We are all well aware that the constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British territory, is likely to be suspended amid allegations of corruption. The former Premier, Michael Misick, is alleged to have built up a multimillion dollar fortune since he was elected in 2003. It is further alleged that Mr. Misick and his fellow government ministers have sold off Crown land to property developers for their own personal gain. In his interim report, Sir Robin, found ‘clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of general administrative incompetence’ which demonstrated a need for ‘urgent suspension’ of parts of the constitution. A draft Order in Council had been prepared which would suspend parts of the constitution ‘including those relating to ministerial government and the House of Assembly’ for two years – although this period could be lengthened or shortened. The Order would leave in place important elements of the constitution such as the fundamental rights chapter and provisions relating to the Governor, the courts and the public service, while removing the Cabinet, House of Assembly and references to ministerial and related powers. I wish to further examine the general treatment of this British Territory by the United Kingdom and the positions taken by various stakeholders to these drastic measures.
As the UK government seizes control of this territory, it was recently reported in the local press that the UK government will not provide a financial boost to the Turks and Caicos Islands economy because they believe that citizens of TCI should pay income taxes instead, this according to a prominent member of the UK foreign office.
This claim was made at the Chamber of Commerce meeting on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 by Colin Roberts, the UK’s Director for the Overseas Territories at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Mr Roberts said: “Why should the UK fund the luxury of all these local advisors here? You won’t like this, but why shouldn’t people here pay taxes?”
Mr Roberts made these remarks in response to calls for an economic stimulus package from the UK government to kick-start TCI’s sagging economy which has been crippled by the global economic crisis and the state of political limbo which the country has fallen into.
But the stimulus call has fallen on deaf ears as Mr Roberts ruled out any cash injections from the UK government into the TCI.
He told audience that although he recognised that the TCI was effectively broke, the UK tax payers would not be ‘dipping into their pockets’ to fund its financial recovery which had been caused by the ‘mismanagement of public’ funds.
Mr Roberts said: “You want people in the UK – who are paying income tax rates of up to 40 percent or more – to pay for you? The proposition, as seen from the UK, is that this country in the Caribbean, has officially at least a GDP per capita which is similar to or possibly greater than that of the UK.”
Roberts further stated: “It is an enormous pity that with all the millions – billions of dollars – flowing through this territory in recent years the government is effectively bankrupt. This is fixable and we will fix it.”
Mr. Roberts made it clear that the British government will not consider working alongside the present Hon. Galmo Williams administration as it pushes ahead with plans to take over the country as any route other than complete control would lack credibility.
Echoing the tough stance of the Governor, HE Gordon Wetherell, he said the following:
“Some people have suggested to me over the last 24 hours that maybe there’s another way, maybe we can come to some kind of agreement and the government can continue and put in place some of the reforms itself. We do not believe that is the right way forward. The main reason is this, that if we were to do any thing less, there would be absolutely no credibility in our report. There would be no credibility for the Turks and Caicos Islands.”
The location of the event drew criticism from some sections of the audience who felt that the setting was too ‘white’ and not accessible to ordinary Turks and Caicos Islanders.
Concerns were raised that the Chamber of Commerce had ignored the Turks and Caicos Islands’ native, black community by holding the meeting inside the plush, and to a certain extent, intimidating hotel. One audience member suggested that a more realistic venue choice could have been the Williams Auditorium, in Five Cays a predominantly black community so more Belongers could give their views. This seems to be a popularly held view by the locals. They believe that the decision making process is not representative of the cross section of the population of TCI.
Others believe that the guilty parties should be punished, not the entire nation. They believe that these measures are draconian and will set the country back more than one generation. A less popular view is that total control of the TCI by the British is best for country at this time.
The leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have backed the Turks and Caicos Islands’ Government at the 30th annual summit. CARICOM hit out at the Governor’s decision to block the Premier’s calls for an election last month, calling it “a lost opportunity”. They felt a new government “could have adopted and implemented the measures required to improve the administration of the territory and strengthen integrity in public life.”
CARICOM said: “The people of the Turks and Caicos Islands and their ability to govern themselves in the long run will benefit far more from strengthening their administrative and good governance processes through their own efforts than by the administrations through the governor under direct rule”. CARICOM views are consistent with many locals on TCI.
Hon. Lillian Boyce recently echoed the collective will of the majority of people. She said the following:
“Nothing or no one, not even the British, must ever be allowed to erase the accomplishments which the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands have worked hard to achieve. All across this country there is evidence of a strong legacy of progress, development and growth and it is imperative that this record of achievement is protected, championed and preserved.” We in this column agree with the former Health Minister and MP.
Premier Hon. Galmo Williams repeated calls to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) and His Excellency, Governor Wetherell, to accomplish the recommendations set out in the Commission of Inquiry final report.
Once again, the Hon. Premier asserted his view that he opposed plans to suspend the constitution and widen the franchise to give non-Belongers the vote.
He said: “The people of the Turks and Caicos Islands should be allowed to determine who will represent them through a democratic process, a free and fair election. Our position remains that we vehemently disagree with the suspension of our country’s constitution in part or whole, the removal of trial by jury and enlarging the franchise.”
Most citizens of TCI agree with the Premier and the following commission recommendations: They are the restoration of sound public finances, problems within the system of governance that enable wrong-doings to take place, and the implementation of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry report. They simply believe that these reforms can be achieved within the context of internal self governance. Again, we at Sound Off agree with them.