|Elections to be held Nov. 9||| Print ||
|Written by Richard Greenemail@example.com|
|Wednesday, 13 June 2012 18:20|
The Turks and Caicos Islands will return to government by its own people after elections are held here Nov. 9, U.K. officials announced June 12.
The U.K. suspended elected government and parts of the country’s Constitution in August 2009 after a Commission of Inquiry alleged widespread corruption among elected officials and others. Direct rule by the U.K. through its appointed governor was expected to end in 2011, but delays in the investigation of corruption and the rescue of a government on the verge of bankruptcy resulted in postponed elections pending the achievement of eight milestones.
Foreign Minister Henry Bellingham came to the TCI and delivered the message in person June 12 to members of the governor’s Advisory Council, the Consultative Forum and leaders of both political parties. He also announced the publication of the new Governance Principles set by the U.K. for the interim administration and elected government.
“I know full well that not all that has been done has been met with universal popularity,” Bellingham said. “Of course it hasn’t, but we believe passionately that what has been done has been in the interests of the TCI people.”
Those actions include rewriting the country’s Constitution, changing numerous laws, establishing strict financial controls, trimming the number of government employees and imposing a raft of new taxes. Some actions prompted several strikes which briefly shut down the airport on Providenciales, aggravating tourists and businesses who serve them.
“I believe today is a day we need to look forward, not back,” Bellingham said. “Now is the time for political parties in the TCI to prepare for elections properly and thoroughly, and to develop clear and credible manifestos for the electorate. What we all want to hear from the political parties, I believe, is a very clear vision of the future of the TCI.”
“I want to see a genuine partnership going forward, one that is absolutely based on trust and mutual respect, and we will continue to stand by you, and I will look forward to welcoming a newly elected premier of the TCI to London before the end of the year.”
The announcement of elections appeared to surprise some who alleged that the U.K. set unrealistic goals so that it could maintain control indefinitely, despite claims by U.K. officials that elections this year was their ultimate goal.
His Excellency the Gov. Ric Todd said he decided after the 2012-13 budget was approved in May that the country was ready for elections. He went to London to deliver that message and returned with Bellingham to deliver the news in person that U.K. ministers approved the recommendation.
But before elections can be held, voter registration must be completed. As of June 12, only 3,651 people had registered, or about half the number that voted in the last election in 2007. Both political parties have been working hard to get people to register, which some say has been hampered by a $20 fee for birth certificates that are among required documentation.
Once registration is complete, election boundaries must be drawn to define 10 new constituencies before the political parties can field candidates for those districts, plus five at-large nationwide seats.
Also still under consideration are new campaign and election laws required to meet international standards while considering the dynamics of a country spread across eight inhabited islands.
Even thought the new Constitution to be enacted Oct. 15 requires a clear path for acquiring Turks and Caicos Islander status (Belongership), that won’t happen until after elections.
“An incoming elected government will be responsible for addressing this issue after the elections,” Bellingham said. “This fits with the view expressed by many that such matters are properly the province of an elected administration, but fairness, transparency and reduced scope with the proper exercise of discretion must continue to be the principles applied.”
Foremost among U.K. concerns is that the TCI be on sound financial footing because the country has been borrowing against a $260 million loan guarantee by the U.K.
“It’s in the interest of both the people of the TCI, people who deserve a government that manages its finances with honesty and integrity and in the interest of taxpayers back in the United Kingdom,” Bellingham said.
New laws require proper financial management including audits, which haven’t been done in many years. Fully audited reports for the last four years are only now being completed.
The only milestone not considered to have been reached is that government operate with a budget surplus this fiscal year. A surplus of $20 million is predicted, with much going toward debt and interest payments, schools, primary health care and infrastructure.
The $260 million loan guarantee has been financing the country’s debts and allowing government to function, but the Department for Internal Development required that it appoint a chief financial officer (CFO) to guarantee the TCI doesn’t default and leave the U.K. holding the bag.
A law was recently enacted that puts a CFO in place until at least 2016, when it is hoped the TCI will be creditworthy enough to take over its debt commitments.
The law requires the CFO “to protect the Ministry of Finance and wider civil servants with finance responsibilities against any intentional or unintentional ministerial interference that may undermine TCI public finance,” according to a government statement on the bill.
That has led to criticism that an elected government will be powerless to control meaningful spending decisions.
While he was here, Bellingham hosted meetings with members of the Consultative Forum, Advisory Council, government permanent secretaries, political party leaders, church leaders and community representatives. However, he had to cut short his visit and was not able to meet the mother of TCI Olympic hopeful Delano Williams, who is trying to make the U.K. track team.
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