On Tuesday March 14th, 2017, Director of Policy and Planning in the Office of the Premier on Montserrat, Miss Angela Estwick, was to give a presentation for the Annual St Patrick's Lecture on the topic "St Patrick’s Day Celebrations in Montserrat: Cultural Development or Cultural Irresponsibility?"
The lecture was organised by the local branch of the University of the West Indies Open Campus, and was to be hosted at the Montserrat Cultural Centre (MCC). For the past three weeks, the lecture had been advertised, and invitations issued.
However, on the night of the programme, it came to light via a posting on social media that the lecture was called off due to interference by the "authorities".
The issue with the impending lecture was highlighted at the time by Resident Tutor of UWO Open Campus, Miss Gracelyn Cassell.
Since this came to light, MNI Alive Media has been at work seeking to establish who the “authorities” were that stopped the lecture that was deemed critical in the debate about St Patrick's celebrations on Montserrat, and how it moves forward.
What we have established via extensive Fact Checking has been most disturbing to the continuance of free public expression on Montserrat.
Miss Estwick received a call from the Deputy Governor (DG) informing her that a concern about the impending presentation had been raised. The DG in her capacity acted very responsibly and professionally and called Miss Estwick to inquire if her speech was to be about Government Policy in any way. To which Miss Estwick replied, No.
The complaint formulated was that there was a view that the speech to be presented was deemed “controversial” and was addressing government policy. As to which specific policy it is not known.
Also, it is noticeable that a complaint was made based on the topic only, without the complaining body being aware of the contents of Miss Estwick's pending presentation.
Contrary to rumours and falsehoods being put into the public domain to smear the character of Miss Estwick, she at no point declined to make her presentation at the Lecture, as she had agreed to do. This is an inaccuracy, so planted, so as to divert attention away from the facts.
As Miss Estwick told MNI Alive; "Why would I make a speech contravening government policy in my position as Director of Development Planning and Policy? That would obviously jeopardise my position."
What we can further report is that Miss Estwick, having received the call from the DG to let her know a concern had been raised, offered to the DG to share the document with her and/or the AG's Chambers for vetting. However, the offer was not taken up.
To allay concerns, Miss Estwick then informed the resident tutor of the UWI Open Campus, Miss Gracelyn Cassell of what was going on. Towards which MNI Alive was informed that Miss Cassell too was aghast that someone would complain about the upcoming speech, and advised Miss Estwick that it was her right to speak on the issue as part of her free speech as a citizen, and she should proceed to deliver the presentation.
Miss Estwick, however, told MNI Alive that despite all of this, she was concerned that given the complaint, and other factors, based upon recent experiences, she thought it best to seek approval from a higher authority so as not to create a fracas.
No authority cancelled the speech outright it is known. However, in seeking approval, none also offered her the assurance that the speech can proceed without there being any issues.
Now, it is known that within the Office of the Premier, the Premier himself, Mr Romeo, has in the past not been an ardent supporter of Miss Estwick. She was once to be removed from that Office to a new post; so much so that she had to seek legal representation to oppose this move.
Thus, Premier Romeo stating that he did not stop the speech directly may be semantically true, but we do believe that he did exert influence to have the impending speech looked into.
MNI Alive knows other facts on this specific development, but so as to protect our source; we cannot divulge here any further details. But what is known is that Premier Romeo's statement on ZJB Radio news that he did not stop the speech is not entirely factually correct.
There is a discussion as to whether if Miss Estwick had gone ahead with her speech, if it would have been in contravention of the General Orders that guides Civil Servants' interaction with the media and making public addresses on policy.
However, it must be noted that Miss Estwick was not delivering a presentation on any government policy, so the complaint about her presentation is tantamount to an attempt to censor what she had to say during her speech.
The particulars of the General Orders are outlined below.
These amendments do not come into effect until April 1st, 2017.