Above: the Karibe Convention Centre in Haiti (CJ Photo)
By Alexander Britell
PORT-AU-PRINCE — The current state of the affairs in the Turks and Caicos Islands has the potential to throw the territory “into chaos,” Premier Dr Rufus Ewing said in an address to the CARICOM Heads of Government here Tuesday.
Ewing, who wrote a letter to British Foreign Secretary William Hague last week asking him to recall the Governor, Attorney General and CFO of the Turks and Caicos Islands, asked the assembled dignitaries to “keep the situation in the Turks and Caicos under review.”
“The current state of affairs in the Turks and Caicos Islands has the potential to throw our country into chaos,” he said. “For so long as I am the leader and principal spokesman of the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands, I will use every means available to me to ensure that does not happen.”
Ewing received a mention during the conference’s opening ceremony Monday morning, as it was the first time the Turks and Caicos had been represented at a CARICOM Conference since the territory’s democratic government was suspended in 2009.
The Premier, who mentioned the “long relationship” between the TCI and host country Haiti, called on CARICOM to keep a close eye on developments in the archipelago.
“I urge you to stand with us, not on one or other specific policy, but on the question of democracy,” he said. “I invite you to advocate on the international stage for the full restoration of the institutions of true democracy in our islands and to support our cries for removal of the spectre of colonial influences of the past, as we fight for our rights on our journey towards true self-governance and self-determination.”
The suspension of democratic government in the TCI came after findings of widespread corruption in the territory’s government, following a Commission of Inquiry by Sir Robin Auld.
The territory’s then-Premier, Michael Misick, ultimately fled the TCI, until he was arrested in Brazil at the end of 2012. He was released on bail as the UK seeks his extradition from that country.
Ewing was elected Premier in the country’s elections in November, though he is now leading a split 7-7 House of Assembly that awaits the result of a by-election for the territory’s 15th seat next month.
Continuing a theme from his letter to Hague on Friday, the Premier said that, while the territory had held elections in November, “the restoration of true democracy is still a far way off.”
“In the Turks and Caicos, we are today being governed by a constitution that was conceived in Whitehall, and was, for all intents and purposes, thrust upon the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, at a time when they were without representation,” he said. “The 2011 Constitution is merely a by-law for the continuance of direct rule under the pretext of representative democracy.”
Ewing said the UK had ruled with “absolute power” during the period of direct rule, imposing measures such as budgets “without debate” and implementing “laws facilitating the imposition of taxation against the wishes of the people,” among others.
He also called the imposition of direct rule “an inappropriate response” to the findings of the Commission of Inquiry and something that “ran counter to every principle of democracy and good governance.”
The Premier also referred to a series of criminal and civil settlements regarding the period of corruption, saying that “in the relation to the criminal investigations that followed the commission of inquiry, persons who were charged criminally have avoided the criminal process by paying millions of dollars into the treasury before they were even called upon to answer the charge.”
This type of action, he said, “is nothing short of corrupt.”
“When justice is for sale and when laws are implemented and made retroactive, arguably in an effort to secure particular convictions, the justice system and the system of justice is being challenged and democracy is under siege,” he said.
Another major issue in the TCI has been the imposition of a Value-Added Tax, something several other Caribbean governments have imposed in recent years, including Dominica and St Lucia.
Recently, the TCI’s lawmakers voted unanimously in support of an ordinance to repeal the tax, which has been met with stiff opposition from the TCI’s business sector, before it comes into force April 1.
“While we maintain that VAT will not work in the Turks and Caicos Islands, we are more concerned, as you can see, that the principle of Democracy and Good Governance,” he said.
“If His Excellency the Governor refuses to assent to the repeal bill, he would have said, in no uncertain terms, that the voice of the people is the voice of God, only so long as God and the United Kingdom government are singing in chorus,” he said.
Ewing said that, as long as he remained Premier, he would “stand in opposition to any individual or group of individuals whose purpose it is to reverse the social, political and economic gains of past governments.”
Ewing said his government’s commitment to CARICOM was “not at the expense of our willingness to continue work with the United Kingdom government.”
“The government of the United Kingdom must, by now, realize that the Turks and Caicos is not prepared to “go along” with all that they propose just ‘to get along,'” he said. “The Partnership only works if, notwithstanding our status as overseas territories, Her Majesty’s government recognizes that we also carry the mandate of a constituency, whose interest we have a duty to represent.”