Address to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation
by Wendal Swann
Chairman of the All-Party Commission on the Constitution and Electoral Reform
Turks and Caicos Islands
General Assembly Hall, United Nations Building
22nd June 2010
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the absolute honour and privilege extended to me to have this opportunity to address your committee today. I appear as Chairman of the Commission on the Constitution and Electoral Reform established by the two major political parties in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands who are aware of the work your committee does on our behalf, please be assured of our gratitude for that work. I recognise that we do not provide sufficient support or information to assist you in that work. And so I pledge that from today, in the absence of any official designation of a representative of the Islands, if you desire, beyond the scope of my mandate here today, I would be a permanent point of contact for the Committee in regard to the issues surrounding the Turks and Caicos Islands.
My initial exposure to the working of the United Nations was the 1992 seminar in Bridgetown, Barbados. Being ignorant of proceedings, I had intended just to observe. There was an English professor there who spoke as an expert on the Turks and Caicos Islands. The professor had never visited the Islands, but was a voice acceptable to the functionaries at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London. After listening to the professor, I had to speak up to complain about the number of factual inaccuracies in his presentation. I said then, that Turks and Caicos Islanders were fed up with the so-called experts on the Turks and Caicos Islands who knew nothing of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
I fear that we are in fact back there again. We see much in the epistles concerning the Turks and Caicos Islands on the internet that are incorrect; that are written by persons who either know nothing about the Turks and Caicos Islands or are deliberately misleading their audience. And so I hope that I will bring some balance to the reports this Committee might have received as regards the Turks and Caicos Islands and specifically as they relate to the suspension of the constitution.
207 months ago I came to this building and addressed the Subcommittee on Small Territories. I left with that subcommittee a report I had compiled on the conditions in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Much of that report remains relevant today. I can reprint it without too much editing and it would be as true today as when I wrote it in 1993. The central theme of the report was the neglect of the Islands by the administering power, the UK Government. Of course, the world economic downturn has affected us in the Turks and Caicos Islands as well. Many Belonger businesses will close before the end of the year. But this is not just the natural and inevitable result of the world economic crisis.
We have a few problems as a result of the current constitutional state of affairs, where our Governor is in fact a constitutional dictator. You are well aware of the decision of Her Majesty’s Government, effected last year, which suspended parts of the Constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands and concentrated all authority in the Islands in the hands of just one man.
The committee would be aware that there would have been constitutional crises in what are now known as the ‘developed countries’. Notwithstanding those crises and regardless of the causes of those crises, none of those countries suffered the suspension of their constitutions. So the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands are asking, “what parts of our Constitution failed?” And no one has answered that question; not the Governor, not the visiting delegations from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, not the members of the Advisory Council or the Consultative Forum.
Sir Robin Auld, former Chief Justice in the Turks and Caicos Islands was appointed by HMG to conduct a Commission of inquiry into possible corruption on the part of Ministers and Members of the Legislature in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Before he concluded his report, he recommended that the Constitution be suspended. But in the section setting out the reasons for the appointment of his Commission, he did not offer one constitutional failure. He cited inappropriate activities by Turks and Caicos Islands’ Ministers, weakness of the Governor, indifference of the functionaries at the FCO and general neglect by the British Government; all of which in the opinion of the Commission, could have been remedied without the suspension of the Constitution.
HMG has now ordered a review of the Constitution and electoral processes of the Turks and Caicos Islands. It appears that they have already decided what the new Constitution would look like. They have appointed Ms Kate Sullivan, an “expert”, to run the consultation with the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Governor Wetherell announced that the process will not involve negotiation. I have been told that Ms Sullivan has made reference to certain provisions of the Constitution that will ‘definitely be changed’. The process of consultation then, would appear to be more a sham than anything reliable. Ms Sullivan excludes the media from her meetings.
If this process was allowed to stand without challenge, its acceptance by the British Government as legitimate consultation with the people of the Islands will nullify our voices. So, the leaders of the political parties in the Islands, recognizing the danger of the circumstances and appreciating the desire of the British functionaries to reduce the influence of political parties in the Islands and having come together in March to call for a return of democratically elected government, thought to appoint an independent Commission to seek the views of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Commissioners are: Mrs. Cheryl Astwood-Tull, LLB, University of Hertfordshire in England, former member of the Legislative Council, youngest woman to have stood for election to the Legislature in the Turks and Caicos Islands, first woman elected to the Legislature representing Providenciales, represented the Turks and Caicos Islands on behalf of women and children at the Conference on Women in Beijing, China, Former Deputy Chairman of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Steering Committee and a Public Relations Professional; Mr. Clayton Been, officer of the Turks and Caicos Islands Investment Agency; Mr. Beryn Duncanson, attorney/real estate developer; Pastor Conrad Howell, former Public Service Commissioner and advisor to Government.
The Commission is asked to consult the people of the islands as to their views on the Constitution as well as their ideas for the improvement of the system of elections we enjoy in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Commission is only half way through its public meeting stage of its consultation process, but already it is clear to the Commission that the view of the majority of those giving their input so far is that the constitution has not failed us and therefore, there was no need to suspend the Constitution.
The Governor announced the appointment of a Team Leader, but he has never announced the appointment of the rest of the team. It appears from certain public pronouncements made by different persons connected with the suspension, that certain decisions have already been made. The Governor has said that after the elections in 2011, there will be greater British presence in the islands. This without consultation with the people of the Islands. Ms Sullivan has announced that certain provisions in the 2006 Constitution definitely will change. This before she started the process of her consultation with the people of the Islands.
By stating that there will be greater British presence in the islands post election, the powers that be admit that the British functionaries in the Islands were weak. And if the weakness was the fault of the British, why ought the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands now pay the price?
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK House of Commons, as bad as it might be in terms of recognizing the aspirations of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, insists that the British Government pay the price for the reconstruction of the islands. So far, that notion has been staunchly resisted. We hope that with the change of the political directorate in the UK and sufficient agitation by the politicians in the Islands as well as international organisations like yours, that that will change and soon. And so, our Commission would wish this committee to take a keen interest in the process of constitutional and electoral reform in the Turks and Caicos Islands, because, Reform by the British is just re-colonization by the British.
The Governor has cut civil service pay this year by ten percent and plans to repeat that early in the next half of the year. And the civil servant asks, “How are we to survive, when the Governor has absolutely no control over the price of bread?” How, for example, does a young woman, employed by Government, who is currently making $1,100/month, pay for urgent dental work that costs three times her monthly salary? And the two new hospitals do not provide the answer.
Those who might be in position to make an investment in the Islands are awaiting the inevitable changes that will come post elections. There are young Turks and Caicos Islanders who were given title to land through the normal channels who have built their houses with assistance from banks, who have now been told that they can’t exercise the normal right of residence on their land, because it is located within the boundaries of the National Park. the Governor does not say ‘in the circumstances, we will purchase your land at market value’, but simply, ‘since your house is within the National Park, you must comply with the law governing national parks’; knowing full well that that is impossible for those persons to do. The Governor indicates a willingness to grant the persons affected parcels of land elsewhere, but a refusal to consider the value of their houses.
Interested parties in the financial sector are complaining about the arrogance of the Managing Director of the Financial Services Commission. It appears from the complaint, that the FSC is not concerned to bring itself within the law, but that the MD operates as a law unto himself.
This trend is Deleterious to the interests of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. In the circumstances, the Governor does not and cannot represent the interests of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Sir Robin Auld remarked that we were leaderless and therefore the constitution ought to be suspended.
By the suspension of the Constitution, we have been made even more leaderless, as the Governor, as well-meaning as he may be, cannot and does not speak for the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
And so, we call upon you to come to our aid, and to do so soon.