Above: Turks and Caicos Premier Rufus Ewing
By Alexander Britell
Turks and Caicos Premier Dr Rufus Ewing has asked the United Kingdom to recall Governor Ric Todd, Attorney General Huw Shepheard and CFO Hugh McGarel Groves from office.
In a letter to UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, Ewing, who is currently Premier in an evenly-split House of Assembly, criticized what he alleged were “atrocities and wrongful acts” being committed by the Governor and UK officials on the island.
Neil Smith, a spokesman for Todd, told Caribbean Journal that “Governor Todd has the full confidence of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.”
Ewing, who led the Progressive National Party’s victory in the November 2012 elections, its first since 2009, also said the country’s 2011 constitution order should be amended.
The current constitution “is not a constitution of the people, by the people or fore the people, and hence it should be amended and advanced, and we should start this process immediately through the proper procedures and dialogue.”
That constitution was drafted and implemented by the Interim Administration during a period of direct rule by the UK, which had suspended the TCI’s constitution following evidence of widespread corruption at all levels of government under the administration of former Premier Michael Misick.
Since 2009, the Interim Administration, along with the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team, has been targeting alleged corruption in the territory, first discovered by a Commission of Inquiry begun by Sir Robyn Auld.
Todd has served as Governor since 2011, when he succeeded former Governor Gordon Wetherell.
Ewing, a member of Misick’s Progressive National Party, questioned whether that corruption existed.
“The alleged wrongdoings of the former PNP Administration and associates is quickly being exposed as a farce, impregnated with cloak and dagger acts on the part of the Governor, AG Chambers and SIPT, to incarcerate Turks and Caicos Islanders at all costs, even the cost of the violation of the principles of justice and the human rights of individuals,” Ewing said.
“What he’s saying flies in the face of the evidence,” Smith told Caribbean Journal.
Smith pointed to the 12 people who have already been arrested on charges relating to corruption, including five Misick-era ministers. On the civil side, $19.5 million has been recovered, along with 2,500 acres of crown land.
“There are mountains of evidence,” he said, questioning why Misick would have fled the TCI if there had been no substance to the charges.
The timing of Ewing’s letter comes a little over a month before a by-election that will either keep Ewing as Premier or change the government to that of the People’s Democratic Movement.
The PNP and PNP each have 7 seats in the House of Assembly.
The Premier said there was a “growing focus” by the international community on what he called “justice for sale,” “conducted under the guise of plea bargaining.”
“Such cases include many well-known expatriate developers who have secured their freedom from prosecution, both by monetary exchange under the guise of ‘Civil Recovery,’ and by providing evidence against accused local politician ‘co-conspirators.'”
The Interim Administration had sought to bring the territory’s balance sheet back into the black, including tax increases, austerity measures and a proposed Value-Added Tax.
The TCI’s austerity measures had led to a revenue surplus for the first half of 2012, and a projected budget surplus for 2013/2014.
But the VAT, in particular, had been met with steep opposition from the TCI’s business community.
Ewing wrote that the Governor’s economic strategy was “not the way to prosperity,” mentioning the VAT specifically.
“Our beautiful by nature Turks and Caicos has a bright future,” Ewing said. “But the current Governor, Attorney General and remnants of the previous administration are obstacles in the way of prosperity. They never have, and even more so now, enjoyed the trust, confidence and support of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.”
He said he was asking that the three be “replaced by unbiased individuals, better suited to adapt to and to work synergistically with a democratically-elected government, the business community and the local community.”
Meanwhile, Misick himself was recently released from jail in Brazil earlier this month after being arrested in December on a warrant issued by the SIPT.
The TCI has officially requested his extradition from Brazil, a process which remains ongoing despite Misick’s release on bail.