Antigua and Barbuda: Fish Stink From De Head! 08 September 2008
Article by Ian Moncrief-Scott for Mondaq.com
While senior Government officials show-boat around the world, strengthening relationships with despotic regimes and offering platitudes, promises and propaganda to anybody willing to listen, the fragile fabric of Antiguan society, frayed by years of neglect and abuse, is beginning to unravel in its entirety. The Caribbean saying that "fish stink from de head" is confirmed by the putrefying effect governmental corruption has on the society it is supposed to govern. With the Government remaining the nation's largest employer, the culture of personal interest driving all actions and choices becomes a corrosive element with inevitable results. The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has effectively muzzled an already self-serving press, whose primary concern is survival and positioning within the current oligarchy. The population has spent most of its accumulated energy on the last election and has become confused by the unfulfilled promises and the continued status quo.
After more than four years of "change", the two political parties and their ministers now clearly reflect each other's character, goals and means to achieving their own personal ambitions. How does that play on the international stage? Unfortunately, the international press pays little attention to Antigua. Antigua appears in the media only when it is recognized as the home to the Snipers, who shot a dozen innocent persons and terrorised the East Coast of the United States before they were caught; or the port of entry for the Shoe Bomber; or the more recent horrific murder of a young British couple, honeymooning in Antigua. Most of Antigua's reality remains in the wings. The British Government is slowly distancing itself from involvement with any aspect of Antiguan life. The U.S. Embassy continues its non-confrontational diplomacy, delivering on its minuscule financial promises, and tentatively accepting the government's spin on the expropriation of the Half Moon Bay Resort, once owned by a group of American citizens. The banks and international financial entities seem to be equally "neutral" in the face of clear deception and breach of bilateral agreements. It is almost as if Antigua is not worth the bother! And yet, the foundation of the public image Antigua is trying to project is slowly being eroded, as its Government slides into the quagmire of further malpractice and malgovernance. National Geographic Traveler, in its report of 7 November 2007, noted the decline in Antigua's tourism industry.
According to the survey of 522 experts, Antigua's present score has placed it into the "Islands in the Balance" category, and only one place from the "Islands in Trouble" category, "due to its notoriously corrupt government and losing touch with its heritage." (And this is BEFORE expropriation of foreign private investors' property and interests was added to the basic risk factor of doing business on Antigua). Doing Business 2008, in its fifth edition of annual reports presenting quantitative indicators on business regulations and the protection of property rights across 178 economies, shows Antigua dropping in international ranking.
In its 2008 report, Freedom House downgraded Antigua's ranking of its Freedom of the Press to "partly free", indicating political and other interference. The U.S. Department of State Country Reports of Human Rights Practises 2007, which also noted interference with the Press, officially recorded the expropriation of the Half Moon Bay private property. The absence of any progress towards compensation for the expropriation of said property will undoubtedly be also shown in the report for 2008. Antigua and its expropriation of the Half Moon Bay Resort have been recognised in the British press recently in connection with the London Daily Telegraph's discussion of the new game of cricket, called Twenty20, proposed, promoted and underwritten by R. Allen Stanford. Undoubtedly, as time wears on and more evidence of Antigua's reality comes under international scrutiny, it will be discovered that Antigua's political presence is built on quicksand and that the weight of its corruption is inexorably sucking it down. Time is not a friend to this process. Meanwhile, with the current spate of violent crime recently extending to tourists, visitors must heed the Foreign & Colonial Office's heightened visitor alert. The alert for investors has been high for some time now and will continue at that level until change in Antigua moves from promise to reality. That may be a long time away!