22 June 2011

British retain increased governor's powers in UK proposed constitution for Turks & Caicos Islands


United Kingdom Minister insists on more powers for the British Government through its appointed governor despite concerns forcefully expressed by the leaders of the two political parties of the territory that the powers should be exercised through duly elected representatives.

"On the Governor’s powers, I firmly believe reserved powers should be increased in order to ensure the Constitution is sufficiently robust..." - FCO Minister for the Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham.

 United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Press Statement
on Conclusion of Constitutional Talks

June 17, 2011


Constitutional talks between the FCO and a delegation from the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) today concluded with the announcement of a final constitution package. The talks, which were attended by the Foreign Secretary William Hague, FCO Minister for the Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham and Minister for State for International Development Alan Duncan, were the culmination of a 15 month process of consultation on revisions to the 2006 TCI Constitution.

(OTR Note: The Turks and Caicos Islands delegation consisted of Doug Parnell (Leader, PDM), Clayton Greene (Leader, PNP), Wendall Swann (Former Chair, All-Party Commission on the Constitution and Electoral Reform), Pastor Bradley Handfield (Church) and Trevon Farrington (Youth Ambassador). Lillian Misick (Chair, Consultative Forum) and Doreen Quelch-Missick (Advisory Council) also attended the meeting.)

Mr Bellingham said: “I am grateful to the delegation for accepting my invitation to come to London so that I could hear first hand their views on the draft constitution. I followed reports of the public meetings in TCI with great interest and was pleased to have the chance to talk through many of the issues that prompted such strong debate. The delegation has taken part in extensive and constructive talks with senior officials in the Foreign Office over the past two days. Having listened to the views presented here by the delegates I have decided the following:

1. On the electoral system, I recognise that many people share our concerns about the transactional politics which have existed in TCI for many years. But I also understand the political parties preference for the first past the post voting system. I am willing to drop our proposal for a mixed member proportional system, and remain with the present system where all elected members of the House of Assembly are elected by the first past the post system.

2. I understand a number of options for the membership of the House have been discussed. I consider that 10 constituency members, 5 “at large” or “territory wide” members and 4 appointed members would be the best arrangement. I also want to see the Electoral Boundary Commission as drafted by my officials.

3. On term limits, I would like to include a provision along the lines of that in the Cayman Constitution so that the Governor shall not appoint as Premier a person who has held office as Premier during two consecutive Parliamentary terms, unless at least one Parliamentary term has expired since he/she held office.

4. On the Governor’s powers, I firmly believe reserved powers should be increased in order to ensure the Constitution is sufficiently robust, to guard against a return to the situation that led to the Commission of Inquiry. Any decision to use such reserve powers would not be taken lightly. However, I am willing to accept the amendments agreed with my officials to require the Governor to consult the Secretary of State before exercising many of these powers, thus providing a check on the Governor in the exercise of his functions.

5. As a number of concerns have been raised about this throughout the consultation process, I would like to reiterate that the Governor is not above the law. With extremely limited and specific exceptions, the Governor can be held to account for his or her actions in the courts like any other public official, which reflects the position in other OTs.

6. On Belongership, I accept the request to remove the provisions that we had taken from the immigration ordinance on Belongership by right. I am pleased that we have agreed on the inclusion in the Constitution of the minimum conditions for the grant of Belongership.

7. I welcome the agreement that the term Belonger should be replaced with Turks and Caicos Islander.

8. On the Deputy Governor, I agree that the Constitution should confirm that the Deputy Governor should be a Turks and Caicos Islander.

9. On the issue of trial by jury, I am not prepared to change the draft Constitution. I would like to reiterate that trial by jury is not being abolished. The relevant ordinance merely provides flexibility where it appears to the presiding judge that trial by jury would not meet the interests of justice. There is a similar provision in UK law.

10. I can accept the new preamble which clearly affirms TCI’s religious beliefs.

Mr Bellingham continued: ‘As I expected, there was not consensus amongst us on all provisions. This has meant that there have been difficult decisions taken on some sensitive and important issues. I have tried to be as flexible as possible but it is important that UK interests and those of the people of TCI are protected as robustly as possible to avoid a return to the situation which led to the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry in 2008.’

‘This has been a lengthy consultation process. I am convinced that we have got a good result for the people of TCI. It is now time to move forward’ said the Minister. ‘I want to see continued progress against the milestones I and Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development identified in December, which I still judge are necessary to enable us to hold elections in TCI in 2012’.

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