Anguilla and UK Governor in war of words

THE VALLEY, Anguilla, April 12, 2011 – Just days after Anguilla Chief Minister Herbert Hughes announced his push for independence based on an earlier refusal by the British Governor Alistair Harrison to approve the island’s Budget, a contentious visa issue has now escalated the war-of-words between the two sides.

In a strongly-worded statement issued by the Government of Anguilla on Monday evening, the Hughes administration suggested that Governor Harrison had over-reached in exercising his power to halt the government’s issuance of visa waivers, and hinted that legal action against the governor could shortly ensue. 

The concise but pointed statement laid out the grievances by the government as follows: “It has come to the attention of the Ministers of Government that the Governor of Anguilla has circulated a release on Visa Waivers to the Press.

“In fact, at an Extraordinary Executive Council meeting, summoned by the Governor today, His Excellency presented a similar document on which he sought Executive Council’s approval. The majority of the Ministers challenged His Excellency on the content of the document. Rather than the matter being deferred as is the normal practice of Executive Council in matters that need further consideration, the Ministers of Government have observed that the Governor has chosen to exercise residual powers which he alleges to have under the Constitution ostensibly on the basis of issues pertaining to security.

“The Ministers of Government have already begun to investigate the substance of the Governor’s press release and indications already show that the Governor is being selective in his attack against the Minister of Home Affairs as it pertains to the subject of Visa Waivers.

“The Government of Anguilla will make a full and detailed statement within the next few days. The Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon. Walcott Richardson has instructed his Solicitors to review the Governor’s press release with a view of taking legal action for any defamation of his character contained in the Release and in earlier documents issued by His Excellency the Governor.”

Earlier on Monday Governor Harrison issued a press statement announcing that he was using powers conferred upon the governor under the constitution to direct Minister Richardson to immediately cease issuing visa waivers to any person; to instruct the permanent secretary and staff of the Ministry to immediately cease supporting the issue of any visa waivers by the Minister; and to instruct the chief immigration officer and her staff to immediately cease recognising such visa waivers or admitting persons holding them into Anguilla.

The United Kingdom-appointed governor explained that he had taken this extraordinary measure after becoming increasingly concerned Richardson was abusing his office by issuing visa waivers, which was not permitted under the Immigration and Passport Act. He went on to suggest that this practice by the minister was in fact “threatening the security of Anguilla in a number of ways” adding that “Some of the waivers have been issued to known criminals; some to persons who have entered Anguilla with possible criminal intent – e.g. to engage in prostitution; there is a risk that some may have been involved in human trafficking, or may be seeking refugee status.” 

Governor Harrison said that it was put to the Executive Council earlier that morning by the Anguilla Commissioner of Police that there was a clearly detailed link between visa waivers and possible criminal activity. Following this, the governor said he recommended to the Council that the practice of issuing visa waivers by the Minister of Home Affairs should cease, however, the government ministers declined his recommendations by a majority, thus forcing him to exercise his residual powers under the constitution to put an immediate stop to the practice. 

This latest wrangling between the two sides follows Governor Harrison’s point blank refusal in January to approve the Budget laid before him by the Hughes administration in December last year. At the time, Harrison offered no public explanation for his decision but said that the UK government would be writing the Chief Minister on the Matter.

While the Anguilla Budget was approved by the UK government last week after four months of talks, Hughes expressed frustration over the ordeal. 

“I feel very disillusioned and frustrated with British administration for Anguilla. My commitment now is to press on with my programme for self determination,” stated the Chief Minister to the nation last Thursday. 

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