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Hope on the horizon?

By Mike Jarvis London UK. 

The confluence of two developments recently, coincidental though they might have been, could play to the advantage of the United Kingdom’s overseas territories and the UK itself as they chart a future course. 

Firstly, leaders of the UK’s Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) put 2017’s hurricane disaster recovery at the top of the agenda at a meeting in Miami displaying a sense of communal responsibility and empathy. They are all in the hurricane belt and have experienced the devastating effects of these storms.  

Even more importantly, the display of unity amongst the territories themselves, and a common approach to work even closer with the UK towards a win-win outcome is to be lauded as it puts their relationship on a decidedly grown-up footing. 

The other major development recently was the announcement that Britain will now be able to spend official development aid on its hurricane-hit islands after changes to international rules agreed in Paris. 

As has been widely reported, during this year's hurricane season the British government was barred from releasing funds from its £13 billion overseas aid budget to its Caribbean ‘overseas’ territories as they were deemed too rich. 

An initial £62 million from the UK was never going to be enough. And, where to find additional amounts from within the Brexit-impacted UK national budget was going to be a financial, policy and political struggle by any stretch of the imagination.  

However, at a meeting in Paris this week, The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reversed its restriction and ruled that ODA (overseas development assistance) could be used for short-term help for middle-income countries. 

That development was welcomed at the Caribbean OCTs Miami meeting, although it was noted that “at the moment though, it’s not thought any decisions on this will be made in the short term.” 

As host Premier McClaughlin reminded of his territory’s own experience with 2004’s Hurricane Ivan: “I remember after Hurricane Ivan the Cayman Islands didn’t receive a penny from the UK Government.   

“It took us years to get fully back on our feet and we were fortunate that we had millions in insurance money coming into the Islands, which helped our recovery, however that’s not the case for these other Overseas Territories.” 

That the leaders of the affected islands expressed their gratitude for the humanitarian, law enforcement and military assistance provided by the UK Government and fellow Overseas Territories in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria is worthy of plaudits. 

They also welcomed the visits by the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel and Minister with Responsibility Overseas Territories, Lord Ahmad.   

Comparisons were however drawn by the visits in the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes of the Dutch King Willem Alexander and French President Emmanuel Macron. Their pledges to rebuild quickly at any cost further fuelled the debate about differences. 

Some of those early commitments now seem entrenched in a storm of their own. 

Take the situation of the Dutch government and its ‘kingdom partner’ St Maarten, where the setting up an Integrity Commission and the presence of the Hague-based Kingdom government on it, plus Dutch involvement in the policing of St Maarten’s borders have become very fractious issues around a 300 million Euros aid package pledged by Holland. 

Aid conditions, including exactly how the funds are to be spent, are not unusual and seem more and more to be the new normal 

 

According to the statement from the Miami meeting, of the £62 already spent – as opposed to disbursed – by the British government, “what remains unclear is whether these funds include the cost of deploying the military, the ships and the assistance that came immediately after the hurricanes.   

“If this is the case, available financial aid could be diminishing rapidly and there could be little left for ongoing relief and recovery.” 

It must also be noted that despite the relaxing of access to aid by the OECD for the UK’s OCTs, there would still be several hurdles to clear to actually ‘get hands on the funds’. 

The OECD has penciled in a crucial condition that “no ODA (overseas development aid) is diverted from existing recipients in the process.” 

Furthermore, the agreement to reinstate the UK territories on the list of ODA-eligible recipients comes with the proviso: “if they suffer a long-term economic decline.”  Legal minds will certainly be haggling over the interpretation of that clause it seems.  But all-in-all this could be welcome news if played to a mutually beneficial outcome. 

And the stance taken by the Caribbean OCTs at the Miami meeting, despite the enormity of the rebuilding task confronting them, it offers the scope for a ‘win-win’ for the territories and Britain. 

Last weekend’s Miami meeting was to set the stage for this month’s annual Joint Ministerial Meeting of the UK and its Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) in London.  It gives a sense of hope that ‘mother country’ and ‘territories’ could be on the path to a more grown-up relationship. 

Kudos to Cayman Islands Premier McLaughlin for organizing it. 

Next stop London…and the future.  

But on the way there, why the Miami stopover? Surely George Town or Hamilton would have more than sufficed…or even Brades.  

Perhaps next time. 

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