Above: UK Foreign Secretary William Hague (Photo: FCO)
By the Caribbean Journal staff
United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague has officially responded to a letter written to him by Turks and Caicos Premier Dr Rufus Ewing last month, saying the Premier’s claims “substantially misrepresent” the present situation.
The letter came both as a response to Ewing’s letter and a speech by Ewing at the CARIOM Heads of Government summit in Port-au-Prince last month.
The Haiti summit represented the first time a Turks and Caicos leader had addressed the regional body since the UK suspended democratic government in the territory in 2009 following reports of widespread corruption. The TCI held its first democratic elections since that time in November 2012, when Ewing’s Progressive National Party won 8 of 15 seats in the House of Assembly. Following a court ruling, however, a new by-election is scheduled for later this month, meaning the House is in a 7-7 split.
Ewing’s letter had called for the UK to recall the governor, CFO and Attorney General of the Turks and Caicos.
He charged that the TCI’s current constitution “is not a constitution of the people, by the people or for the people” and said the “alleged wrongdoings of the former PNP administration” was “quickly being exposed as a farce, impregnated with cloak and dagger acts on the part of the governor, AG Chambers and [the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team] to incarcerate Turks and Caicos Islanders at all costs.”
Ewing followed that up in his speech to CARICOM leaders, warning of the potential for political chaos and charging that the way the UK had been administering justice regarding the corruption scandal had itself been “nothing short of corrupt.”
In Hague’s response, he said Ewing’s characterizations “substantially misrepresent both the past and the present situation to both the people of the TCI and to leaders of the Caribbean.”
Hague said the UK had set out a clear vision for the overseas territories in its White Paper last year.
“We want the Overseas Territories, including the Turks and Caicos Islands, to flourish in partnership with the United Kingdom,” he wrote. “We want you to build a strong and sustainable local economy and to develop as a community.”
He said the UK’s relationship with the TCI “entails responsibilities for both parties,” however.
“We have a broad responsibility to support the territories and to ensure security and good governance,” he wrote. “We expect the territories to meet the same high standards of good governance and public financial management as in the UK.”
He said that, regarding the corruption prosecutions, “the judicial process is underway,” with the Attorney General “properly and legally seeking [former Premier] Michael Misick’s extradition from Brazil to TCI.”
He also said that a “prominent international law firm was appointed to recover misappropriated assets” and has so far recovered $16.6 million, with a further $2.6 million ordered to be paid, along with 2,500 acres of crown land recovered.
“As we are all aware, the previous PNP government left behind a chaotic situation including — through incompetence, abuse of power and corruption – rapidly deteriorating public finances,” he wrote. “As a result, TCI was, in effect, bankrupt.”
In 2009, that led the UK to provide emergency funding, with a guarantee in 2010 that allowed the TCI to borrow up to $260 million.
Hague said the administration had implemented a “broad programme of reform” to deal with the situation, and that the UK would “allow neither this framework to be rolled back nor the delivery of good and honest government to be undermined.”
Another major prong of Ewing’s letter was his opposition to the planned Value-Added Tax, which had been unpopular within the Turks and Caicos.
Several weeks after Ewing’s letter, UK Overseas Minister Mark Simmonds announced it would not be implementing VAT in the territory.
Hague said that, as VAT had been seen as central to improving the territory’s financial situation, the TCI government was now responsible for delivering “sustainable public finances.”
“As you know, this means that you and your government have to meet the public finance framework, which includes debt reduction targets and should enable you to refinance your debts without a UK guarantee after 2016,” he wrote.
The Foreign Secretary wrote that UK ministers had accepted Ewing’s proposal to set public spending at a lower level to make up for the loss of revenue from the absence of VAT, and that the UK was now awaiting Ewing’s “specific proposals on what additional expenditure cuts and alternative revenue measures you will put in place to ensure your adherence to the public finance framework.”
He also expressed his “full confidence” in Governor Ric Todd and his team.
“We expect the elected government of TCI and other territories that wish to remain British to abide by the same high standards as the UK government in maintaining the rule of law, respect for human rights and integrity in public life, delivering efficient public services, upholding the judiciary and building strong and successful communities,” he wrote. “You have raised independence, and, of course, this is an option for TCI; if the people of TCI express a wish for independence through a clear and proper process, the UK government will meet its obligations to help the territory achieve it.”
The UK has “invested much in helping put TCI back on the right path,” he wrote.
“TCI has a growing economy, modernized legislation and a committed public service,” he wrote. “I hope you will use this inheritance wisely.”