Turks and Caicos Islands [TCI] has been waiting for an opportunity for an outside third party entity to weigh the political fall out of the last 2 years. Direct UK rule was implemented in August 2009. With that, the UK took the TCI citizens democracy, rights to trial by jury and withheld their input in the local government.
To be sure, many members of UK parliament and the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office stayed on the directive that UK's actions in TCI were justified due to the suspicion of TCI local government corruption. Despite the denouncement of UK’s actions by the UN and the bloc Caricom, the UK continued its occupation of TCI and refused to withdraw.
This week, commencing May 31, The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation met again on the overseas territories’ right to self determination to discuss plans to empower the 16 remaining territories, one of which is Turks and Caicos.
The Turks and Caicos Islands' political crisis was discussed at length at the UN meeting held in Grenadines. TCI was fortunate to have had a citizen delegate in attendance, Dr. Conrad Howell.
In the meeting, the Special Committee noted that TCI’s Caribbean neighbors: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the United States Virgin Islands had all expressed objection to UK’s direct rule in TCI, as well as the rights violations that went with it.
The UN committee asserted that “political, economic, social or educational preparedness” should not be used as a pretext to deny a territory the right to independence or self determination. As in the case of Turks and Caicos, the UK contends that it is bringing good governance, righting the political system and the islands' economic condition. The UK’s actions therefore are considered merely a pretext to deny the TCI people their rights.
Dr. Howell made an excellent address to the committee regarding, among other things, UK’s actions seen as discouraging that it plans to ever return any sort of self government to the TCI people. Dr. Howell spoke of the UK Governor wielding absolute authority, the indefinitely suspended general elections, and he described the condition created by the UK where TCI citizens were not allowed to vote on any government decisions, only UK-appointed “advisers”. Dr. Howell made it known that the UK has little or no intent to listen to the voice of the indigenous people of Turks and Caicos.
In addition to Dr. Howell, another meeting participant stated that, Turks and Caicos was prepared to explore its relationship with the rest of the world, including through independence, and must find a regional association in which it could benefit from being seen “as an equal”. That of course is an option if Turks and Caicos wishes to explore an association with a different country, group or bloc other than the UK. This option of regional association is also called “Free Association” as defined by the Compact of Free Association. Often times it is used by a self governing state, with colonial ties to an administrative power, to opt out of that relationship and associate with a different entity for purposes of defence and foreign relations, while often enjoying favorable economic terms such as market access. This is usually a step away from the colonial power relationship and towards independence. Turks and Caicos was already operating as a self governing nation, with its own branches of government and all revenue having been generated by the Turks and Caicos Islands solely.
The UN committee also attested that this is a time when constitutions of the territories should be reformed or rewritten to award “greater autonomy” as an option in the event that the territories “did not want independence and that the United Kingdom did not accept the free association or integration options.” The world must examine, why is the UK rewriting the TCI constitution to recant powers of autonomy of Turks and Caicos? UK’s actions in Turks and Caicos are contrary to any principles of UN’s self determination policies particularly since the UN addressed territories rewriting constitutions specifically to grant MORE power and rights to the territories. If rewriting a new constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands is such a good idea, why is the UK not allowing a vote or referendum by the TCI citizens?
In addition to the UN calling for greater government control by the citizens of the territories, it also made a shocking finding: the installation of a foreign Governor in the territories is a deeply flawed policy. The UN stated, “If constitutional modernization meant anything, it denoted greater self-government and democratization, he said, and to attain it, the 'democratic deficit' between the Governor’s power and that of the peoples’ elected representatives must be dramatically reduced.” The British Virgin Islands was relieved for its “new” UK governor as described in the UN report, the delegate expressing that they welcomed the new Governor and “the difference was between night and day”.
In the case of Turks and Caicos, the UK has rewritten the constitution to include ultimate power to the UK installed Governor, whomever is appointed by the UK at that time. The Turks and Caicos people had asserted at the UK constitutional meeting that giving any UK governor the ultimate power over the government was like playing Russian Roulette, as governance by one man depends on that one man’s character or ability to manage effectively. The principles of government checks and balances is exactly to eliminate the possibility that decisions will be left to one person’s volition. Government checks and balances are based on sound principles of democracy, yet are being taken away from the TCI by the new constitution, assigning power to an unelected UK-appointed Governor.
The UN in closing acknowledged that there is a triangle relationship between the territories, the administering power and the UN. The UN vows to balance its duties to ascertain the true will of the people.