Turks and Caicos Weekly News
By Gemma Handy
MEMBERS of the TCI delegation heading to London this month are gearing up for eleventh hour talks with Britain over constitutional overhaul. For some, it will be a last ditch attempt to persuade the UK to alter its stance on some of the draft document’s most contentious prescripts.
The seven-strong team – revealed in its entirety on Wednesday – will meet with Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham on June 15 and 16. Belongership bestowal, voting eligibility and the meaty powers assigned to the Governor continue to attract the bulk of the controversy.
The Weekly News caught up with group members ahead of the momentous role they will play in helping redefine the country’s supreme laws.The team comprises PNP leader Clayton Greene, PDM leader Douglas Parnell, consultative forum chair Lillian Misick, advisory council member Doreen Quelch-Missick, pastor Bradley Handfield, leader of the All Party Constitution Commission Wendal Swann, and Youth Ambassador Trevon Farrington.The cost of the trip is being paid for by the TCI Government.
Mr Parnell is calling on all members of the delegation to come together at public round tables next week to establish common ground.“We believe that this is a pivotal and important moment in our history and it is incumbent upon all of us, as a people, that the views of those heading to London are the views that reflect the voice of the people and what is in the best interest of the Turks and Caicos Islands,” he said.
He continued that it was vital to “thrash out commonalities”, outline members’ individual viewpoints and allow the public to voice any concerns they may have.Mr Parnell said other areas of angst in the draft constitution included sparse provisions to hold the Governor to account, along with measures to oversee public finances.
“Top of the list also is integrity in public office. We want to make sure the new constitution gives the Government of the day the opportunity to govern – and the Opposition and the people of the country the opportunity to check the Government.”
Mr Parnell added that the PDM would be taking an additional party delegation to London too. Pastor Handfield said he supported most of the provisions in the draft constitution.“There are just a few I think we need to reconsider. Giving the Governor so much power is the main one I have issue with.”If the draft document is rubber-stamped, the Governor would retain the right to veto new legislation and override Cabinet decisions. A new provision would also entitle him to enact a Bill against the wishes of elected Parliamentarians, as long as he has backing from the Secretary of State. In addition, he would have the final say in appointing most of the members of the Public Service Commission and other officials.
The pastor said he believed the forthcoming discussions would “cinch the deal” on the definitive document.“I think the British have been listening all along, it’s just that we have not been articulating ourselves in a manner, up until recently, for anybody to listen to us.”He said last month’s public pow-wow at the Community Fellowship Centre was the first time such a large meeting had been allowed to continue peacefully and without interruption.“The team that came here listened and people were saying the things they thought.“I think the meeting in London will cinch the deal on what will happen with our constitution.“I think we will get the constitution that God wants us to have for the salvation and redemption of our country.
”Pastor Handfield added that he felt the delegation’s make-up had been chosen wisely.Mrs. Quelch-Missick, who is also Human Rights Commissioner, said it was a “privilege” to be part of the team.“We are at a crucial stage in our country’s history and I fully support that, as a people, we must be engaged in any and all talks on the restructuring of our constitution. “I am confident that the team, during the negotiations, will seek a common ground for the betterment of our people, taking into account the views of all people, not just the voices of some.”
She added: “As a woman, I see this as a positive step in the right direction towards the advancement of women in our country; our women should feel a sense of pride. Finally our women are being given an opportunity to represent our country at the highest level of decision-making.
”Mr Greene previously welcomed the chance to talk face-to-face with Mr Bellingham.“I think any time politicians get to sit down with politicians in London it’s a good thing.”The PNP leader said it was an opportunity to represent the views of ordinary Islanders.“The country must come together on certain basic points and reinforce the positions of the people.
”Youth Ambassador Mr Farrington said he believed some amendments needed to be made to the draft constitution but declined to comment further.Lillian Misick and Mr Swann could not be reached for comment. Last summer, Mr Swann told the UN’s Committee on Decolonisation that indigenous Islanders were being sidelined in Britain’s reform process.He declared it to be akin to recolonisation and dubbed the London-led consultations, headed by Kate Sullivan, a “sham”.