By Drexwell Seymour
It is very unfortunate that only the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) government will be going to the UK in December to discuss proposed changes to our constitution.
Our current constitution came into effect in 2011 and removed a lot of empowerment from our elected officials. This was evident when our former premier, Rufus Ewing, and his team were elected to govern the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2012. After the formation of a Constitutional Committee, and with input from the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, the premier made representation to the UK for amendments to the constitution in 2015 but was rejected by the UK.
In 2016, the people elected a new government under the leadership of Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson, whose government now has to work under the same 2011 constitution except for the removal of the position of the chief financial officer (CFO).
Input from the People
In 2014, a Constitutional Review Commission was formed, chaired by Daniel Malcolm. Committee members from the Progressive National Party (PNP) comprised Don Hue Gardiner, Akierra Missick and Carlos Simons, while the committee members from the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) comprised current premier, Sharlene Robinson, Ashwood Forbes and Sean Astwood.
The Commission held meetings throughout the islands, hearing the viewpoints from a cross section of people and the Premier Rufus Ewing presented the findings of the report on December 16, 2014 to the House of Assembly.
The Constitution Needs Amendments
Based on feedback from the previous administration and the current administration, we can conclude amendments are necessary in order for our elected government to be empowered to govern and carry out the mandate for which they were elected.
In fact, when you speak to any supporter of the government, and you criticize the government on its performance, the response one would get most times is that we need to change the constitution.
There are over 18 amendments that the government is proposing and it appears that one of the major issues is that the business of cabinet requires consensus of the entire cabinet in order to proceed with any project. This challenge for the current government became public in September 2018, when the premier stated that, when she and her elected officials would agree on projects, they are stalled by the three non-elected officials namely the governor, the deputy governor and the attorney general.
The Government Position
The government position is that the recommendations from 2014 were reviewed and, on April 24, 2018, the government and the opposition met and suggested further changes, with an agreement to do final submission. Therefore, they would like to proceed with the constitutional talks so they can have the relevant authority that is expected from an elected government. Therefore, a meeting was set with the UK for December 2018.
The Current Opposition Position
The opposition said that they have not withdrawn from the constitutional talks but rather informed the premier to delay the meeting for March 2019, as holidays are approaching and nothing much would get done and furthermore the opposition would be selecting a leader soon. The opposition also stated that they also agreed with the government to have town hall meetings to confirm the additional changes with the people.
Let the Talks Start in December 2018
I believe that the opposition should join the government in the UK in December to start the talks even if the talks are just preliminary.
At the end of the day, we are talking about the same constitution, and the people of TCI already provided their feedback. Therefore, I doubt very much that the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands position would change. However, to confirm the wishes of the people, the government and the opposition still have time to meet with the people. In fact, prior to the government and opposition meeting in April 2018, it would have been nice to meet with the people.
If the process of constitutional amendments can be lengthy, then why not start the conversation in the UK now.
It seems to me that the constitutional talks dilemma is a repeat of September/October 2016, when the government at that time said they invited the opposition to the UK but the opposition said it was short notice. As a result, the talks were halted because the governor said that it appeared that TCI could not reach a bipartisan agreement on the constitution and it did not make sense for one party to go to the UK.
Now today, the opposition is saying to wait until 2019 and our government is going alone to the UK.
This is our country and our priority should be our country and not the political party to which some of us have aligned ourselves with. With that said, I encourage the opposition to rethink their position and join the government in December to commence the talks on the proposed amendments to our constitution.