By James Milnes Gaskell
You are the Executors of the Will of the late Martin Crowley and the Trustees of the Windsong Foundation which was set up to receive the assets of his estate, apparently worth several hundred million US Dollars. From reports, it was Mr. Crowley’s wish that the funds of the Foundation be used to improve education of children under 18 anywhere in the world. The world is wide and that remit almost unlimited. Greg Rovenger, your lawyer, in September 2007, said that the Charity (Windsong) was desperate to start spending the money on books, computers for classrooms in Africa and projects to build schools across the developing world. Your task, not an easy one, is to see that the money the foundation dispenses is wisely used; indeed that it is actually used for the Trusts purposes. We hear so much these days about donated money never reaching its actual destination and disappearing, often without trace en route for a good cause.
Did you ever read a book titled ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by Greg Mortensen? It would show you what can be done by one man, an amazing American, to provide schooling in Pakistan and Afghanistan where no schools previously existed. Having said that, I write to you as a Nevisian glad to hear that you have set up ‘The Children of Anguilla Educational Foundation’ and that through it you have begun funding school building projects in Anguilla and that you say you want to apply the dream of Martin Crowley in a real way for the benefit of the islands of the Eastern Caribbean region as a whole. However, the purpose of this letter is to tell you that, no doubt by chance, you have selected as your representative in Nevis the single most divisive character in the Island’s politics in the person of Mark Brantley, and that this cannot work.
I would suggest that there are some here who think that Brantley is the most exciting new talent in Nevis political affairs and others who consider him to be untrustworthy, with a propensity to distort and deceive, to advance his political prospects in particular on his weekly two-hour radio programme. We do not have to decide whether either of these short descriptions is true in whole or in part. But the result of your apparent appointment of Brantley, the deputy leader of the Opposition party in Nevis and leader of the Opposition in the St. Kitts-Nevis Federal Parliament is, as reported, that the Principal Education Officer (PEO) in Nevis has instructed school head teachers not to apply to the Windsong Foundation via Brantley. The PEO herself must have been acting on instructions from the Minister of Education, who is also the Premier, Joseph Parry. There will be some who will say that this is wrong and that the school heads should apply anyway and see what happens. But if you take that view you allow that Brantley has the ability effectively to deny any scheme put forward by an individual or a school or his political opponents in the Administration, or the opportunity to distort and ridicule plans put forward by those responsible for the education of the children of Nevis.
One million US dollars, if well spent, would be very beneficial in Nevis education. You have in Anguilla set up a small committee to advise you how best to distribute some 2 million US Dollars in that Island. On that committee is a lawyer, a gentleman associated with the Anguilla Community Foundation, and a special assistant in the Ministry of Education. Please do the same for Nevis. You will need someone from the Education Department, a respected, retired educator and, as a suggestion, someone from the fairly new Nevis Charity called H.O.P.E. It is comprised of younger members of the community and concentrates on work in the schools.
What you cannot do if you wish, as I trust and pray that you do, to operate a charity providing for the many needs of the education of the children of Nevis, is to leave the various applications, mostly emanating from Government operated schools, to be assessed, criticised in public, forgotten, written off, rubbish binned, distorted, by the Administration’s most vociferous political opponent. If you do you will be operating a political campaign advantage fund, and not a charity of noble aim.
In your country, let us take a hypothetical Governor’s race in a State of population 10 million. Let us say that your foundation has 1 billion US dollars to spend in the State for the same educational purposes. These figures equate to United States Dollars 1 million for the Nevis population of 10,000. The Republican Governor is up for re-election. He is responsible for the schools and has been implementing his party’s policy for the past four years. Would you, in an election year, announce that an additional 1 billion dollars can be made available to such new schemes of education that his team can devise, provided they are first submitted to the Democrat contender? That is what, unwittingly I hope, you have done here.
What is strange is that on May 14th 2010, our St. Kitts-Nevis Observer reported Keithley Lake, Vice President of the Windsong Anguilla foundation, confirming that Windsong would be forming a similar Foundation in Nevis, and that in that report Brantley says “…Trustees for the grant would be selected locally once the arrangement was complete - they would consider and evaluate applications, and decisions would be made accordingly…We expect the monies to be remitted to Nevis within a matter of weeks…” But in a report in the same newspaper some 14 weeks later, we read “…According to a communiqué from the Foundation all applications from interested persons… should be addressed to: Windsong Foundation c/o Mark Brantley…”
We read also that Brantley says he is the sole agent responsible for collecting applications. There is no reference to a committee of the kind you have in Anguilla and which Mr. Lake said would be appointed in and for Nevis – just Brantley as sole agent for collection of applications, saying that “there would be no partisan concerns regarding the Foundation’s local operations…other than the fact that I am a politician, there is no politics involved whatever…” You should appreciate that there is nothing that Brantley does or says in public that is not ruled by his politics. I am a retired Innkeeper and part-time pro bono journalist. I was critical of a number of the policies and actions of the previous CCM Government, but I have also commented less than favourably on some of the present NRP Government’s actions. The merits of these criticisms do not concern us, but here is a matter that has relevance: I have been writing for several years about nutrition and the importance of improved meals in schools, and have, with others, raised money to equip and re-equip school kitchens, design better purchasing systems and menus and generally to improve the quality of food available in several Nevis primary schools. This has been a part of the NRP Government’s policy. I have tried to get Mr. Brantley (on his radio programme) to support it. Instead, my interest has been mocked and derided...“What, Gaskell come to save us from starvation!” There is no point in making an application to someone who one thinks may choose to leave my request in his pending tray until the volcano goes up, or say I should raise the money myself as the Foundation has more worthwhile projects to fund. There will be some way in which, because it is me raising the matter, and a part of this Government’s policy he will contrive to gain political advantage by his response.
There are now a number of large scale international studies that show the beneficial influence of nutritionally improved palatable school lunches. In fact, for many schools, they are going to be the single most important factor in raising standards and results. There is much to do and substantial funds are needed. May I make a suggestion? Thank Mr. Brantley for his legal advice and advocacy, acknowledge that he is considered a politically partisan figure, and set up your own committee on Nevis without reference to him and arrange that any applications made to your Nevis committee can also be e-mailed directly to you. This will ensure that nothing is left overlong in the ‘for action’ tray.
If you do this you will earn the respect of all Nevisians and, in due course, the gratitude of the children of Nevis, for the great kindness of the late Martin Crowley and the wisdom of his Foundation’s Trustees.