua’s stickey wicket

The most striking news will always appear to have a way of hitting us the hardest in the silence of night, since it strikes very much when we least expect. Sir Allen Stanford is a name which is well known to all West Indians. If by chance you missed the name Stanford for some reason, you at least must have been aware of Caribbean Star Airline which served our region or even the bigger and more exciting Stanford 20/20 cricket tournament.{{more}}

Today, the stories we hear relating to Sir Allen Stanford and the Stanford Group have taken an interesting direction. Although no one at this stage should pronounce any semblance of guilt before due process of the law is allowed to run its full course, the story which fills our mind of Stanford is that the United States authorities have accused him of perpetrating a fraud of massive proportions.

What implications does this have for Antigua? What lessons should our sub-region take from this episode? The history of Antigua’s efforts to set up an effective legislative framework in order to regain the confidence of the international community in its financial system has been a long and almost overwhelming task. At one point, the two-island state of Antigua and Barbuda was regarded as a hub for money laundering and corruption. Antigua was actually black listed for the manner in which it conducted its offshore banking. This was cleaned up by the Antiguan Government, with the help of various agencies, including the World Bank. It is now quite a great shock that having been given a clean bill of health by the international community, they are now visited with this scandal.

In order to avoid a fiasco in the financial system in the sub-region, the Eastern Caribbean Central bank (ECCB) has exercised emergency powers to take over the Bank of Antigua which was part of the kingdom of the Texan billionaire. It is unquestionable that, but for the timely intervention of the ECCB, the developments could have had a devastating impact on the economies of the sub-region.

The vulnerability of our sub-region’s financial system has been accentuated by the recent turn of events, and it is almost without any doubt that Antigua is likely to be hit hard by the fall out expected in revenue earning as a result of the operations by the Texan billionaire being questioned by the law.

Banana Bill Passed

It was always expected that a great deal of debate would have been created by any piece of legislation seeking to restructure the Banana Industry. The importance of the Banana Industry lends itself quite naturally to such keen levels of interest. Sadly, however, baseless opposition to the Bill sought to place the much needed adjustments contained in the legislative framework in bad light. One limb of the opposition to the Bill was fuelled by political partisanship; another by a failure to appreciate legislative drafting and the other by a general misunderstanding of recent changes in the functioning of the industry.

Any analysis of the trends in production and marketing in the Banana Industry will clearly reveal that meaningful restructuring of the industry goes beyond the passage of legislation. However, the onus is on the government to put in place a legislative framework that can give us the best case scenario for an effective interplay of all the stakeholders in the industry. It is not rocket science! What is clear from analysing the criticisms thus far of the piece of legislation is that there is both an absence of a clear understanding of the structures which are being brought together, and a failure to appreciate that legislative drafting is a specialised area of the law and must be assessed with a certain level of technical expertise. This does not necessarily mean that one has to have formal legal training to interpret a Bill, but self-education must be done before one embarks on critique of any piece of legislation.

Therefore, it is basic that one must firstly understand the roles played by the Windward Island Farmers Association (WINFA), Fair Trade, WIBDECO and the Ministry of Agriculture and the roles to be taken over from the Banana Growers Association (BGA).

Further, there is a common misconception which has surfaced in some quarters on the role of the Fair Trade Organisation. The Fair Trade Organisation is critical to the sustainability of the banana trade to the extra-regional market. That is unquestionable. Fair Trade is an independent body that will act as a partner with the Government and other agencies under the reformed legislative framework, but will at all times maintain its structural integrity. Therefore, no one can expect that the legislation will address the already existent internal roles and functions of Fair Trade. If one wants to learn about the role of Fair Trade or WINFA one is to search the working documents and constitutions of these organisations. The legislation seeks to create synergies between all stakeholders and to set the framework by ensuring that the requisite support structures are in place for the sustainable functioning of the industry.

The view of one writer that Fair Trade should “do it by itself”, referring to taking over the entire Industry, is erroneous, considering the scale of support that can be created by properly planned, structured, calculated and strategic partnership in the industry.

The road ahead is challenging, and one can anticipate an evolution of these challenges because of changes in the dynamism of the global economy. Nevertheless, whatever the future brings our history of resilience and perseverance will always see us through. The farmers of SVG will never give up!

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.