Monday, March 09, 2009

The week of elections in Antigua. What to do?

We all have sad stories of incompetence, corruption and other abuse of power that took place during the unbroken 28 year run of the ALP government up until five years ago when the UPP were swept into power. It seems so long ago that they were in power, and some of us wonder if much has changed within their leadership and party. I met with Max Fernandez recently and know for sure that he can’t be compared with Bernard Percival whose former constituency he took over as the ALP representative there. Just that one guy means the ALP is not the same party that it was five years ago, but he’s one guy. I haven’t met with any of the other new guys, but know that one is being sued for child support and one worked hand in hand with the Japanese and their support for whaling. I would have a very hard time voting for either of them. Another of the ALP lineup waved a gun in my face after the security guards at the club I was running told him that I didn’t allow weapons of any sort on the property. He was so upset that we wouldn’t let him come into the club with his licensed pistol that after screaming abuse at me for 25 minutes in my office he finally stormed out of the club. I don’t think I can forget the gun being waved in my face by a mad man screaming and frothing any time soon. Probably the reason I can’t forget that is that later that night in the wee hours of the morning it was alleged that he sexually molested a youth that he picked up at another club. The charges were later dropped by the under aged boys mother. He’s running for his second term as leader for his constituency and is probably seen as the Achilles heel of the party. As I said, we all have disgusting stories about events and people from the time before the last election. When a party is allowed to be in power for 28 years people almost accept and expect bad things happening. I suppose most of the bad stories were to do with corruption, and I personally think that the leading UPP party won the election based on the now famous promise to make “what was wrong..right” and to stamp out corruption. There are still calls everyday to “lock up” the former corrupt politicians from the last administration. Many of us have asked why none of them were charged and there have been some interesting excuses. Some say that the Attorney General for the leading UPP administration, Justin Simon, is a “Bird Man” meaning he is secretly a supporter of Lester Bird and his ALP party. Kinda crazy in my opinion but what do I know? Others say that if the ruling UPP party starts locking up the former ALP leaders they will be unable to stop some of their own from being tarred by the same brush. One often hears Errol Cort’s name being thrown about in those types of discussions. It is felt by many that Lester Bird’s ALP made Errol Cort their Attorney General because of the extremely close relationship they had with him. There have always been allegations of corruption thrown at Mr. Cort which were alleged to have happened while he was a Bird associate. He held several key government positions while working for the Bird Government while at the same time running his legal firm Cort and Cort. The most famous bit of allegations and finger pointing took place during the medical benefits hearings where he publically parted company with the ALP. Whatever you believe or don’t believe you would have to agree that if most of the allegations of corruption were coming from the political party that is now in power it is strange that none of the allegations have even been turned into charges. I don’t believe that the former Bird party was free from corruption and equally I can’t believe that the now ruling UPP party hasn’t found any information on this corruption. It’s very strange indeed.
Anyway, here we are a few days before the general election here in Antigua and millions of dollars have been spent by both parties on their campaigns. Many church leaders and regular people like me have commented on the extravagant waste of money that this campaign has shown. If the communities that needed real help received a small fraction of the moneys spent there on blue and red plastic sheeting, signs, posters, flags, hats, key rings, inflatable hammers, t-shirts, billboards, TV and radio commercials, vinyl lettering and signs, gifts and the like, this island would have been helped tremendously. This election campaign was like a mini US election campaign and we are a poor country. Of course many of the poorest people here thought it was great, but many like me think this has been disgusting. If I were running the country I would try to pass laws very quickly to ban all political posters, banners and billboards from ever showing their ugly faces (I am not speaking about the people on the billboards) on our streets. I would also make sure that any party make public the funding for their election campaigns and also the budgets for these campaigns. This was way way out of hand.
Like I said to start this blog post, we all have stories about the old ALP party. We as a nation voted them out and as a result can speak about those stories without fear. Fear is a strange motivational emotion here on this small island. I keep hearing about poll findings and predictions and often think to myself that if a pollster called me I would find it hard to tell them exactly how I felt. I don’t think any poll can predict who will win this election on Thursday. It seems that if you are thought to be a supporter of one party or another then the party you don’t support is bound to take it personally. So much so sometimes that you can lose your job and much worse. We all know this to be true because after the last election the UPP immediately started firing what they called “Bird People” who worked in government positions. It didn’t matter how well you did your job in the police force or in tourism because as long as people thought you were a “bird person” you were given walking papers. In fact, some of the shortcomings of the UPP are now being blamed on “Bird People” who are still working as “sleeper cells” in government institutions. I guess this is normal all over the world, but when your world is a tiny little island your political affiliation is much more scrutinized. Many of us have to go to our political representatives from time to time requesting help and often we have to go to the various ministries to get things done. It’s here that your perceived political affiliation is even more under scrutiny. “He ah wan Bird man?” is a question I have heard many times. Unlike Errol Cort, who did plenty of work for the ALP government, my Dad John Fuller did a small amount of legal work for Lester Bird. As a result, all of the Fuller family were labeled “Bird People” whoever we voted for. I read the UPP manifesto five years ago and knew I had to vote for change. I publically congratulated the UPP after voting for them and hoped that “what was wrong would be made right” as they had promised. Working almost daily up in the Guiana Island mangrove habitat I was delighted before the election back then to see them say they would turn it into a marine park. That was pre election promise number one to me that they broke by almost immediately giving Allen Stanford the now famous “Green Light”. After they won the election the “green light” to develop the area in what they described as a low impact eco friendly US $700 million dollar project was given. I lost quite a bit of hope at that point as did many others who had voted for them. This was wrong wrong wrong no matter which way you spun it. Anyway, there is so much more history to that story, and what I want to speak about tomorrow is not so much that story or any more horrible ALP stories. Tomorrow I want to speak first hand about UPP stories. The purpose of this blog entry and the one tomorrow isn’t to try to get you to vote one way or another, but to shed some more “sunlight” on things that have been happening here in Antigua over the past five years. I will speak about a labour problem that faces many Antiguans in my business sector and the meeting I had with the Minister of Labour about it. I will speak about the problems that we faced in our sector to do with tourism regulations and the countless meetings that we have had with the former Junior Minister of Tourism and the current Minister of Tourism. I will speak about the unfair business practices and competitive advantages of foreign businesses operating in Antigua and the fraud and tax evasion that are rampant in my sector that I spoke with the Minister of Finance about. I will remind the readers about my dealings with the Minister of Health, my representative, and the sand mining issue. The list goes on an on and on of “wrongs” that were brought to the attention of the various ministries by me and my associates in the tours and excursions sector, and to be honest those wrongs haven’t been made right. More to come on that tomorrow.

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