Montserrat leaders `treat Britain like a milch cow'

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The Independent Online
Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, last night made an outspoken attack on the political leadership in Montserrat, accusing it of treating Britain like a "milch cow" and falling into a dependency culture.

Answering criticism of her compensation offer to those forced to flee the Caribbean island's volcano, Ms Short singled out political leaders, arguing: "Their answer to an emergency is to demand more and more from Britain. We have tried to give choices to individuals. Their approach is `give them all golden elephants'."

Ms Short added: "In the last couple of weeks the government of Montserrat have made such wild suggestions and created such hysteria that it has destabilised the people. Our package is generous and reasonable, and people have to stop screaming and bawling for more money to come along."

The minister made clear that more aid for Antigua, the destination of most islanders, was possible, but added: "We are in the face of a tragedy and the elected government starts screaming for more money. That is an exemplification of the effects of dependency because, at the end of the day, that is not accepting responsibility. It is screaming at the person you are dependent upon."

Ms Short's comments caused outrage on Montserrat. "This woman is out of line," said Donald Romeo, a local businessman who has organised street protests against the British and local governments. "She talks of pounds 41m in aid. Most of that has gone to renting luxury villas for British personnel, scientists and development aid people. None of that money has been seen by a single Monserratian.

"They call us a dependent territory. But we obviously cannot depend on them."

Ms Short and her fellow ministers were also attacked at home as incompetent for ignoring advice made two months ago by senior backbenchers to declare a state of emergency on Montserrat. Bernie Grant, MP for Tottenham, said he and his black Commons colleague, Diane Abbott, met ministers in June to warn that the island's government could not deal with the disaster and that urgent action under direct rule from Whitehall was required.

"We have been fiddling while Montserrat burns. It's ridiculous," he said. "We've been hiding behind the skirts of local officials. The British Government is responsible for the security of Montserrat."

On Thursday the island's Chief Minister, Bertrand Osborne, resigned after Britain offered much lower compensation than he had been seeking. His successor, David Brandt, a lawyer and legislative councillor, yesterday attacked Britain for not offering enough to people who were leaving. "You're talking about people who have lost everything they had," he said after being sworn in by the Governor, Frank Savage. "People are leaving here not because of the volcano but because of the distress they are suffering."

Mr Brandt accused Britain of freezing plans to develop the "safe" northern end of the island, and said Cuba had offered to provide pre-fabricated homes for refugees at cost price and without charging for transport.

Instead of assuming direct rule and convening a meeting of Caribbean governments to hammer out an emergency plan, claimed Mr Grant, Whitehall had vacillated. "This government has got to take some serious blame about what has happened. Every time the volcano erupts, the policy changes."

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