By Caribbean News Now contributor
LONDON, England -- In a strongly worded letter
on Tuesday, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague described Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) Premier Dr Rufus Ewing’s speech last month to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government as a substantial misrepresentation to the people of the TCI and to the leaders of the Caribbean.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague
“I have seen the speech you gave to CARICOM heads of government on 18 February about the relationship between the Turks and Caicos Islands and the United Kingdom. I regret to say you substantially misrepresent both the past and the present situation to both the people of the TCI and to the leaders of the Caribbean,” Hague said.
Hague went on to remind Ewing that the previous government run by his Progressive National Party (PNP) “left behind a chaotic situation including -- through incompetence, abuse of power and corruption -- rapidly deteriorating public finances.”
“As a result, TCI was, in effect, bankrupt. In 2009 the UK government provided emergency funding to enable public workers to be paid. In 2010 we provided a guarantee that enabled the TCI government to borrow up to $260 million at an affordable interest rate in order to enable the government to maintain essential services while bringing public finances back under control,” he continued.
Hague said that Britain accepted broad responsibility for good governance in its Overseas Territories and referred to the 2008-2009 Commission of Inquiry in the TCI, which concluded that there was a high probability of systemic corruption among ministers, members of the legislature and public officials in the then TCI government.
The inquiry documented detailed information on corruption, dishonesty and abuse of public office by former premier Michael Misick and other ministers in the previous PNP government and recommended criminal investigation. As a result, Britain suspended parts of the TCI constitution providing for ministerial government and the House of Assembly.
Subsequent investigations have led to 12 former ministers and others being charged and the attorney general is seeking Misick's extradition from Brazil to the TCI.
“Misick is resisting return to TCI and seeking political asylum,” Hague said.
He also pointed out 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, as well as nearly 2,500 acres of Crown land recovered; all to benefit the people of the TCI.
The British Interim Administration implemented a broad programme of reform to deal with this situation and to help prevent it being repeated. It established a robust framework for good government and sound public financial management and integrity and accountability in public life.
“These steps should help minimise the chances of a few corrupt people exploiting the assets of TCI for their own benefit, instead of these assets being available for the good of all the community. We will allow neither this framework to be rolled back nor the delivery of good and honest government to be undermined,” Hague said.
He also referred to an earlier open letter by Ewing that raised the issue of value added tax (VAT).
Hague reminded Ewing that the British government in 2010 was presented with a situation in which the TCI had an annual deficit of £30 million, which was set to grow significantly.
“This unsustainable situation led to the UK Department for International Development appointing a chief financial officer whose responsibilities were to ensure that this deficit was reduced and that TCI's finances returned to surplus,” he said.
Eight milestones were then set, before which elections would not be permitted.
“Despite the financial milestone not yet having been met, the UK government agreed in good faith to permit elections in the expectation that an incoming government would administer the island's finances so as to build an increasing surplus and release the
UK government from its government guarantee,” Hague said.
According to Hague, introducing VAT was central to this and seen to be in the interests of the TCI and the UK. That said, UK ministers have consistently made clear that a decision to introduce VAT is one for the TCI government, and that credible alternative measures would be considered
“The TCI government is 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. UK ministers have recently accepted your proposal not to introduce VAT on 1 April but instead to set public spending at a lower level commensurate with the absence of VAT, the uncertainty about alternative revenue streams, and the weakening outlook for some existing revenue streams. We are now awaiting your 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 reminded Ewing.
Haig said that the UK government set out a clear vision in its Overseas Territories White Paper last year.
“We want the Overseas Territories, including the Turks and Caicos Islands, to flourish in partnership with the United Kingdom. We want you to build a strong and sustainable local economy and to develop as a community. Our relationship with you entails responsibilities for both parties. We have a broad responsibility to support the Territories and to ensure security and good governance. We expect the Territories to meet the same high standards of good governance and public financial management as in the UK,” he said.
According to Hague, Britain accepts a broad responsibility for joint security and continues to provide a range of support and training for public servants, such as police, prison and immigration services.
“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 said.
Hague also referred to the issue of independence that Ewing had raised and confirmed that this is an option for the 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 to achieve it,” he said.
Hague concluded by reiterating his belief both in democracy and that government must be honest and transparent and behave responsibly.
“The TCI government has the chance to shape the future of your islands. The UK government has invested much in helping put TCI back on the right path. TCI has a growing economy, modernised legislation and a committed public service. I hope you will use this inheritance wisely,” he said.