We revere the memory of the march that led to the restoration of the legislature, yet in recent years the House of Assembly has degenerated into a financially incompetent, unproductive talking shop. Why?
Flow sent me two totally inappropriate messages on Jan. 26: “Get registered 2 vote! NDP’s Youth 4 Walwyn is hosting a registration drive 2day at Bobbys & One Mart supermarkets 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Vote team NDP ALL the way!” and a similar exhortation at 1:20 p.m. Were they unintended smoking guns?
Before going further, I should declare my personal interests. My grandfather migrated from Berlin to London to join the burgeoning cable telegraph industry, married the English girl next door, and was naturalised British before World War I. I owe my very existence to the telecoms industry. Also, a handful of inherited Cable & Wireless shares facilitated my commentaries in the Beacon on the company’s takeover by Liberty Global, a United States corporation that aims at becoming the largest telecoms company the world.
Last September, Flow messaged me for an appointment to restore our broadband, destroyed by Irma a year before, but after the caller learnt our exact location in East End she said we would have to wait a few more weeks as they had only reached the Upper Room Church (about a mile away). In response to in-office reminders, Flow promised in December and again last week that we would be reconnected within “two weeks.”
My hardness of hearing prevented me making the calls I’d bought within my cell phone plan, so in August I subscribed for WiFi access, charged to my unused landline account. However, I was shocked to be messaged on Oct. 20 that the small balance left on my mobile account for emergency calls had been “confiscated” (I’d use a shorter word!), because I had not topped it up. My multiple e-mails requesting a refund — including complaints to an apparently non-existent complaints manager and warnings that I would appeal to the regulator (the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission) — have been acknowledged, but not actioned.
You may be more concerned about another issue I have fruitlessly raised with Flow. I paid in advance of Hurricane Maria for landline call and broadband plans for the whole of September 2017, but have yet to be refunded about $100 for Sept. 6-30 (perhaps more for you). Yet as a shareholder I would expect Liberty Global to have claimed for that period under a business interruption policy!
In the coming election, voters will be confronted by a stark choice of candidates: a record number of political parties largely led by the Old Guard of seasoned parliamentarians who have dragged the House down to being little more than a financially incompetent talking shop.
They have satisfied their egos but left a long list of deserving bills in limbo, apparently influenced by undisclosed outside financial interests. Newbies in the House should not have to turn to them for their tainted advice on procedure and conducting the territory’s business. All candidates should put the past behind them and do the following:
- pledge their intention to declare their outside interests;
- stop making empty promises and debate the merits of the acts-in-waiting they and their supporters see as priorities; and
- participate in a workshop which the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s observers team should be invited to organise.
Two recently presented acts have joined that long list: the Consumer Protection Act, which promises to benefit us all, and the Public Service Act, which emerged from the deputy governor’s pledge to modernise and regulate the day-to-day activities of the largest employer in the VI, which is financed largely by internal taxes and our twin pillars of tourism and financial serves.
I was delighted to discover that consumer bill went even further than the draft I discussed on Jan. 10, providing the promotion and protection of consumer interests regarding the supply of goods and provision of services, as well as protection of consumers’ life, health and safety.
However, the devil’s always in the details: While it provided statutory warrantee for goods and services for two years (a shoppers’ paradise) it retained the escape clause. The government must have cynically anticipated that there would have been insufficient time before the general election for the public consultation meetings it announced.
One noticeable absence from the bill was any reference to competition law. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States was driven to agree on a common consumer protection policy by a common distrust of Cable & Wireless’s dominance of the telecoms market, which had become too powerful in the region for one jurisdiction to oppose. However, the heads of government decided instead to recognise the Caribbean Community’s established policy.
There is nothing underhanded about pressure groups, which have openly existed side by side with the rise of political parties. Witness the power of the plantation owners in the United Kingdom, up to those for and against Brexit. Indeed, a group of UK parliamentarians advocates for the VI.
While the business interests of our parliamentarians may largely be public knowledge, however, the commercial concerns that lobby and pressurise members of our House are largely kept confidential, an insidiousness demonstrated by the empty register of interests.