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Last updated: 14 August, 2009 - Published 19:36 GMT
 
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TCI back under British rule
 
TCI parliament building
Local government has been suspended in the TCI

Late on a summer Friday afternoon in mid-August, the remnants of the British Empire grew a little bit larger.

The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) were declared back under direct British rule.

A statement from the British Governor in the TCI stated on 14 August: "We have today signed a proclamation, published in the Gazette, which brings into force the Order in Council suspending parts of the Turks and Caicos Islands constitution."

The reason: a British-ordered inquiry into the British dependency which shone a light on widespread corruption.

The final report recommended a two-year suspension of island government while the British Governor cleans up administrative and constitutional activity in the TCI.

Former Chief Minister Michael Misick, who was named in the British investigation and denied all allegations, challenged the direct rule move.

The Court of Appeal's mid-week dismissal of his challenge in the British courts allowed the final British Foreign Office decision to move to direct rule on Friday.

A statement from the TCI Governor's office made it clear what this meant for the islands.

Task ahead

The report into corruption in the TCI sparked off the changes which will take place on the islands in the next two years.

According to the inquiry team's document, the corruption appears to have consisted of "bribery of Ministers and/or public officers by overseas developers and other investors, so as to secure Crown Land on favourable terms".

The Commission also discovered "serious deterioration - from an already low level - in the territory's systems of governance and public financial management and control".

The contributing factors to this decline include "the potential and encouragement in the system of governance for abuse of public office, concealment of conflict [of] interest at all levels of public life".

Another factor was the lack of effective constitutional checks and balances "to protect the public purse, the inefficient from scrutiny, the dishonest from discovery and the vulnerable from abuse".

Michael Misick
The failure of Misick's court challenge allowed the FCO move

The head of the commission, Sir Robin Auld, has recommended criminal action against former premier Michael Misick and other politicians who are accused of enriching themselves.

Mr Misick and others have rebutted the charges.

Direct rule

Sir Robin has also recommended the restoration of direct rule in the TCI for two years, during which time the territory will be under the direct rule of Governor Gordon Wetherell, the Queen's representative in the territory.

He will be assisted by an advisory council.

Governor Wetherell told the BBC that Britain would use the two-year period to put measures in place to ensure good governance.

"The fact that it has decided that these steps are necessary, underlines the seriousness of the situation," he added.

"It would have been a dereliction of duty on the part of Her Majesty's government, given this responsibility for the good governance of the islands, to do differently," Mr Wetherell said.

The task facing the newly-empowered governor will include constitutional reform as well as a complete revamping of financial, political, and public service codes, if the report recommendations and its associated appendices are anything to judge by.

Right to govern

Former premier Misick, who stepped down in March amid the corruption allegations, criticised the UK decision, and mounted his legal challenge against the restoration of direct rule.

"We have the right to govern ourselves, the right to hold free and fair elections.

"To take away people's rights because of allegations should not happen in a modern democracy, even a colony," he told the BBC.

"And that's why we have decided to challenge it."

The Turks and Caicos' independent neighbours in the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) grouping have also denounced the UK decision as too drastic.

Report recommendations:

Some of the recommendations coming out of the report include:

• The appointment of a special adviser to the Governor to oversee reform of the public service; three public financial management advisers; an economic adviser; a good governance adviser and a crown land adviser.

• The provision for a special criminal process and civil recovery of assets arising out of any criminal or other investigations.

• Promulgation of a code of conduct for ministers of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

• Early implementation and amendment of the Integrity Commission Ordinance enacted in May 2008.

• Strengthening of the Attorney General's chambers.

• Preparations for increased judicial workload that may result from criminal and/or civil recovery investigations undertaken pursuant to this report.

• The establishment of a Civil and Criminal Recovery Unit.

• Provision for criminal and civil trial by judge alone, at the trial judge's direction in any case in which he considers no fair or effective trial could take place with a jury.

• Disqualification from membership of the Legislature of those who have been convicted of serious criminal offences for longer periods than presently prescribed.

Changes coming

Governor Gordon Wetherall's 14 August statement explained that he would appoint a Chief Executive and Head of the Public Service on the islands.

"After a long and frustrating period of waiting and delay, we can finally move ahead together towards a fresh start for the Islands," Governor Wetherall's statement said.

"Our goal is to make a clean break from the mistakes of the past by establishing a durable path towards good governance, sound financial management and sustainable development.

"Our guiding principles will be those of transparency, accountability and responsibility.

"I believe that most people in the Turks and Caicos will join with me in welcoming these changes."

"This is not a ‘British takeover’," it added, quoting local detractors.

Justification

In Governor Wetherall's 14 August statement, the justification of the British move continued:

"I have appointed experts to work in areas of concern highlighted in the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry, the TCI public service will continue to exercise their normal functions.

"Public services will continue to be run by people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, as indeed they should be. But I hope we can now begin to run them better.

"We have much to do and public expectations are high.

"We will need to prioritise. We need to stabilise TCI’s finances and help rebuild a more diverse and vigorous economy. People need to feel safe from crime and we need to clean up public life and start to develop a fairer, more open society.

"These objectives cannot be achieved overnight, and today’s change in the Constitution is only the start of the process.

"But I believe that, with the goodwill and support of the TCI public, we can make significant progress.

"Although the Advisory Council and the Consultative Forum will not be elected bodies, they will I hope be representative of the views of the community and be responsive to public concerns. I want to ensure that the voice of the people continues to be heard."

Britain has promised free and fair elections by 2011.

The TCI and its Caribbean neighbours will be watching to see what happens when the empire fights back.

 
 
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