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Op-Ed: Elections and Democracy in the Turks and Caicos Islands

By Erik Neff
Op-Ed Contributor

Nov. 9 sparks a new beginning for the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Wracked by corruption, the overseas territory has been directly ruled by the United Kingdom since 2009.

This November will be the first time the territory has had elections since the commencement of British control.

The catalyst for Britain’s controversial governance and ethical bailout was Sir Robin Auld’s Commission of Inquiry Report 2008-09 on the alleged high probability of corruption in the TCI government.

Auld brought to light a decade’s worth of allegations of unscrupulous business transactions, nepotism, the selling of Crown land, and the imposition of a culture of fear over the territory’s 45,000 inhabitants by the governing elite.

Auld stated that little had changed in TCI except for the range and scale of corruption since Sir Louis Blom-Cooper’s Commission of Inquiry Ordinance report in 1986.

At the head of the troubles was the former Premier, Michael Misick, whose whereabouts are currently unknown.

When Gordon Wetherell took executive and legislative power as Governor, the only real initial outcry over the imposition of British rule was from Misick and investors.

Now, more than three years later, TCI has a new constitution, and is awaiting the trials of its charged maligns before Judge Paul Harrison of Jamaica.

An interesting dialogue has arisen from the recent turmoil dealing with Caribbean self-determination and the helicopter colonialism dichotomy.

While Britain is loosening its grip upon the TCI, it leaves behind an invasive precedent.

Britain’s move to suspend parliament and take over the day-to-day governance of the TCI has been heavily criticized by both locals and the Caribbean Community.

The precedent is unnerving for any small territory under British oversight. It effectively creates a double edged sword — live in fear due to corrupt local governmental practices, or be swaddled in recolonization and lose your autonomy. Neither choice is appetizing.

Whatever one’s view of him, former Premier Misick made a salient point that “[i]n a democracy mistakes are made as they are made in Britain and in all other countries around the world, but democracy must be allowed to grow and mature, despite the trials and errors.”

It is interesting that in the attempt to rekindle democracy and the public trust that Britain took to dissolving the symbol of democracy in the Westminster system, Parliament.

Yet, what was Britain to do?

It could not stand idly by as its interests, the people and land, were ransacked. Act and be called a colonizer, or allow its sovereign interests in the TCI to be harmed by the hands of local Machiavellians. In the end, the constitutional and executive solution to the treatment of the island by its inhabitants was British.

However, with the arrival of Judge Harrison to the Supreme Court of the Turks and Caicos, the solution as to the implementation of law is squarely in the hands of the people of the TCI.

Whereas Britain may have dictated the laws and governmental structure of the TCI, it is not in control of the disposition of the law against those charged by the SIPT.

Perhaps after this turmoil, democracy can once again grow and mature in the TCI.

Erik A Neff is a JD/LLM candidate at the University of Miami School of Law.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.

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