Montserrat

Basic Information

Status: British Overseas Territory
Area: 102 square km (39 square miles)
Population: 4,483 (estimate)
Capital City: Plymouth (now destroyed by the volcano)
Languages: English
Religion(s): Christianity
Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$)
Major political parties: National Peoples Liberation Movement (NPLM); National Progressive Party (NPP)
Governor: Her Excellency Ms Deborah Barnes Jones
Chief Minister: The Honourable Mr John Osborne MLC

Geography

Montserrat is one of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, lying 27 miles southwest of Antigua and 40 miles northwest of Guadeloupe. The island is eleven miles long and seven miles wide entirely volcanic and very mountainous. The coastline is rugged and offers no all-weather harbour, although there are several anchorages in the lee of the island sheltered from the prevailing trade winds. Port facilities exist at Little Bay. Winair operates a fixed wing service between Montserrat and Antigua using Twin Otters. There are a minimum of five return flights per day.

History

Named after a monastery in Spain by Christopher Columbus during his second great voyage in 1493, the island became a British Colony in 1632 although the first settlers were largely Irish. Montserrat was captured by the French twice for short periods but was finally restored to Britain in 1783.

Politics

Constitutional Status

Montserrat is an internally self-governing Overseas Territory. This provides for the execution of government through a Governor appointed by the Crown, an Executive Council (ExCo) which has the general control and direction of government, and a Legislative Council (LegCo). The Governor retains responsibility for internal security (including police), external affairs, defence, the public service (of which she is the head) and offshore finance.

In December 1989, Montserrat's Constitution was consolidated into one document. The new Constitution came into force on 13 February 1990.

Constitutional Review

Her Majesty’s Government invited Overseas Territories to carry out local consultation and to make proposals for the review and modernisation of their constitution (1999 White Paper Partnership for Progress and Prosperity). The Montserrat Constitutional Commissioners reported in 2002. Legislative Council reviewed the report in 2005 and passed their own report to London in April 2005. The review process continues.

Recent Political Development

The general election on 2 April 2001 saw a landslide victory for John Osborne’s National Peoples Liberation Movement (NPLM). A 78% turnout of the 3,000 strong electorate, in a well-organised and orderly election, resulted in the NPLM securing seven of the nine available elected seats in the Legislative Council. The other two seats went to members of the National Progressive Party (NPP). Later, two members of the NPLM resigned from the party to cross the floor to join the opposition.

Volcanic activity has resulted in four and a half of the original seven constituencies in Montserrat being unoccupied. As a result the pre-1995 electoral arrangements became unworkable. In February 1999, the Governor appointed a commission to suggest reforms. The Commission reported in May 1999. Their main recommendations were that:

  • the single-member, multi-constituency, first-past-the-post electoral system be replaced by a single-constituency system under a modified first-past-the-post arrangement;
  • the nominated membership to the Legislative Council be abolished and the elected membership be increased from seven to nine accordingly.

The main recommendations were accepted by HMG and the new system was used in the 2 April 2001 election.

Elections

Elections are held every five years on the basis of universal adult suffrage. The last general election took place on 2 April 2001 after the resignation of two ministers from former Chief Minister David Brandt’s government in February forced an unexpected election (originally due for November 2001). The next election is due by April 2006.

Government

Governors Office:

Governor: Her Excellency Mrs Deborah Barnes Jones

Head of Governor’s Office: Mr Russ Jarvis
Staff Officer: Mr Mark Patterson
PA: Mr Richard Mallion

Government Ministers:

Chief Minister, Finance, Economic Development. Sports, Culture and Tourism: The Hon Dr John Osborne MLC
Minister for Communications and Works: The Hon John Wilson
Minister for Lands, Housing, Agriculture and Environment: The Hon Mrs Margaret Dyer-Howe MLC
Minister for Education, Health and Community Services: The Hon Mrs Idabelle Meade MLC

Economy

Basic Economic Facts

GDP:current EC$94.7m (2004), constant EC$60.9m (2004)
GDP per head:EC$20,231 (2004)
Economic Growth Rate:current 4.46%, constant 1.9% (2004)
Inflation:4.0% (2004)
Major Industries:The manufacturing/production base is rather small and therefore industrial activity is marginal
Major trading partners:United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Trinidad & Tobago, Puerto Rico
Exchange rate:EC$4.8482 = 1 (the rate floats)

International Relations

Montserrat’s Relations with Neighbours

Montserrat is a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Montserrat is also a member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which share a single Central Bank, the ECCB. The ECCB and the Ministries of Finance of Member States determine and monitor monetary policy for the Eastern Caribbean dollar. The UK Government encourages Montserrat to obtain maximum benefits from regional integration, including, where appropriate, through their membership of CARICOM and the OECS. Montserrat requires prior UK Government approval, in the form of an Entrustment, before undertaking international commitments.

Montserrat’s Relations with the International Community

HMG is responsible for Montserrat’s external relations.

Montserrat's Relations with the UK

Diplomatic Representation

HMG is responsible for Montserrat’s external relations, defence and internal security. The principal point of contact is Overseas Territories Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Governor’s Office, Government House, Montserrat.

Montserrat Government UK Representative

Mrs Janice Panton MBE
Government of Montserrat Office
7 Portland Place
London
W1B 1PP
Tel: 020 7031 0317
Fax: 020 7031 0318
Email: j.panton@montserratgov.co.uk

UK Development Assistance

By 1995 Montserrat was on the road to recovery from Hurricane Hugo and was in budgetary surplus. With the commencement of volcanic activity the Government has relied on UK budgetary aid to meet its recurrent costs. Economic activity has begun to recover from a low point in early 1998.

From the start of the volcanic crisis to March 1998, Britain provided 59 million in assistance. A further 75 million was allocated for the period April 1998 to March 2001. 55 million was allocated from April 2001 to March 2004 to help meet the Government's recurrent costs and to implement the policies set out in the Sustainable Development Plan to develop the north of the island. Following a major volcanic eruption in July 2003, DFID provided a further 5 million for the Ash Clearance Programme. The Country Policy Plan (CPP), announced in June 2004, sets out the strategy for the UK’s support to Montserrat for the period 2004/5 – 2006/7, to help the island achieve its objectives. The total aid framework for this period is 40 million, of which 13.1m is for 2004/05.

Trade and Investment with the UK

UK exports to Montserrat: EC$11,000,000
Montserrat exports to UK (2004): EC$700,000

Human Rights

Overseas Territories are expected to comply with their obligations under the international human rights instruments which have been extended to them. The following major Conventions apply in Montserrat:

  • Inter European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
  • International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT)
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
  • UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

Soufriere Hills Volcano

On 18 July 1995, the Soufriere Hills volcano in the south of the island became active for the first time in 350 years. By April 1996, increased pyroclastic activity had forced the evacuation of the capital Plymouth and most of the south of the island. Eruptions increased in vigour until a large explosion on 17 September 1996 destroyed a village to the east of the volcano; the village had been evacuated. The situation changed dramatically for the worse on 25 June 1997 when a large pyroclastic flow led to the deaths of 19 people in an area long designated as unsafe. In the following months, the centre of Plymouth, the capital, was destroyed by pyroclastic flows. The largest pyroclastic flow so far occurred on Boxing Day 1997, destroying several villages in the Exclusion Zone. A major eruption occurred on 12/13 July 2003, following a collapse of the dome. There were no casualties. ther, less energetic, eruptions have occurred since, the latest being in mid-July 2005. Close monitoring of the volcano continues. The Southern part of the island remains an Exclusion Zone. There is a Day Time Entry Zone (DTEZ) in the St George’s Hill area that allows entry from 6 am to 6 pm. In addition, there are three designated Marine Exclusion Zones to the south and east of the island, which are subject to volcanic-related activity.

Since volcanic activity began, the population on the island has declined from approximately 11,000 to about 4,000. Some 3,500 Montserratians have relocated to the UK. Of the rest, the majority has resettled in the Caribbean region, principally Antigua.

Top