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PNP UNITED ON FORMER PREMIER’S MICHAEL MISICK TALKING POINTS

PNP united on former premier’s talking points
Published on March 28, 2013 ,TCI News Now.

The Progressive National Party (PNP) is apparently now unified behind specific “talking points” that are being spoken to by the party and its supporters and are seemingly being orchestrated by its former leader Michael Misick.

The principal point being made was the primary platform of the PNP during their 2012 general election campaign and that is the issue of independence and preparing the TCI to separate itself from Britain.

This was addressed in each and every letter received from Misick and was spoken to by Premier Rufus Ewing on his return from last month’s Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government meeting in Haiti. In Ewing’s view, all the Caribbean nations, including those who are currently one of the 14 British overseas territories, must not only achieve independence but must also form republics and not be associated with the Commonwealth of Nations.

The second talking point spoken to by Misick and Ewing is the forthcoming prosecutions of former PNP cabinet ministers and others. Both Misick and Ewing have said that the prosecutions are a farce. Misick said this is because he claims that laws were changed and he personally cannot receive a fair trial and will fight returning home until that is resolved, while at the same time proclaiming his willingness to return to the TCI by private plane instead of waiting for his extradition from Brazil to be completed.

Ewing has not explained why he feels the imminent trials are a “farce”, as he called them in a recent letter to Britain’s Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds.

The third talking point that is being spoken to widely by PNP members and supporters is their view of the overstepping of authority by Britain. This is being described by Ewing as an abuse of power and corruption on the part of William Hague, Britain’s Foreign Secretary. The tone of this talking point echoes similar comments made by Misick in each and every letter he has written.

One of the principal points aired by Ewing was the looming imposition of value added tax (VAT). On this issue, both political parties and the business community were united in asking for VAT to be abandoned.

Both Hague and Simmonds responded to Ewing’s speech to CARICOM heads by accusing him of failing to address the reasons why VAT and other measures were necessary.

In particular, Ewing failed to explain that the TCI is bankrupt and became bankrupt due to the actions of the PNP administration from late 2003 through August 2009, when Britain imposed direct rule.

Further, Hague said that Ewing not only failed to speak to this problem that brought British direct rule but also ignored the consolidated loan of $260 million guaranteed by Britain and the support of numerous British advisers who, in three years of direct rule, have been able to raise government revenue and cut expenses to a break-even position.

Britain imposed certain milestones that had to be achieved before direct rule could be withdrawn and an elected government returned. However, the final milestone yet to be reached was the pay down of the loan, which must be refinanced by 2016 when the British guarantee is lifted. Britain requires the TCI government to submit an acceptable financial plan, which has not yet been achieved by the PNP government in its almost five months in power.

Hague pointed out in a letter to Ewing that there needs to be not only additional taxes but further cuts in spending. Ewing and finance minister Washington Misick and several other PNP ministers have seemingly turned their backs on this requirement and are promising the territory new infrastructure, more government jobs and a growing public sector.

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The Presidency:Opportunity Lost.Dr.Carlton Mills

In order to fully understand the concept of The Presidency, one has first to understand what the events were leading up to this period in our history. From 1764 – 1848, the TCI experienced the years with The Bahamas. There were two critical problems as it relates to the relationship between The Bahamas and the TCI: (a) economic and (b) political.

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Dr Carlton Mills is a graduate of Excelsior Community College and the University of the West Indies where he pursued his training in teacher education and Bachelors in History respectively. He is also a graduate of the University of London, Bristol and Sheffield where he pursued his Master’s and Doctorate in Education respectively. Dr Mills was appointed as Minister of Education in 2007 where he served until February 2009. Following the suspension of the TCI Constitution, he was invited by the governor to serve on the Advisory Council. He served for six months before resigning. Dr Mills is currently the chairman of the board of Governors of the TCI Community College. He is also the main editor of the recently published book “The History of the Turks and Caicos Islands”. He has written several articles for journals and chapters in other books and presented papers at various conferences in the region and in the UK.

The TCI was a salt producing economy. The Bahamas accrued tremendous financial gains from this relationship. The main contact that the TCI had with the Bahamas was on the occasion when the tax collectors came down annually to collect taxes on the salt that was produced in the salt ponds. The islands experienced high levels of taxation on salt exports, which they strongly resented. There was further resentment when the Bahamian government imposed legislation to enforce these measures.

In 1799, the Bahamas Assembly passed an act giving The Bahamas the power to tax the TCI, placing the islands within the political and geographical domain of The Bahamas. This Act of Parliament allowed one salt island representative to sit in the Assembly in Nassau. In 1835, the number was increased to three. 

The distance between the TCI and The Bahamas, along with the lack of telecommunications, limited their attendance and involvement in the decision making that affected their lives in the TCI. On several occasions, by the time the representatives from the TCI reached the Bahamas, the Assembly had already met. 

They had also made decisions that affected life in the TCI without any input from the local representatives. This helped to further aggravate the political situation between the TCI and The Bahamas. 

The tax collector visited the TCI once per year while the mail boat made four visits per year. There were boats operating more frequently between Jamaica and the TCI than with The Bahamas. The islanders therefore felt more closely associated with Jamaica rather than The Bahamas.

On December 25, 1848, the TCI was separated from The Bahamas with the passing of The Separation Act. One of the main clauses of this Act was the setting up of a Presidency with a Council to assist him with the day to day administration of the government.

What was the Presidency?

The Presidency was a period of government in the TCI following Bahamas rule. It lasted from 1848 – 1873, approximately 25 years. The Act provided for the nomination of a President assisted by a Council supervised by the Governor of Jamaica. During the 25 years of the Presidency, there were a total of four presidents. I will briefly highlight the issues, problems and challenges faced by each president. 

The first President was Captain Henry Alexander Forth (1848 – 54).

Initiatives

President Forth started schemes to increase salt production, which was the mainstay of the economy. This was done in South Caicos and salt production was also developed on West Caicos for the first time. He also declared West Caicos a port of entry to facilitate the salt trade. Under his watch, the Grand Turk Lighthouse was established in 1852. President Forth also started The Forth Masonic Lodge, The Royal Standard and Gazette weekly newspapers, which were used as propaganda machines for the government.

He also contemplated the establishment of a public bank and a public market but they did not materialize during his tenure. He also established the first Board of Education a demonstration of his commitment to education. He successfully paid off the remaining debt owed to The Bahamas by the TCI.

Other Challenges

President Forth had a poor relationship with most senior staff and also with Judge Duncombe. This was further aggravated when he suspended the Police Magistrate Williams Hamilton and the Stipendiary Magistrate Francis Ellis. These individuals were later reinstated by the Secretary of State. Many also felt that President Forth was abusing his powers. This gave rise to questions about his integrity resulting in a petition for his removal. This was overruled by the Secretary of State.

President Forth had previously served in Tasmania and was described as being of the ‘old colonial school’ of public administration. Yet he was sent to the TCI to run the political affairs of the country.

Second President William Robert Inglis (1854 – 62) replaced President Forth. He was a former Stipendiary Magistrate in The Bahamas. He faced unprecedented resentment from the Bermudian settlers, who were totally opposed to anyone who had previous connections with the TCI separation from The Bahamas. As a result he was not well received. He actually started on a very bad note by attempting to regulate the salt industry, which previously was a very sore issue. 

He brought further resentment when, in 1859, he imposed a law to enforce order at Council meetings. Members who were brought to order twice by the chairman were fined $10. This resulted in mass resignations of members. President Inglis also had serious problems maintaining law and order. He did not think twice to use force to bring stability to situations he felt could get out of hand. As a result of his abuse of power, the Colonial Secretary concluded that the president contributed significantly to the moral, social and intellectual decay of the TCI. This resulted in his departure in December 1862.

Third President: Alexander Wilson Moir (1862 – 69)

He took up office on November 14, 1862. He also had some immediate successes. He opened the short lived Public Bank in 1864 as well as the Public Market on Grand Turk. He also expanded agriculture in the Caicos Islands and realized that salt alone could not sustain the TCI economy. This was done in an attempt to diversify the economy and to reduce the high cost of food importation. 

President Moir also changed the traditional leasehold system that characterized the salt industry to a new freehold tenure of ownership. He felt that this old system stagnated the growth of the industry. His new approach saw the islands experiencing a brief period of prosperity where annual exports of salt reached a record $124,000 in 1865.

President Moir was also on the verge of becoming the most popular president but disaster struck. The hurricane of 1866 devastated the salt industry, destroyed homes and caused loss of lives in Grand Turk. The economic base of the country was wrecked. President Moir left in 1869 to take up an appointment in the Virgin Islands.

Fourth President

The fourth president was Captain Melfort Campbell (1869 – 73). He came on the heels of an economic downturn in the country. Unfortunately his first order of business was retrenchment. This was a very unpopular move, particularly following the recent hurricane. The country was experiencing serious cash flow difficulties. As a result, payment of salaries to civil servants was usually three month in arrears.

Several civil servants survived by discounting promissory notes to local merchants. On top of this, the price for salt on the global market had declined. Although the Crown had provided some assistance and the Public Bank had provided loans, this did not better the situation. The country continued to drift into debt. Revenue collection was down. The islands had to survive on revenue from taxation. This was not sustainable. 

The situation in the TCI led the Governor in Chief, Sir J.P. Grand from Jamaica to make two assessment visits to the islands, one in 1872 and another in 1873. During his second visit, the Legislature took the decision to beseech the British government to annex the islands to Jamaica. By Order in Council, this was done on January 1, 1874.

Lessons

There are several lessons that we can learn from the Presidency. Firstly, there was failure on the part of the Presidency to consult with the local population on issues that could impact their lives. As a result, the local population generally felt that they were at a distance. Another drawback was the fact that all of the appointments were done from the outside. This caused further resentment. These appointments were paybacks by HMG for what they termed outstanding service.

The Presidents had no training in public administration and thus generally ruled as if they were totally in charge. It gave the impression that, because the TCI was viewed as a small colony, anyone could run its political affairs. Other than the attempt by President Moir, little attempt was made to diversify the economy. We still face a similar situation today. With the collapse of the salt industry after the hurricane of 1866, the collapse of the Presidency followed closely. The economy was in dire need of a stimulus package, which was not readily available at the time.

These 25 years under the Presidency provided the opportunity for the TCI to set the stage to become one of the most prosperous countries at the time. The TCI was on the verge of becoming a country of global significance and influence. This did not materialize because of poor leadership, high level corruption in government, bribery, dishonesty, deceit and political patronage. 

Little attempt was made to empower the local population. Furthermore, the local population resented the installation of leaders from the outside who were given autonomy over them. Little was done during the period to improve the infrastructural development, educational and health facilities. These important essential services were critical to the continued growth and sustainability of the Presidency.

With the regional and international trade relations that we had going on at the time, we lost the opportunity to form strong economic partnerships that could have provided more meaningful benefits to the TCI. We lost an opportunity to use our salt to become an economic hub and an economic bargaining power, thus attracting other global partners to our shores. This could have resulted in more diversification of our economy. 

We lost an opportunity to form global political networking despite the limited technology that was available at the time. We lost an opportunity to unite the TCI so that it could become a ‘country’ rather than a group of individual islands still considered to be separated in one instance by ocean and in another by banks. 

Finally, the Presidency was an opportunity missed because, during those 25 years, we had the opportunity to begin our quest for self-determination. Unfortunately, no thought was even given to this critical issue. The financial gains that were derived from the salt trade in particular created a hunger for power and wealth, leading to widespread corruption, greed, dishonesty and the eventual demise of the Presidency. 

History has repeated itself in 1986 and again in 2009. This is true of the TCI because of our failure to understand the importance of our own history. We will continue to make these same mistakes over and over again if we do not take time out to learn the lessons that history continues to teach us.

 published in TCI News on 30th of April 2012

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