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A great shame for the entire Caribbean

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20.FEB.09

The news circling around our sister island of Antigua over the past week must make all Caribbean people hang their heads in abject shame. As if the global financial crisis and attendant woes in the vital tourism industry were not enough to cause deep worry in Antigua, there were reports of a lack of preparedness holding up the announcement of the election date, even after Parliament had been dissolved.{{more}} Adding to this is the spate of violent election-related incidents, including arson and bombings. These don’t say much for our much-vaunted “Caribbean civilization”.

These have now paled into relative insignificance by two shocking developments. First was the cricket debacle of last Friday when the Test match in Antigua had to be abandoned after less than two overs. The sheer incompetence of the Antiguan authorities and the notorious inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the West Indies Cricket Board were exposed to the entire world. Before the dust could settle on this came the shocking news of US authorities charging the region’s cricket Godfather Allen Stanford with a massive fraud involving billions of dollars. According to Rose Romero of the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), Stanford’s alleged multi-billion dollar fraud was “of a shocking magnitude that has spread its tentacles throughout the world”. The SEC apparently stepped up its investigation into Stanford’s financial transactions, following the arrest of another big American wheeler-dealer, Bernie Madoff, in a $50 billion scam last year.

However, many questions were being raised over Stanford’s dealings long before that. It is now being revealed that as far back as 1999, cables had been sent to the US State Department from The American Embassy in Antigua which were critical of the alleged hiring of financial consultants by Stanford to help revise Antigua’s off-shore banking laws. The reputable Bloomberg Financial also revealed that it was investigating Stanford’s political contributions to law-makers in the USA, including two representatives, Bob Ney and Tom Delay, both of whom were forced out of office on corruption charges. (Incidentally, there have been allegations in the Caribbean, not just in Antigua, over allegations of similar political contributions from this benefactor). Last year, too, three weeks after Stanford shocked the cricketing world with his $20 million treasure-chest at the hallowed “home” of cricket, Lord’s, Bloomberg had also reported that two former Stanford employees were suing his company for being forced to resign because they had refused to participate in certain illegal activities.

So excited were we over Stanford’s splurges that we all fell head over heels for Allen Stanford. He could do no wrong in the Caribbean, not even when he attempted to put our own LIAT out of business. The Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was pilloried for taking on Stanford in defence of LIAT. There were even loud voices in the region, understandably fed up with the bungling of the WICB, who openly advocated that we should turn the administration of our beloved game to Stanford. Some went further still. Given the constant dithering of CARICOM’s leaders, calls were even made for Stanford to be President of the region.

The situation with Mr. Stanford is undoubtedly a big blow to the region and its cricket development thrust. Yet it cannot and must not only be seen in light of what money we will be missing. Those of us with any sense of propriety must have, at some point or the other, begun to wonder about Stanford’s actions, which seemed to go well beyond the outermost borders of any benefactor. His wholesale gobbling up on Antigua, reputed influence in St.Kitts and some other northern islands must have raised some questions, albeit silently. But we all went along, Governments, the WICB, even the English cricketing authorities. We, the people of the Caribbean, were enthusiastic supporters. Does that say we don’t care how or where money is made? Are we not all guilty by omission or commission?

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