HERE THE STATEMENT OF CHAIRWOMAN LILLIAN MISICK WITHOUT ANY COMMENT
Fellow members and citizens of the TCI – as this is the last session of the Consultative Forum for the year, I feel obliged to offer some remarks in my capacity as Chair.
2011 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In short, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis.
Many of you will no doubt recognize my allusion here to Her Majesty’s famous Guildhall speech in 1992. In her case, though, she was merely referring to the personal woes that had befallen the House of Windsor – ranging from the breakdown of her children’s marriages to the burning down of Windsor Castle itself.
By contrast I’m referring to the national woes that have befallen our nation this year – ranging from the recent arrest of former government ministers on charges of corruption to the imposition onerous taxes and fees that have us feeling as though we are paying fines for the crimes those ministers allegedly committed.
But, as we are fast approaching the dawn of a new year, I think it is best to look forward and not dwell too much on the past.
This brings me to the parental role the British are playing by implementing structural reforms to help us avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. But let me hasten to clarify that I use the term parental advisedly.
For, on the one hand, far too many of our people seem oblivious to the fact that, even though our country is known these days as a British Overseas Territory, we are still for all intents and purposes a British Dependent Territory. And nothing demonstrates this quite like our having to rely on the British government not just to prosecute our crooked politicians, but also to bail us out of the financial black hole we got ourselves into.
On the other hand, far too many of our British overseers seem oblivious to the fact that they are partially responsible for creating and, by current accounts, now deepening that black hole. And nothing demonstrates this quite like British officials not just ignoring for years the alarms some of us were sounding about the corruption they are now trying to clean up, but also reporting recently that our national debt has almost tripled from $71 million to $200 million all under their fiscal management.
This latter point is especially noteworthy because it also reinforces what I have been trying to impress upon the British for some time now: namely, that some of us may be able to offer far better advice on solving our economic problems than the British experts who have been retained to do so.
Apropos of this, I urge them to hire one of our certified public accountants to replace the expatriate Chief Auditor who I gather was summarily fired yesterday under what can only be described as dubious circumstances.
All the same, I am pleased to report that the UK minister for Overseas Territories, Mr Henry Bellingham, now seems committed to developing a relationship between the UK and TCI that is defined by mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual appreciation. He demonstrated this by inviting Advisory Council member Theo Durham and me to join Governor Todd as TCI delegates at a conference in London a few weeks ago, which was aimed at redefining the UK’s relationship with its Overseas Territories.
I must say it was both humbling and heartening that the heads of all of the other territories expressed abiding sympathy with our plight and shared their hope for our return to local rule as soon as practicable. But we need only reflect on how inured the British were to outside criticisms (constructive and otherwise) over the suspension of our constitution in the first place to appreciate the folly of looking to others to help us define our relationship with them.
In any case, it was with this profound awareness that I shared my views with Mr Bellingham and other UK officials on what is necessary to forge a more collaborative relationship going forward.
As a general proposition I admonished them that no number of structural reforms can ever compensate for the spirit of distrust and alienation of goodwill that are growing between us.
I informed them that this distrust and alienation will only grow as long as our people have just cause to regard transparency and consultation as nothing but empty words. And it does not help in this respect that every aspect of our lives is being governed these days from behind closed doors by a gaggle of UK advisers who now populate every nook and cranny of our local government.
I pointed out, for example, that mere token consultation with forum members would have spared the British the public spectacle that attended the announcement of their civil service voluntary redundancy scheme. Not least because even I, in my capacity as head of the Business Development Center, would have urged them to consult with local businesses throughout the islands to see how many affected civil servants could be placed in private jobs.
Instead, the British displayed the very kind of administrative incompetence they decried in the local leaders they are now prosecuting. Because, after insisting that all of the points in this scheme were duly assessed within the context of meeting the increasingly elusive milestone of a balanced budget, all it took was a little protest to force them to double the lump sum ear-marked for weekly paid workers.
By the way, I think it’s important to state here for the record that, despite the highly publicized strikes that a fraction of our civil servants mounted recently, the vast majority of us understand and fully support the ongoing effort to right size our civil service. We just regret the seemingly haphazard way the British are going about it.
Continuing on, I explained to Mr Bellingham and others that it sends an untenable neo-colonial message that not one TC Islander is amongst the many advisers the UK has retained for everything from drafting constitutional and electoral reforms to formulating our crown land policy. Moreover, that when this slight is coupled with the gratuitous insult of their refusal to re-appoint a TC Islander as deputy governor our people can be forgiven the prevailing suspicion that the British impute to all of us the corruption and incompetence that led to the arrest of so many of our government ministers. I submitted, with all due respect, that ascribing collective guilt in this fashion is as unfair as it is unsustainable.
On a more practical note I stressed, amongst other things, the need for public financing of elections, a greater nexus between education scholarships and the skills needed to grow our economy, and reform of our professional associations, suggesting in each case ways in which the UK can provide substantial support.
I concluded by lamenting that what the British are doing in the TCI these days seems geared more towards limiting their contingent liabilities than towards empowering us to govern ourselves. And, sure enough, Mr Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development, went out of his way to reinforce this point during his visit here last week.
But be that as it may, the prevailing point I made at that conference is the point I’ve been making to the British from day one of this interim administration, and it’s the point I wish to reiterate today, which is that their blueprint to ensure good governance and sound fiscal management will never be worth the paper it’s written on if they do not interact with us more as mentors and partners than as overseers and bankers.
Having said all that, I am confident we shall overcome all of the interpersonal and structural challenges we face. I am particularly encouraged in this regard by the commitment Governor Todd has undertaken to learn from past mistakes.
For there can be no denying that if the British had heeded my public pleas to empower this body to play a more meaningful role in drafting legislation, holding public officials to account, and making government decisions more transparent there would not be nearly as much apprehension and restiveness amongst our people towards them today. Not to mention that we would not be experiencing the gravity-defying distress of paying more and more in taxes only to see our national debt going up and up.
There is still confusion, suspicion and frustration hanging like dark clouds over the TCI Bank, Provo Stevedoring, the Shore Club, and Interhealth Canada. I am convinced however that these are just a few of the controversial matters we could have been instrumental in resolving some time ago.
But no matter our disaffection over the way the British are treating us, nor our disappointment over the way they are managing our affairs, there is simply no excuse for the epidemic of apathy and cynicism that is spreading amongst our people. It will not do, for example, for us to protest in the streets about constitutional reforms when virtually none of us can even be bothered to submit suggestions on what constitutes the best path to TCI citizenship.
Finally, my wish for the New Year is that this body will be duly empowered to fulfill its mandate to advise the governor on government affairs, to represent the interests and concerns of TC Islanders in the drafting of legislation and formulation of new policies, and to communicate to our people – in an informed manner – not just what this interim administration is doing but, more importantly, how what this interim administration is doing impacts our lives.
Hope springs eternal.
Forum Chair Statement on Funding of SIPT
Fellow members, it speaks volumes about the communication and transparency we are getting from this interim administration that an expenditure so fundamental as the funding of the SIPT could be shrouded in the type of confusion that was plainly manifest in this body this morning.
To say that we have been given mixed messages in this respect is to put as charitable a spin on this matter as I can muster.
Suffice it to know however that I shall seek a meeting with the governor and the FCO within the next 24 hours and so that I can issue a clarifying statement on the funding of the SIPT by the end of business on Thursday.
But members and the general public should be advised that we are referring in this instance only to the funding of the SIPT and civil recovery team, not to the UK advisers – all of whom the CEO and permanent secretary for finance confirmed just days ago are being funded by the UK government.