Attorney General Huw Shepheard (L) and Premier Rufus Ewing
By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- Apparently doing its best to emulate the current legislative stalemate in the United States, the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) House of Assembly adjourned early on Thursday morning, with the government and the other members retiring to chambers to discuss the concerns the government has with regard to the attorney general Huw Shepheard.
According to a press release from the Premier’s Office, they also took the opportunity to discuss other matters of national concern with the view of working together for the betterment of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) said its members agreed to attend the meeting to hear the government’s position as it was lacking information in this regard.
According to the PDM, the government is prepared to move forward on an opposition motion passed on May 15, 2013, calling for a national symposium to discuss major issues of national concerns and to agree a way forward.
Notwithstanding an earlier and perhaps ill-considered threat to boycott Cabinet meetings at which Shepheard was present, Ewing and his ministers apparently backed down from this and Cabinet met as normal on Wednesday
, with the attorney general in attendance.
However, the statement from the Premier’s Office said that the meeting ended with the government’s dissatisfaction and frustration at the inadequacies of the attorney general’s answers to ministers’ questions and the premier and ministers reaffirming that they have lost all confidence in the attorney general.
“These questions are matters of national concern that transcends political parties and affects every citizen, visitor and investor to the islands. It is because of these wide ranging implications that the government remains resolved to getting the AG to answer these questions,” the statement read.
Premier Rufus Ewing remarked, “My government is committed to the principles of good governance and one of the fundamental principles is accountability and we would not be serving in the best interest of the people of these islands if we do not hold all persons accountable.”
The government said it wants to reassure the people, investors, and to the country that the government is still functioning and continues to work in the best interest of the people of these islands.
In response to Ewing’s press release on Thursday morning, Acting Governor Anya Williams said:
“The attorney general (AG) participated normally in the Cabinet meeting yesterday, providing advice and guidance to the premier and his ministers on the legal aspects of their policies throughout the day.
“In line with the governor's previous correspondence to the premier and also at the premier's request, the premier engaged the AG on queries he had pertaining to his role in relation to SIPT, civil recovery and Crown land. The AG answered each of these questions satisfactorily in turn.
“The premier was asked in Cabinet on the 4 and 18 September 2013, and in writing by Governor Todd on 11 September, to provide a written account of why he thinks that the AG's appointment should be rescinded, in order that the AG is properly given a right to reply. Cabinet could then properly discuss the matter. However, despite three requests, the correspondence from the premier has not been forthcoming.
“The attorney general was appointed legally in line with Section 91 of the Constitution and cannot have his contract terminated without cause by the Secretary of State unless there is strong evidence of misconduct or incompetence. Thus far this has not been provided and the AG has been largely been challenged only on the criminal and civil investigations.
“This is a very serious matter which must be proceeded upon with caution, as I have advised the premier without proof and proper justification this could result in serious legal and financial implications against the government for wrongful or constructive dismissal."
Williams later provided a copy of the letter from Governor Todd on 11 September
asking the premier to spell out his issues with the attorney general.
Todd told Ewing in his letter that Shepheard had “discharged well” his responsibilities as attorney general, which include, but are not limited to the provision of advice to the TCI government.
“I noted his leading role in the reform and modernisation of legislation, his sound advice on a range of issues and his wide and relevant expertise in the Overseas Territories, small island jurisdictions and international financial services. His reappointment also offers some continuity in a key constitutional position at a time of change,” Todd said.
The former governor asked Ewing to inform him of the exact matters to which he (Ewing) apparently takes exception as regards the attorney general.
As now noted by Acting Governor Williams, Ewing has not responded to this request.
“Finally, could I ask you to note that the civil recovery programme was a recommendation of the Auld Report. It has not cost the TCI government or taxpayer a single cent. It has recovered for TCI 3,000 acres of land with a conservative value of $100m and cash of nearly $20m, which is greatly in excess of its costs of $13m,” Todd’s letter concluded.
Ewing’s handling of the situation has come in for considerable criticism locally, with one newspaper known for its support of the ruling Progressive National Party (PNP) referring in an editorial to “weak leadership on the part of Premier Ewing and fear and trepidation as far as his ministers are concerned.”
According to the publication, PNP insiders and several influential and respected members of the public regard the premier's latest statement as being “somewhat soft.”
“The PNP government, which celebrates its first year in office next month, is exceedingly unpopular nationally, even among its political base. Analysts and observers have characterised their tenure thus far as being a spectacular failure, with nothing tangible or significant being accomplished,” the editorial said.