Montserratians everywhere may lose control of their island heritage in a post-volcano eruption scenario.
The Little Bay peninsula which has been a political football for many years is now to be developed as the island's main commercial outpost, a town as we knew the concept, given our fascination with the entombed city at Plymouth; indigenous Montserratians seem programmed to be aliens in the eventual outcome in this emerging curious configuration. And it seems alright, quite fine, in the corridors of decision making at home and abroad. In this broader context therefore, Murphy-ism becomes a collateral issue of paling significance.
At this hour the impression is clear that the intention is to price enterprising natives out of their patrimony, in preference to others who are financially able to make Little Bay an exclusive enclave for the affluent and the new rich; the latter inevitably and ironically arising from local wheeling and dealing and positioning, in driving this top-down development.
Even at the subtlest levels, with the iron clad control of the joint local-foreign management of the Montserrat Development Control (emphasis on control) that destroys key vestiges of a plantation heritage and of natural history, chasing even native animals and birds from their sacred abode, the making of sustained dominance is obvious. It is within the realm of possibility, given current trends that the entrance to Little Bay via Carrs Bay can be embargoed in some form at some time to emphasize shutting natives out in physical ways.
Take note dear reader of the wanton scattering of the network of informal traders and fisher folk and the creation of a morgue of activity next to the never sleeping entrance at Carrs Bay, distinguished as the long sort after Evergreen Tree center of Plymouth, where people met naturally by just washing their feet and come.
Self-promoting planners know that they could afford to roast a pliant populace with impunity as no outrage will be yelled except from frightful corners of their homes. Turning to appease the other cheek, despite the biblical command has flattened our development irreparably for ages. The principled takes a back seat to the material (salaries), the short memory and the long belly!
No other commitment is as weighty for a sitting government to do as to maintain a culture tied to natives owning and controlling land privileges. Caring governments of the 60's to 70's legislatively (Alien Land Holding Act) and effectively protected land rights of indigenous Montserratians even in the face of a growing real estate sector that supplanted plantation agriculture as the engine of economic growth.
Private investors then spent hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase and develop land from Cheap End to Richmond Hill along the West coast of Montserrat and at Bethel Estate in the East. They were pleased with their expenditure in compliance with the laws that existed. Also over a thousand foreigners including some extremely wealthy ones invested additional hundreds of millions of dollars constructing homes on Montserrat in total acceptance with the immigration and landholding laws.
When the land was put on the market the payment arrangements were such that Montserratians did not have to be rich in order to purchase plots on the installment basis. In other words Montserratians were not priced out of participation.
The reason for this was that they were not intent on any form of domination or taking political control. Instead they were content to live on Montserrat under a locally controlled government and accept a level of integration with the local population.
However the unregulated, uncontrolled influx of people (all categories) during the years since the eruption, has made indigenous' Montserratians a minority in their own territory. Given the failure to legislate effectively to protect the political dominance of real Montserratians, others will eventually gain political control. And that is likely to happen sooner rather than later.
Enter the British opportunistically scheming for a takeover of their own, a desire since the government of John Osborne, by its behaviour in the 80s allowed a rolling back of our constitution. This current governor arrived to launch a meet-the-people fan fair with meetings in every nook. This mission was not quite clear. Many citizens (except one at least) hailed this unusual if not enterprising governor for the outreach effort until a spirited Premier dubbed him derisively the other Chief Minister' for his campaign style of village encounters and manipulated and neutralized him to a follower status, shutting him out and down to the Premier's pleasure and shadow.
It is certain though that he had a wider mandate to change the immigration and land holding laws on Montserrat in order to become more attractive to investors. Through the governor, Britain has imposed this thinking on a perceptively morally weak local administration and has been insistent in repeating this demand with the passing of a retrograde constitution over the fervent objection of public opinion and notably other legislative changes detrimental to the interests of Montserratians. Local representatives of the people simply ignore this travesty and collect their pay check glibly.
Now at a time when the land space is so limited the British have been allowed to design the takeover of Little Bay in a manner which will render the area exclusive to wealthy foreigners plus of course a certain few locals who have accumulated mega wealth through various nefarious means.
One draft of the plan at Little Bay provides for the construction of properties with starting price of US2M each. That will certainly create an exclusive ghetto for rich foreigners whether they are British, Chinese or others. To have amended laws pertaining to immigration and land holding means that they will have economic and political control and the indigenous Montserratians will be relegated to third class citizens.
In fact, a colonial status infinitely more malignant than what was experienced prior to emancipation will be established with the consent of our local government.
Handing over pristine Little Bay and the surrender of the indigenous population to the status of hewers of wood and drawers of water in their own country is scandalous. It is in the making my dear reader! (more on that later).
Given our pristine and healthy climate, the abundance of high quality water, the fact that Montserrat is the safest country in the world and also our strategic location between Europe and Asia and the Pacific on the other side, with proper management, we could easily have attracted investors on our own terms just as we did in the sixties and beyond.
Even though one senses that the cause is virtually lost, there is still lurking, the fantasy of the original model, in which Montserratians maintained ownership and control of their country and way of life.
Only moral vision in leadership will save the day on this benighted ship of state that we care so much about.
Photo Credit To The MDC
Claude Gerald is a social commentator on Montserrat. Ceegee15@hotmail.com