Government of Montserrat

Premier Romeo’s Welcoming Speech for New Governor-His Excellency Andrew Pearce

Your Excellency, Mr. Pearce, Honourable Speaker, Deputy Governor, Fellow Ministers and Members, Sir Howard Fergus, Men and Women of the Clergy, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, a very pleasant good afternoon.


IMG_0323Your Excellency, on behalf of the Government and People of Montserrat I welcome you, Mrs. Pearce and your daughter to our beautiful island on this sunny afternoon. Those before me have done a marvelous job of welcoming you on our behalf, which allows me to say a bit more than welcome. Unlike most first time visitors, as of today it is within your influence to keep and make Montserrat a safe and prosperous paradise. In welcoming you, I also have the opportunity, duty and privilege to share with you our people’s vision, ambition, needs and concerns.


Since 1997 and still today, the people of Montserrat have remained committed to fulfilling our national vision to achieve “a thriving, modern economy with a friendly, vibrant community in which all of our people through enterprise and
initiative can fulfill their hopes in a truly democratic and God-fearing society”


Indeed, this has been the dream of our people since before the abolition of slavery. This year, on March 17, 2018, we will commemorate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the 1768 uprising of our enslaved ancestors, who fought and died for our liberty. Over the two hundred and more years since then, our forefathers and their political leaders with the help of God used art and skill, toil and sweat, used well-deserved aid and private investment to bring our people to economically stand on our own two feet by the mid 1980’s. Montserrat was and still is, the paradise of the Caribbean, with hard working and ambitious people who take pride in owning and building our own homes and businesses, educating our children and making our community and visitors around us safe and welcome.


I know that you have been well briefed, but I crave your indulgence as I share with you a front seat drive into our journey in responding to natural disasters over recent years that challenged our ability to stand while carrying our vision and ambition in our hearts. In 1989, Montserrat was devastated by Hugo, a category 4 Hurricane; but our greatest challenge is our response to the Soufriere Hills Volcano that came alive in 1995.


Please indulge me in sharing a summary from my recent presentation to the UN:


In just six years [after Hugo] our houses and key infrastructure were largely rebuilt both better and stronger and Montserrat was standing proudly on its own two feet economically.


Little did we know that we were rebuilding key infrastructure in the wrong place. Yes, in the path of a sleeping but potentially destructive volcano. In 1995, six years after Hugo struck, the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted, forcing the evacuation of more than 60% of our population to live on one third of the island, away from its wrath and away from key and the newly rebuilt infrastructure – our only town, our government buildings, our only sea and air port, our only hospital, our main hotels, our only golf course, our most arable farm lands, newly built telecommunications center, newly constructed and well maintained road infrastructure.


All of these were eventually destroyed or rendered useless over a five (5) year period, between 1995 and 2000.


Only by God’s grace have we survived those early days of uncertainty and loss. Yet as we journey along the people of Montserrat have carried their dream, their vision and ambition of “a thriving, modern economy with a friendly, vibrant community in which all of our people through enterprise and initiative can fulfill their hopes in a truly democratic and God-fearing society”.


Your Excellency, over the past seventy years, there has been a British administrator or a Governor on Montserrat, down to this very day. You are about the 7th Governor in the past 20 years of volcano crisis since Governor Savage, the third for my Government’s three plus year stay.


Your Excellency, neither you or I can change painful, tear-stained history, but we can learn from it. Nor can we bury our head in the sand and pretend. We have got to face the truth if we are going to overcome and achieve our vision.


Indeed, in her final press conference, your predecessor, former Governor Carrier, reminded us that the leaders of the UK Overseas Territories which were hard-hit by hurricanes last September are determined that after twenty years, their Territories must not be where Montserrat is today – waiting on basic but key, resilient infrastructure. In taking her place we invite you to join the Government and People of Montserrat in making sure that this does not continue to happen under your watch. Montserrat must be treated with urgency just as Anguilla is being treated.


On the issue of priority, Your Excellency, you are well placed as head of the public service, disaster preparedness and Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO)representative to fight alongside the Government of Montserrat (GoM) for a positive outcome to capital project negotiations in the coming weeks. Especially because the FCO’s long-standing policy declaration is that UK Overseas Territories are a priority on the UK development aid budget. Also, Your Excellency, the FCO has the internationally legally binding force of the UN Charter, Article 73 to back making Montserrat’s development needs a priority at last.


It is obvious that it is not healthy for us to be arguing back and forth for basic support needs and the necessary transformational infrastructure projects. So, although between the UK and the Government and people of Montserrat we have long had the means, the proper motive and many opportunities to break through and deliver what is necessary to achieve our vision and ambition, not enough has been done. We all have known for the past 20 years that if Montserrat is to grow out of dependency that we need a proper and adequate sea port, we need an adequate airport, we need a reasonable hospital, a new capital town, hurricane resistant housing, fibre optic connectivity, road and other key infrastructure, as well as public sector reform, private sector development, etc.


This is the challenge we face together. I am sure, you agree that there is no other way to achieve our vision than to “spend to save”; in other words to provide the right level and type of recurrent and capital aid in both the short and long term that will help us to build a sound future.


Also, that “this is the time to move Montserrat forward.” For, another several decades of recurrent budget aid, directly funded by the British taxpayers is not in their or our best interest. The choice at this economic crossroad is clear; strategic capital investments to return Montserrat to self-sufficiency or continued annual aid for generations to come.”


So, as you spend your days and years on this Island I would like you every morning to be reminded of the ambition and vision of our people. I would like you to join me in reminding your superiors in the UK of the people of Montserrat’s ambition and vision. When we sit in Cabinet, when you sit with the Deputy Governor to discuss building the Public Sector, when you shop in our stores, buy locally grown vegetables, take a swim in the beach, or a hike in the mountains, I would like you, with God’s help to think about our vision and ambition.


In closing, I am reminded of a famous quote by Winston Churchill, which states “A nation that forgets its past has no future.” Your Excellency, this country has a very accomplished history of enjoying a thriving economy and being a regional leader.
• We led in aviation with the establishment of LIAT
• We led in Financial Services with Offshore Banking
• We led in international radio communications with Radio Antilles
• We led in villa tourism with our developments in Richmond Hill, Foxes Bay, Isles Bay Hill, Old Town, Woodsville and Woodlands.
• We led with the best medical school in the region and much more.


This is why, today, in swearing in as Governor, you have joined us with fresh hands and feet. To understand us, is to know our history and feel the challenge we now face. It is a challenge that requires us to work together towards a common, united national vision. It will require courage, diligence, and a determined effort on the part of us all. Our predecessors, past and present public servants, our private sector and our National Heroes have paved the way for this very moment to fulfill our destiny and rebuild this great land.


So, in your days, weeks and years here, I invite you to join the Government and people of Montserrat in using our art and skill, sweat, tears and laughter to one end and be connected to our destiny of getting our people out of dependence by creating “a thriving, modern economy with a friendly, vibrant community in which all of our people through enterprise and initiative can fulfill their hopes in a truly democratic and God-fearing society.”