Opening statement to Constitutional talks by Leader of the Progressive National Party (PNP)
Turks & Caicos Islands
by Clayton Greene (PNP)
June 16, 2011
Let me begin by saying good morning to you all and by thanking you Minister Bellingham for agreeing to see this delegation. We continue to be hopeful that this meeting would result in a constitution that the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, whom I together with Mr. Parnell have the pleasure of representing, can feel protects them while at the same time provides for them the best opportunity to realize their hopes dreams and aspirations.
Ministers, ladies and gentle, the United Kingdom Government and the people of the TCI have been locked in a battle that is fueled by a deep seated mistrust on both sides. This mistrust has led to what we believe to be the deliberate alienation of able Turks and Caicos Islanders from the process of governance so much so that we have begun to question whether it is that Britain believes every Turks and Caicos Islander to be a crock that is incapable of forming a Government.
On the other had the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands are increasingly resentful of an Interim Administration whose actions not only lack transparency but are clouded in secrecy and are essentially non-participatory. We recognize that these characteristics are the antithesis of the democracy they claim to promote. We are concerned that despite our protestations we see no intervention of the British Government or the FCO.
What we have to do now is to rebuild this trust that has broken down. It requires that the United Kingdom Government agrees to meet the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands half way and accept that they bear some of the responsibility for the present circumstances.
Foreign Secretary Hague in his March 11 Ministerial Statement speaking for the British Government said and I quote “we are determined that the situation we have found in the Turks and Caicos Islands is not repeated, there or elsewhere [and] to make sure that the ‘right controls are put in place to ensure good governance..”
The Foreign Secretary must accept that the “situation”, whatever we determine it to be, was not one that the British Government “found”. Whatever the situation, it was allowed to grow and thrive under the watchful eye of a Governor who held ultimate responsibility for Good Governance. As early as October 2003 Minister Bill Rammell, in a memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, recognized that the UK Government had what he termed an “over-riding responsibility for good governance in the territories…” Minister Rammell went on to suggest that in some of the smaller territories there was a lack of institutional capacity and experience to cope well with the increasing demands on Government and further that the lack of developed civil society, strong legislature, and vibrant media in some Territories meant that many of the usual checks on the Executive can be weaker than normal.
Since 2003 the British Government has done nothing to improve institutional capacity or to provide the experience that they recognized was necessary if Government was to meet the demands of an increasingly complex society. Whitehall did nothing to develop civil society or to strengthen the legislature or to improve the media. What the British Government did was leave us on our own to fend for ourselves.
The United Kingdom Government having abdicated its responsibility cannot now cure that wrong by undertaking unilaterally to create the institutions that will help to secure Good Governance and create a more perfect Democracy and then simply invite an elected Government to work within it. We must be a part of this process and our constitution must reflect us. The institutions in this Country were created over centuries by those who came to recognize the need for checks and balances on the powers of the Executive. That continues for this Country to be a work in progress. Out of your political experiences you have over time put the institutions in place that would secure the protection of your people and the promotion of their desires.
The Constitution of the United States was put in place by men some of whom were Englishmen, who wanted to create for themselves a more perfect Union; who were seeking to resist some of the same oppressions at the hands of the
British that we in the TCI complain of today and who wanted to improve upon the system of governance that obtained in imperial Britain. In America they had begun to realize, although not fully, that all men were created equal and endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights.
The tenets of good governance and fiscal responsibility cannot be handed down but must be molded by the people of the Territory in which it operates. Minister Bellingham, the answer is elections now so that the people of the TCI can begin to build with you as equal partners a system that will serve the ideals of democracy, that will serve the principles of good governance, that will serve the people of the Turks and Caicos islands and that the people and Governments of the Turks and Caicos will serve. If we cannot have that then the relationship is not worth having.
I wish against this backdrop to be clear as to the positions that I will hold and defend over the next two days. I will defend the right of the people not to have their voting system interfered with save by referendum. As an addendum to this presentation you will find enumerated just some of the reasons why I reject the voting system that is proposed.
I will make the case for the Deputy Governor be a belonger without provisos.
I will reject the draft constitution to the extent that it purports to increase the powers of the Governor. That is retrogressive. The concerns that the British Administration have are not cured by increasing the powers of the Governor. We are required to learn from our mistakes. The people of the Turks and Caicos Islands have learned valuable lessons. The question is has the foreign and commonwealth office learned anything?
I do not and cannot support the notion that there need be some reference to belongership in the Constitution.
On these fundamental issues I am at one with the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands not least because these issues are so fundamental to the practice of our democracy that they ought not be tampered with save and except there is an expressed and clear will of the people that that should happen. Failing our agreement today there ought to be on these issues a referendum
Mr. Minister I am called upon at this moment in our history to guard, protect and promote the hopes dreams and aspirations of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. My duty to my people is no less sacred than the identical duty that you have to the people of your Island home – that is to preserve the things that they hold dear and the things that they feel to be in their best interest. You carry out that duty today amid the increasing pressures of a large and sometimes seemingly imposing continent.
When you come to consider our requests and reflect upon our positions over the next two days we ask that you remember that small is relative and that our political system like your thrives when there exists organized and properly regulated political parties.
It now leaves me finally to thank you Mr. Minister and the members from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office my fellow Turks and Caicos Islanders who form part of this delegation and particularly my friend and counterpart Mr. Parnell for your kind attention. I wish for us all a productive two days.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE IMPOSITION OF THE VOTING SYSTEM
PROPOSED IN THE DRAFT CONSTITUTION
The system proposes that 9 of the 15 members be elected on a compensation proportional basis on a national constituency while the remaining 6 members be elected from vastly unequal island constituencies. This is a hugely undemocratic prescription.
This type of proportional representation finds expression most closely in Germany and in New Zealand.
New Zealand has had it since 1996 and later this year they propose to hold a referendum on whether it will continue.
The chief features and disadvantages of the proposed system are as follows:
1. It is fundamentally undemocratic and in a small electorate as we are would give rise to rich corruption opportunities since the Party Lists and the ranking of individuals on that list will be governed by party managers.
2. The system although touted to be proportional in fact gives small unrepresentative, or special interest, parties hugely disproportional power in the House of Assembly. A small and unrepresentative party or indeed a group of non-aligned individuals could conceivably become something of a permanent feature in Government irrespective of which of the major parties secured the main voting allegiance. Under this system these small unrepresentative parties can have significant and undemocratic blocking or veto power making it very hard for the major party to achieve anything in government with even one of these smaller parties holding the balance of power. While this may happen under the first past the post it is a virtual certainty under proportional representation.
3. Proportional representation ushers in with virtual certainty circumstances in the House of Assembly where legislative action is blocked and where negotiations between the parties (again an opportunity for corruption) is necessary for anything to be achieved; the programme of no one party therefore determines the legislative outcome. It is not what the people may have voted for but what emerges from “behind closed doors” in inter-party negotiations with again a small party or parties exercising, almost always, vastly disproportionate influence, that matters.
4. It is hard to change the Government as the Lists naturally include the same individuals that enjoy the support of the Party Executive and the order of the names reflect the descending level of that support. This system frustrates or at least thwarts the will of the people.
5. The system is very complicated. Few understand it in any place where it has been adopted. Voting systems should be simple.
6. It is very hard to change any proportional system once it is adopted. This is so because the Party Executive and persons that have found their names onto the Party List quickly gain a vested interest in its continuance as there seats are virtually secured. Also empirical evidence suggest that an inertia sets in among the people who quickly become alienated from the political system as they see that elections in the main change nothing, and that real reform is next to impossible. It is a locked system.
7. The system results in pallid politics where there are few big changes and where the government doesn’t often change, and where reform is very difficult and where young and promising people get put off as far as entry into public live is concerned; they see it as pointless trying, as the system is locked and undemocratic, and in a small polity likely to be corrupt as well.
8. The British people have recently shown, in their overwhelming rejection of an Alternative Voting system, that they prefer direct selection, by the people, of their Members of Parliament. Why should we have any worse?
9. The voting by Island constituencies also produces massively unequal constituencies with the result that the majority of the people on Providenciales would be without effective representation.