Premier of Turks and Caicos Dr Rufus Ewing Address to CARICOM

20130219-210839.jpgTurks and Caicos Islands Premier Dr. Rufus Ewing Address to CARICOM

FEBRUARY 18th 2013
His Excellency Michel Martelly, President of the Republic of Haiti and Chairman of CARICOM, Hon. Laurent Lamothe, Prime Minister of Haiti, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Secretary General of CARICOM, Heads of State of CARICOM and other Delegates present, friends all. I bring you greetings on behalf of the Government and people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. I would like to thank the CARICOM Secretariat and you the CARICOM Heads of Government for affording me the opportunity to address this gathering on matters concerning the Turks and Caicos Islands.
It is indeed an honour to be here and I consider it a privilege to address you at this very significant Twenty-Fourth Inter-Sessional Meeting. This meeting is of significance, because it is the first meeting of CARICOM at which the Turks and Caicos Islands is being officially represented by a democratically elected Government since the suspension of our Constitution in August 2009. It is also of significance, because it the first of such meetings to be held by one of our closest neighbours and important trading partner. Given the long relationship between the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the people of Haiti, my own father captaining many voyages to Haiti, I feel able to say that Haiti’s membership in CARICOM, is a recognition within the region, of our brotherhood with Haiti. Haiti is a part of us and we are a part of Haiti.
The Turks and Caicos Islands extends its congratulations to His Excellency Martelly and the people of Haiti and do look forward to both our nations growing from strength to strength within the Caribbean Community.
On November 9th 2012, the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands were granted the ability to exercise their democratic right to elect a representative government following a three year period of direct rule by United Kingdom Government. Though these elections have indeed led to the restoration of ministerial government, the overall state of political affairs remains less than desirable in our islands. The restoration of true democracy is still a far way off. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, we are today being governed by a constitution that was conceived in White Hall, and was for all intents and purposes thrust upon the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, at a time when they were without representation. The 2011 Constitution is merely a by-law for the continuance of direct rule under the pretext of representative democracy.
Distinguished colleagues, friends, we seize the opportunity of this audience to reflect briefly on the evolution of events in our country over the past three years, so that you may better appreciate our realities and come to understand that our yearnings are not unique. The people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, wish simply to serve democracy because they are confident that if they serve democracy, democracy will in turn serve them.
In 2008, a Commission of Inquiry presided upon by a sole Judge; found that there was evidence of systemic corruption, by politicians, senior government officials and co-conspirator developers. The findings of the Inquiry also suggested that there were significant deficiencies within the administrative arm of Government. Following on from his findings, the Commissioner made several recommendations including the investigation of those persons accused of wrong-doing, but more importantly, the suspension of vital parts of our 2006 constitution, allowing for direct rule from the UK by an Interim Administration from August 2009.
During the period of direct rule from the United Kingdom, all power was vested in the office of the Governor, so that he wielded absolute power. The Advisory Council and the Consultative Forum, whose members were appointed by the Governor, were institutions established by the Interim Administration designed to mimic respectively the Cabinet and the House of Assembly. His Excellency was not however bound to take the advice of either body. Under the Direct authority of the United Kingdom Government the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands witnessed the following:
The implementation of new laws such as “The Trial Without Jury Law” and amendments to the laws governing the admissibility of Hearsay Evidence. To the extent that these laws are intended to be retroactive, they erode the confidence in the Judiciary that must underpin every democracy and challenge the very rule of law that the Interim Administration was charged to promote.
The approval of budgets without debate, so that there was no opportunity for the ordinary citizen to influence in any way, how his tax dollar was being spent,
The transfer of protected pension funds from the National Insurance Fund to the Consolidated Fund
The implementation of laws facilitating the imposition of taxation against the wishes of the people
Such were but some the abuses of the United Kingdom Government visited upon the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the name of Democracy and Good Governance during the rule of the Interim Government.
Your Excellency, I wish to assure the Community, that the Government and people of the Turks and Caicos Islands are committed to all the principles of democracy and the tenets of good governance. As a Government, we are committed to strengthening where they exist and creating where they do not exist, all those institutions that promote democracy and good governance. Guided by that commitment, the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands by and large welcomed the need for reforms and for the strengthening of governance systems. By and large we acknowledged that the allegations of corruption and maladministration necessitated investigation, we have however, always been concerned that the inquiry was left to a lone Commissioner and we have always maintained that the suspension of our constitution and the establishment of an Interim Administration, was an inappropriate response to the Commissioner’s findings and ran counter to every principle of democracy and good governance.
Our sense of what is right and decent and fair compels us to question even to this day, why it is that former Governor Tauwhare, who was a member of the Cabinet for a significant period of the last elected government’s term, has not been required to speak to his involvement in the alleged wrong doings. Your Excellency, as you would expect, I am slow to comment on judicial processes, but I would betray my duty to the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands if I did not express our concern that in relation to the criminal investigations that followed the commission of inquiry, persons who were charged criminally have avoided the criminal process by paying millions of dollars into the treasury before they were even called upon to answer the charge. This type of action is abusive and nothing short of corrupt. It is the more egregious, because those who have to date been able to purchase their justice, have not been Turks and Caicos Islanders. When those who dispense justice are allowed to see black or white, rich or poor, expatriate or belonger, what they dispense ceases to be justice. When justice is for sale and when laws are implemented and made retroactive, arguably in an effort to secure particular convictions, the justice system and the system of justice is being challenged and democracy is under siege.
On the issue of taxation without representation, the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands by its duly elected Parliamentarians have just recently unanimously voted in support of an ordinance to repeal the Value Added Tax Ordinance that was passed by the Interim Administration and that is scheduled to come into force on April 1st of this year. The unanimity of the vote to repeal the VAT Ordinance, did not come as a surprise, as both political parties campaigned against its immediate implementation and sought its delay in order to allow the elected Government to explore alternative measures. We have made representations to the effect that VAT is not in the best interest of a small economy such as ours and have provided sound alternative revenue generating measures. While we maintain that VAT will not work in the Turks and Caicos Islands, we are more concerned, as you can see, that the principle of Democracy and Good Governance, which mandates that the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands through their elected officials, must have an opportunity to consider any measure that seeks to impose an additional tax burden on them or to otherwise alter their tax structure, is a principle that is being sacrificed on the altar of despotism. If His Excellency The Governor refuses to assent to the repeal bill, he would have said in no uncertain terms that the voice of the people is the voice of God, only so long as God and the United Kingdom Government are singing in chorus. I cannot stress with sufficient strength nor overstate the significance of these events. The question is not one of taxation, but rather, one of democracy.
An additional insult to the democratic process, is the continued presence of a UK appointed CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, whose office controls government expenditure without the authority of the elected Minister of Finance. Friends, imagine if you could, an elected Government unable to give a clear undertaking to the works because this strange, unelected creature, the CFO, is deciding upon the operations of Government without the authority of the Minister of Finance.
Your Excellency, Ministerial Government in the Turks and Caicos Islands is not yet 40 years old – younger in fact, than the treaty of Chaguaramas. In that time, we have by any standards, made significant strides and by the same token, we have made mistakes. Your Excellency, fellow heads of Government, I assure you that the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands has constantly under review, the successes and failures of those Governments that came before us. We will not be afraid to emulate the actions that lead to successes and avoid those that lead to failures. I wish also to assure you, that so long as I am entrusted with the office of Premier, I will stand in opposition to any individual or group of individuals, whose purpose it is to reverse the social, political and economic gains of past governments.
On February 10th 2013, moved by dismay over the constant infractions of democratic principles and insults to the ideals of elected government, I caused a letter to be forwarded to the First Secretary of State, The Rt. Hon. William Hague, MP – Minister of Foreign Affairs – requesting the recall with immediate effect, of the UK appointed dignitaries responsible for these infractions, namely His Excellency the Governor, the Attorney General and the Chief Financial Officer.
For some time Your Excellency, perhaps blinded by the euphoria of success, the Turks and Caicos Islands may not have been as public in its support for CARICOM as it could have been. We may not have been as bold as we could have been in championing the ideals of the Community. We may have failed to look within the region for the assistance in strengthening our institutions and building our democracy. The Turks and Caicos Islands have a vested interest in CARICOM, not least because we have living and working among us, citizens from perhaps every member and associate member of the Community. Your Excellency, please know that the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands is committed to this region as we strive to build our small nation.
Even as I make public my Government’s commitment to the Caribbean Community, I want to make clear that that commitment is not at the expense of our willingness to continue work with the United Kingdom Government. The Government of the United Kingdom must by now realize that the Turks and Caicos is not prepared “to go along”, with all that they propose just “to get along”. The Partnership only works, if, notwithstanding our status as overseas territories, Her Majesty’s Government recognizes that we also carry the mandate of a constituency, whose interest we have a duty to represent.
In the words of Sir Lynden Pindling “We (the Government), must take the worst and make them Better. We must take the lowest and take them Higher. We must take the saddest and make them Happier. We must take the sickest and make them Healthier and we must take the poorest and make them Richer.” I have no doubt that all the Governments represented here today subscribe to that vision. It was that vision that propelled Toussaint L’Ouverture in to action. That vision drove Eric Williams, Alexander Bustamante, Forbes Burnham, Errol Barrow, Lynden Pindling and a slew of others, to challenge the status quo. So too, are the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands Inspired.
Your Excellency, There has always been a commitment in CARICOM for democratic values and a concern for basic human rights. CARICOM has never been afraid to condemn any circumstance that is an affront to democracy or denies the basic human rights to any people. In this regard we wish to thank the Community for its pronouncements thus far.
The current state of affairs in the Turks and Caicos Islands has the potential to throw our Country into chaos. For so long as I am the leader and principal spokesman of the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands, I will use every means available to me to ensure that does not happen.
Today therefore, on behalf of the Government and peoples of the Turks and Caicos Islands, I am calling on the Community and the individual member states, to keep the situation in the Turks and Caicos Islands under review. I urge you to stand with us, not on one or other specific policy, but on the question of democracy. I invite you, to advocate on the international stage for the full restoration of the institutions of true democracy in our islands and to support our cries for removal of the spectre of colonial influences of the past, as we fight for our rights on our journey towards true self governance and self determination.
On behalf of the people of The Turks and Caicos Islands, I thank you.