Premier Rufus Ewing (L) and Finance Minister Washington Misick
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- On the eve of a crucial by-election in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) that could result in a change of government, this week’s Cabinet meeting has produced some new controversies.
First are conflicting statements by Governor Ric Todd and Premier Rufus Ewing concerning the status of the long-awaited Fiscal and Strategic and Policy Statement (FSPS).
According to Ewing, “Cabinet considered the Fiscal and Strategic and Policy Statement (FSPS) presented by the Ministry of Finance. Cabinet approved the FSPS and recommended its submission to the Secretary of State via the CFO.”
However, according to the governor’s own media briefing following the same Cabinet meeting, the FSPS was NOT approved but was instead sent back to the ministry of finance to complete it as soon as possible.
The Cabinet “considered a revised FSPS, including revised estimates for recurrent revenue, and asked the Ministry of Finance to complete work on it as soon as possible,” the Governor’s Office said on Thursday.
It is not clear at this point as to who is telling the truth but, clearly, both versions cannot be true.
The FSPS has become a crucial issue for the TCI, with the submission of a feasible budget being the criterion for Britain agreeing to the shelving of value added tax (VAT).
Upon taking office in November 2012, the Progressive National Party (PNP) government asked for nine months to prepare the FSPS, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) rejected as being too late.
Since then, the FCO has constantly reminded Ewing of the importance of producing a workable budget, especially now that the projected revenue from VAT will no longer be a positive factor. However, it now seems that the FSPS is still a work in progress.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) has long maintained that the budget exercise could be completed within 30 days and has consistently taken Ewing and finance minister Washington Misick to task for the ongoing delays and their failure to produce an acceptable FSPS.
Given the critical nature of the issue, local observers are now questioning Ewing’s motives for his apparent pretence that the FSPS has been approved by Cabinet just two days before a crucial by-election that will determine which party forms the government, especially in the light of other recent statements by Ewing that had little basis in reality.
Also on Wednesday, the Cabinet agreed to a proposal by finance minister Washington Misick for a one-year moratorium on the approval of any future gaming operations in the TCI.
During the Commission of Inquiry hearing in 2009, evidence was brought as to Misick’s 50 percent ownership of the Casablanca Casino on Providenciales.
Questions are now being raised as to whether Misick still owns his half share in the Casablanca Casino and, if so, whether this move by Cabinet to eliminate competition for Misick and his partners was done with full disclosure as to his personal interest.
The frequent failure to disclose a personal interest in Cabinet decisions by ministers during the 2003-2009 PNP administration in part led the Commission of Inquiry to conclude that there was a high probability of systemic government corruption in the TCI.
The Casablanca Casino reportedly enjoys a concessionary rate of 5 percent in respect of the gambling levy paid to the government compared to the 30 percent paid by other operators.
It is uncertain at this point, assuming Misick still owns his half share interest, if this arrangement constitutes an interest in a contract with the government that should be disclosed to the Integrity Commission. In any event, Misick did not disclose any such interest to the Integrity Commission prior to the November 2012 elections.
According to the TCI Sun newspaper, gambling revenues in the TCI amount to some $40 million annually.