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UK pulling back autonomy from C’bean OTs for decades- Fmr Montserrat Speaker

UK pulling back autonomy from C’bean OTs for decades- Fmr Montserrat Speaker

Former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Montserrat Ms Shirley Osborne (2005-2019) has accused the United Kingdom (UK) of playing games in the Caribbean using Commissions of Inquiry, with the [British] Virgin Islands being the latest.

Ms Osborne, who is the daughter of the late John Osborne, a former Chief Minister of Montserrat, said the UK first attempted those "games" with Montserrat, as one of the first overt instances of the British attempting to re-assert a certain kind of colonial rule in the Caribbean countries.

Osborne, during a May 11, 2022, episode of ‘Territories Talk’, detailed that since Montserrat's devastation by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the British showed up with a new constitution for Montserrat.

Former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Montserrat Ms Shirley Osborne (top left) was a guest of the show, along with Cromwell Smith aka Edju En Ka (bottom). Shaina M. Smith-Archer was the host.


Same playbook


“They lodged some of the same charges, corruption, malfeasance, misgovernance… the issue then was offshore banking and they arrested a couple of people, my father was one,” she added.

“Nothing much came of it… it didn’t go anywhere. But the big issue was this new constitution that they wanted,” she said.

Osborne said that before the UK intervention, Montserrat had a well-regulated financial services business; however, the UK accused its offshore banking sector of moving massive amounts of money.

“Montserrat lost a lot of income. There were offshore banks registered in the hundreds or thousands… lots and lots of them,” she said.

Osborne said the imposed constitution was fought back which included, among other changes, new ways to dispose of crown lands.

Industries suffered


“Montserrat at that time, a big part of our industry was tourism, or residential tourism. People actually bought lands and built houses, not big hotels and so on,” she said.

Osborne said at the time a lot of the land was already owned by companies since the periods of enslavement and colonialism; however, there was an attempt by its government to get back some of the lands for its people.

She said a lot of the land sold for residential tourism was actually done by Europeans and not by the Government of Montserrat, who was being accused of improper disposal of crown lands.

"We fought back against the lands thing...the financial services thing went the way it went but the land [issue] we held on to that."

However, in 2010, she said the UK proposed another constitution where the Governor had ultimate authority to distribute lands; and without possible inquiry from the local courts.

"We are still battling with that constitution, which I don't call a constitution. It's a British document that they imposed on us. We didn't choose that and we would not have chosen that had we had the option."

According to the lone Commissioner of the Commission of Inquiry in the [British] Virgin Islands, Gary R. Hickinbottom, there may have been corruption in governance over the years and he recommended direct rule as an option to fix the issues identified in his report.


Monserrat watching VI


Meanwhile, the Turks and Caicos CoI was ongoing, “This is a long game that’s being played…and it has been played out for centuries... everywhere you look around there’s some other piece of autonomy pulled back,” she added.

She said for example in Montserrat, the UK has placed a male individual in the AG’s Office to discipline the public service. "We are back to the days of the overseers,” she added.

Osborne added that persons in Montserrat have been watching the situation with the VI CoI and its recommendations and are very alarmed by what is playing out.

“I personally am alarmed, I stand really firm with the people in pushing back against direct rule,” Osborne stated.

"We are watching the BVI and we are looking to see what's coming up for Montserrat we all are aware. We are very much aware something is coming down the pipe. We are just not quite sure what."

According to the lone Commissioner of the Commission of Inquiry in the [British] Virgin Islands, Gary R. Hickinbottom, there may have been corruption in governance over the years and he recommended direct rule as an option to fix the issues identified in his report.

Virgin Islanders, particularly generational Virgin Islanders, have rejected the notion of direct rule and have held public demonstrations against it.

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