Opening statement to Constitutional talks by Leader of the People's Democratic Movement (PDM)
Turks & Caicos Islands
by Doug Parnell, PDM
June 16, 2011
Good morning Ministers. Thank you for bringing direct talks to this process; it is something that we have consistently called for.
The Peoples Democratic Movement stands for political and constitutional advancement of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. We believe in a system that is democratic and accountable. We therefore cannot support any measure that will cause regression of the Turks and Caicos people and our rights. We submit that the aims of improving integrity in public life, more efficient arrangements for government, and an improved justice system, achieving a parliament representative of the people, bettering public financial management and promoting an inclusive community are not at odds with constitutional advancement, however this draft does not accomplish this for our people.
In the spring of 2009 the three main political parties in the United Kingdom decided through consensus to intervene and partially suspend our constitution because there was deemed to be a high probability of systemic corruption in the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most persons felt that the real purpose of the suspension of the constitution was to provide an opportunity for the British Government to fight corruption and bring to justice those who were accused of criminality in Government without local interference.
However, it was our system of Government and way of life that has also been put on trial and the measures to correct a system deemed inappropriate by HMG are being imposed against the will of the people. Out of a sense of love, compassion and duty to our people we have made efforts to at home and here in London to alter this approach but have been met with resistance on the part of the FCO officials, and the Interim Government in favor of forging ahead with an agenda to correct a “system” that has not been proven to be the problem but to the contrary in the case o f the Public Accounts Committee of 2007-2009 helped to uncover the wrongs of the old Government.
Simply put, it wasn’t our 2006 constitution or its organs that failed but those elected by the people and the decision makers at FCO that failed to act appropriately on behalf of the people. In fact, in a paper entitled Governance in the UK Overseas Territories: The Case of the Turks and Caicos Islands this point about UK Government neglect is well argued stating, “ But the UK government can be blamed for not doing enough to pre-empt the collapse in governance in the TCI in the first place. There had been strong indications for several years that there were deep rooted problems in the TCI. Numerous studies were undertaken that highlighted issues of concern……After the last report the Governor of the TCI expressed serious concerns about what was happening and even suggested a Commission of Inquiry into Crown Land deals should be established (TCI Commission of Inquiry 2009: 94-95). However, despite these reports only limited action was seemingly taken by the UK authorities. The FCO was certainly aware of some of the problems in the TCI.”
Since our focus in these talks is the restoration of our constitution to aid a swift return to a democratically elected Government and Legislature it is important to note that there are very flawed and dangerous arguments that underpin the proposed changes which have been put forward by some of our own quietly ambitious Turks and Caicos Islanders, who have used our political misfortunes of having elected incompetent and venal Governments over the years as an opportunity to push a political agenda of obtaining power but in the guise of improving society.
The false arguments we hope to address are:
That our political parties are insular and control a monopoly on the Government and elections process
That there are individuals who have a contribution to make to the advancement of the Government and deserving people are being denied because they cannot climb the ranks of these political institutions
That our community is not open enough to allow residents a right to participate in the direction of the country
That transactional politics have corroded a system of free and fair elections
That Some islands and people in the Turks and Caicos Islands are unrepresented in the Parliament and deserve special status at any cost
That the political parties must be regulated because they cannot be trusted to put measures in place to police themselves. And finally, that we(the political parties) have no greater mandate than those appointed by the British Government.
During these discussions we intend to disprove these arguments and prove that through our history, though not perfect, our people have sought to advance constitutional measures to protect the rights of individuals, improve the checks and balances in the administration of Government, and most importantly promote the Institution of Integrity in Public Life, and that the proposed draft constitution is an overreaction to correct an anomaly in our history.
We also intend to prove that the underlying assumptions bringing about the draft constitution are flawed. Effectively, our plea is for the UK Government to reconsider its approach and enact a constitution that gives the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands greater autonomy over our destiny, the Government the right and power to govern while giving the Opposition and the people of the country the opportunity to check the Government. We will address this situation through outlining our views on critical provisions of the draft including:
b) House of Assembly including its size (including committees), its functions and limitations and how it is made up (voting system)
c) Powers of the Governor vs. 2006 constitution
d) Public Finance and the Watchdog Institutions
e) Proposed constitutional Silence on trial by Jury
f) Constitutional amendments that would give greater authority and responsibility to the electorate, the Legislature and the Executive including referendum provisions and delegation of certain reserve powers.
Most observers to these talks including the international community, the UK Parliament, the TCI people, Caricom and our brothers and sisters in the other Overseas Territories are watching carefully to see if you continue to listen or whether they amount to a rubber stamping of a rejected proposal.