Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Turks and Caicos Islands: 'United we fall and divided we stand'

By Ben Roberts

In recent discussions in the UK between Honourable Minister Henry Bellingham’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and an FCO-chosen team of Turks and Caicos Islands “representatives”, the good minister said the following: “I am grateful to the delegation for accepting my invitation to come to London so that I could hear first-hand their views on the Draft Constitution” (he should have added his gratefulness at their acceptance at being chosen by him and his FCO).

Well, good for Honourable Bellingham. He got to hear first-hand where this group stood on crucial issues regarding a document very important to the lives of Turks and Caicos Islands citizens.

Their Constitution. Bellingham is way ahead of Turks and Caicos citizens in this regard, and beat them to the punch. He had the benefit of hearing their positions even before the people this group claimed to be going to represent, the citizens of Turks and Caicos, heard what their positions were.

Yes. No one can dispute this. The group went to Britain without engaging the citizenry in town meetings, or any other informative setting, to hear their views on what was important to them. They did not disclose their own views of where they stood on issues. In fact, they could not wait to pack their bags to get across the ocean to be “representatives” because HE Governor, Honourable Bellingham, and his FCO, designated them as such.

Before leaving they were a fractured and disjointed group, arguing about why the next guy on the team should not be going. They had no common strategy on the issues to be discussed (though one must credit Doug Parnell with making an effort to put heads together so as to speak with one voice), had no foreman to be the lead-off in discussions, and had no idea of what they would hold fast on and what they would give in on (a key strategy of anyone negotiating anything).

The British, and their people set to sit across the table must have been having a good laugh at the Turks and Caicos and its limitations, and their own brilliance at hand-picking.

Now a change of scenery. To England. Turks and Caicos “representatives” are there having discussions with the people who hand-picked them. These people must still be having a good laugh, because here the Turks and Caicos team still cannot agree on anything. Still arguing why the guy seated next to them should not be there; pushing the argument that the Draft Constitution was quite fine, only needing minor changes, and acknowledging the constitutional consultant for her diligence in securing submissions (but putting on the brakes here for a major concern of Turks and Caicos citizens about the glaring absence of their input submissions into the document); taking the opportunity here to outline political party positions instead of matters pertinent to the collective well-being of the Turks and Caicos citizenry.

At the conclusion of discussions there was an FCO press release of the outcome of the event, but no single on-the-same-page Turks and Caicos team release of what was accomplished (how can there have been when we had no single one-minded team). This was a negotiating team? And they were united against the common enemy? And they were negotiating on our behalf? And we should thank the creator, the moon and the stars for what they achieved and not critique them in any way? Please!

There is reason for no “Team TCI” press release. Nothing to report other than they were chosen by, crossed the ocean to the UK, sat in discussions with British career officials and negotiators, and came back with little changed from before. Period!

What is different? The change from “Belonger” to “Turks & Caicos Islander”? That is what we called ourselves since forever. It would only amount to something if those who came to Turks and Caicos and acquired citizenship were differentiated from those born there.

The UK has such a system: Once, we in the Territories were “British Subject: Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies” (as described in my first passport). Then suddenly, in 1985, a notable change to that document labels me: “British Dependent Territories Citizen: Turks & Caicos Islands”. All occurring without Turks and Caicos citizens knowing about or having any input in the process.

The drastic change came about due to British paranoia about possible waves of British citizens from their Hong Kong Territory flooding their shores as handover to the Chinese drew near. That is how my citizenship category was decided.

We should be able to implement such categorizations without the accompanying paranoia, and with respect for all our citizens regardless of category.

I digress. The matter of the Deputy Governor a success? How does that change the price of fish in the Turks and Caicos marketplace where people are losing jobs, are yoked with poorly thought out British tax schemes, are at the whim of British officials and advisors who make decisions “at their discretion”, are having a hard time overall making ends meet, and remain under threat of being undermined by the British disingenuous and unheard of attempt to “expand the franchise”.

Deputy Governor means little when put alongside these hardships. Effort would have been far better served championing issues like the Complaints Commissioner and absentee balloting for Turks and Caicos Islanders abroad.

This Turks and Caicos team going to the UK brings to mind the hilarious and wildly funny British comedian Benny Hill. You name it and he has poked fun at it: The British National Health scheme; British horse racing illegal activity; British intelligence; the Royal family; the French; the British welfare system. And on and on.

However, he does a skit about the British Foreign Office and diplomatic corps that is priceless. Here, Hill plays the part of this stodgy and stuffy high level British representative in discussions with an African leader. They are walking along a path and Hill is going on non-stop, selling his host a line about the British being his ally, how he can rely on them through thick and thin, and how they have his and his country’s interest at heart. During all this the host shakes his head vigorously and says over and over the word “Bulla,” “Bulla,” “Bulla,” as if he is in total agreement. Hill seems quite pleased with the headway he is making until the leader suddenly shouts, “Stop!” Hill freezes, wondering what is up. The leader points at the ground and says, “Careful before you step into that pile of Bulla.” You can figure out for yourself what the translation for “Bulla” was in the African leader’s language. Hill, the British Foreign representative, gives this facial expression of being embarrassed, bested, frustrated, and found out by someone he was sure he had the better of. Quite funny.

But seriously, was the Turks and Caicos group to the UK comparable to the savvy African leader who could see all the pitfalls and angles, or were they the ones stepping into the “Bulla”? In the Turks and Caicos our best asset are the minds of our people. It is also our worst prison, shutting us away from our future. Was this trip to the UK an example of using our best asset or showing how imprisoned our minds really are?

Ben Roberts is a Turks & Caicos Islander. He is a newsletter editor, freelance writer, published author, and member of TC FORUM. He is the author of numerous articles that have been carried by a variety of Internet websites and read worldwide. He is often published in Turks & Caicos news media, and in the local newspapers where he resides. His action adventure novel, Jackals of Samarra, is available at, and at major Internet book outlet sites. He can be contacted at:

June 29, 2011