Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why we reject the draft constitution for the Turks and Caicos Islands

By Douglas Parnell
Leader, Peoples Democratic Movement

The Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) rejects the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) draft constitution. Offered below are a number of reasons taken from our party’s position paper on the issue why it is unacceptable for our people and country at this stage of our development.

The 2010 review of the constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands comes from an unfortunate period of maladministration and corruption exposed by a far reaching Commission of Inquiry requested by our party for the good of the country.

Peoples Democratic Movement leader Douglas ParnellThe findings of the Commission were shocking, and exposed numerous failings on the part of individuals in the last government, including individuals in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Governor. Ironically, while the Commission was in oral hearings, the Turks and Caicos Governor was still busy signing off on transactions where there was alleged corruption. The final report does not cite one constitutional failure as a cause for these alarming acts on the part of ministers.

It must be pointed out that this was not the first Commission of Inquiry to be requested. If former Governor Richard Tauwhare is to be believed, he declared at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in May 2008 that he had requested the FCO to call a commission of inquiry as far back as 2005. This was during a period before the 2006 constitution was enacted and in reality the Governor had greater authority and responsibility to act and correct failures of the local government at that time.

The FCO did not listen. What remains to be seen is whether the FCO will listen to the voice and wishes of the people to return our 2006 constitution or whether the FCO and its ministers will turn a deaf ear towards our concerns on OUR constitution.

As for the information in the Commission of Inquiry, the PDM stands resolute in our stance that “we told you so” and can safely say that we did what was right during this period of maladministration, unlike Governors Poston and Tauwhare, Meg Munn and Leigh Turner, who did what was wrong and ignored our concerns of corruption, and gross maladministration when they were brought forward and were summarily dismissed as lacking sufficient evidence.

The greatest obstacle to good governance and deterrent to sound financial management is a lack of hearing and adherence to the already existing laws of the Turks and Caicos Islands on the part of persons in authority. When this happens with locally elected officials, we have a remedy at the polls through a General Election, but when this happens with UK officials at the FCO the people of the territory have no recourse and we suffer for years, sometimes even decades.

Even today the FCO is not listening to their own MPs such as Andrew Rosindell and Lord Nigel Jones, who have both warned that a constitution cannot and should not be forced on the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Even to this day the FCO has neglected to pave a path for direct negotiations with the political parties on any change to the constitution as called for by our party and the British Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Turks and Caicos Islands, despite the precedent set during the 1986 suspension.

The FCO must remember that it has appointed over the years governors and attorneys general who have not served the interest of the people, but who served their own interest and broke the law.

The FCO cannot simply look at the last eight years and try to impose a constitution on the people based upon this period but it must look back and honestly assess its own failings, gross neglect and incompetence in administering its constitutional obligations to the Turks and Caicos people and our territory, obligations that is has agreed with the world to uphold and move towards. Yet, in this FCO draft constitution, the UK’s United Nations obligations are being disregarded. It is clear that the FCO is attempting to move the country backwards to an era of colonialism. It is seeking to extend temporary direct rule into permanent authority over the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands through its proposed draft constitution. This is unacceptable and we utterly reject it.

One of the measures being used to extend permanent authority over the Turks and Caicos people and their government is by granting greater authority to the governor under the pretext of correcting failures of the past. The governor would be granted the authority to:

a) reject the decision of cabinet,
b) make decisions contrary to cabinet; and
c) solely make appointments to public bodies.

Two cases come to mind that discredit this theory that granting greater constitutional power to governors will avoid corruption or conflicts of interest. Specific examples arise, namely, Attorney General Terrence Donnegan and Governor Christopher Turner. These two cases involved abuses of constitutional power. One was convicted and deported after the 1986 inquiry and the other left the territory in disgrace after granting special concessions to close relatives, which ended up costing the Turks and Caicos Islands people millions of dollars to correct. The FCO and the British Government did nothing to pay for their mistakes.

The people of the Turks and Caicos Islands cannot trust their constitutional destiny to a governor with unchecked power and authority over the three branches of government, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Our history has proven that governors can and will fail to act with integrity and honesty in their decision making powers. This draft FCO constitution also grants the governor unchecked power and authority over the institutions protecting the three branches of government making him a complete and total constitutional dictator.

We have been down this road before where the level of incompetence and corruption in government by locally elected officials, coupled with the incompetence and neglect at the FCO, has caused our country’s constitution to be temporarily suspended. We have equally been down the road where the imposed solutions to fix the equal failings of the locally elected government and the FCO robs the people of their democratic, constitutional and fundamental human rights. We wish not to go down that road again as proposed in this draft constitution.

In introducing the draft 2006 constitution for public consultation and debate, Lord Triesman remarked, “The UK has only retained those powers, including for the Governor, which are – and will remain -- necessary in TCI to ensure the implementation of international obligations; to protect itself against contingent liabilities; and to ensure good governance.” So what happened to the governor and his constitutional ability to ensure good governance? Again, it was not the people or the constitution that failed. It was the individuals the FCO appointed who failed in giving the necessary attention to the Turks and Caicos Islands. The FCO now seeks to cover up its failings and problems by imposing an untenable constitution on an unwilling people.

The fact is the FCO failed to uphold their responsibility for good governance, yet the people are being punished for it through a draft constitution that is regressive. This draft represents a major backward step for the people and the protection of their fundamental rights. Specifically, it has components that ignore the will of the people as expressed through their representatives in our Parliamentary system of democracy. This document would eliminate Parliament’s authority on specific matters. The message communicated is one of distrust and suspicion.

We can only conclude from the constitutional proposals that the FCO does not trust the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands to make sound decisions through their representatives and the mechanisms to make law because decisions can be overridden, limited and removed from Parliament’s ability to handle the country’s business. This is dangerous.

In exercising its remit in the Turks and Caicos Islands the FCO should be concentrating on fulfilling its commitment made to the rest of the world in the United Nations charter.

The UK will argue, wrongly, that it is not bound by International obligation, as former FCO minister under the Labour government, Lord Triesman, claimed in his speech to the Turks and Caicos Islands on April 24, 2006.

He said, “In this context, it might be helpful if I set out the UK position on alternative forms of relationship, some of which I know have been discussed here in TCI in recent weeks. UN General Assembly Resolution 1541 set out some options for the relationship between Administering Powers and Territories, including independence, integration and free association. The UK did not vote in favour of that resolution, and does not regard itself as bound by it”.

However, we are eager to point out to the FCO that not being bound to 1541 does not mean there isn’t still an obligation to Turks and Caicos Islands under the United Nations Charter. The text of Chapter XI of Article 73 paragraph A and B of the United Nations Charter, Declaration Regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories, reads, “Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories, and, to this end:

a. to ensure, with due respect for the culture of the peoples concerned, their political, economic, social, and educational advancement, their just treatment, and their protection against abuses;

b. to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, according to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement;

Clearly, if we are to hold the British Government to account for their role in helping the Turks and Caicos Islands and our people achieve any measure of advancement, the grade would be low. The fact is this exercise of constitutional change is counter and opposite to the obligations that the UK government has agreed to the world to uphold with regard to Turks and Caicos Islands. We reject it and will continue the work on drafting a constitution for the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

May 18, 2011