Above: Governor Christine Scott
By Alexander Britell
Christina Scott began her appointment as Anguilla’s 12th Governor over the summer, succeeding Alistair Harrison as the United Kingdom’s top official on the island. She came to the British Overseas Territory following a long career in the civil service in the UK, most recently as the Director of Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office. To learn more about her first few months in the post and her initial impressions, Caribbean Journal talked to Scott about her relationship with the government, an upswing in the tourism sector and Anguilla’s role in the OECS.
How have your first few months been as Governor?
Well, I think they’ve been extremely enjoyable, very interesting and quite a lot of hard work as well, coming to a new place and getting to grips with all the issues. So it’s had its moments, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet people. It’s been very good to know the country a bit. It’s hard work — we had the ECCB interventions in the two domestic banks here and that’s quite a lot of hard work, so it’s not been completely enjoyable, but it’s good to have something to get to work on.
Has anything you’ve seen or experienced surprised you so far?
No — my best approach is to come without preconceptions and without previous judgments. So I’ve had my ears open and my eyes open and I’m keen to learn things — I didn’t come with preconceptions that have been challenged. I’ve known that I was doing this job since last summer, so I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Ministers in Anguilla before arriving. So it was good that I wasn’t coming in completely cold, but I was thinking about the place for many months.
Tourism is by far the biggest driver of Anguilla’s economy. How would you describe the state of tourism right now?
Tourism is the biggest game in town here, and it’s the thing that matters more to the economy than any other sector at the moment. The last few years have been very rough for Anguilla — just as they have been rough across the Caribbean, reflecting the global financial crisis. But the last year has seen an encouraging uplift in terms of visitor numbers. I think 2013, at the moment, is looking to be the best year in terms of numbers since 2009, so that’s a really encouraging sign. August had the highest number of people since something like 1993, in terms of visitors, so it’s very, very encouraging. We intend to continue to improve and maintain the quality of the tourist offer, and encourage various projects that are coming through the pipeline, given the valuable economic impact they have.
What are some of the projects coming on line?
There are a few that are quite exciting — we’ve had a number of things open recently. But the big one is the Malliouhana reopening, which is due to come back on line in the spring of next year, and they’re bringing in stuff right now to renovate and refurbish. The CuisinArt development building its new hotel, and that’s now got approval to get ahead. Another on Shoal Bay is Zemi Beach, the large development of hotel and private residences, some of which are already built. So those are three — and there are really a number of other development sites which are encouraging as well. I think that’s a very welcome recognition that the private sector is recognizing that Anguilla continues to be a five-star destination and somewhere worth investing, and the climate is right to invest at the moment, reflected in the number of visitors we’re getting. We’re hoping that with the additional projects coming on line, it will continue to be the best tourist offer in the region.
How would you describe the general state of the economy in Anguilla?
The last few years have been extremely challenging, largely a function in the drop in tourists, but there are encouraging signs of growth. I think it’s important that Anguilla continues to be open to new investment, that we make sure the public service is geared toward the best possible tourism experience, both for visitors and also doing what they can to increase investor confidence, and potential new developments. So it’s not where we want it to be at the moment, but the signs, I think, are encouraging. We need to make sure we’re ready to benefit from it.
Are there any niche sectors of the economy that have the potential for growth?
Tourism is obviously the main one. The other important one is obviously construction, and they’re supported by the developments that are going on —they’ll get a boost. The other is the financial services sector, where we don’t have the size of financial services of some of the other British Overseas Territories have, but we do have a small but well operated financial services sector here, and some niche areas like captive insurance where Anguilla is toward the top of the world. So part of the challenge is continuing together and developing that sector and make sure we’re developing the skills in Anguilla and for them to enter that sector and support it for sustainable growth. And one of the other things that has been very good is the progress Anguilla has made against the commitments made by the Prime Minister in relation to tax and transparency. That will help continue to make sure Anguilla is in a good place to be a competitive player and somewhere investors can continue to invest in.
How has your relationship been with the elected government thus far?
Good — It’d say it’s been a very, very warm welcome, not just from the Ministers but all the elected members of the House of Assembly. One of the things I most enjoyed was doing a series of visits with each of [the Members] to their districts to get a view from them of the priorities in the area. And that continued over to the cabinet meetings we had.
How do you see Anguilla’s role within the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States?
Well, Anguilla plays an active part in the OECS. As you know, we [recently] hosted the annual meeting of the OECS Environment Ministers, we’re very pleased to have chaired that. Clearly the OECS is an organization for taking forward work on these issues, which have an impact across the region, and obviously these are issues faced by all small states. The OECS has a role to play in building capabilities, and trying to give more of a voice for action on climate change.
Do you stay in contact with other Governors in the Caribbean?
Sure — I’m in constant contact with my fellow Governors from the other British Overseas Territories — Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos and the Caribbean group, and we are in constant dialogue and there’s always an issue one of us will face — the reassuring thing is to ask a question of your fellow colleagues and one of them will almost always have dealt with a similar issue in the past and have some wise thing to say on the subject. We work together as a team across the British Overseas Territories. So we try to bring other relevant experiences into an improved dialogue and to encourage working together across the region.