23 May 2011

Turks & Caicos Islanders Reject British-drafted constitution


by Richard Green
fp Turks and Caicos

Frustrated Turks and Caicos Islanders who attended public meetings this week overwhelming rejected nearly all proposed changes to the U.K. overseas territory’s 2006 Constitution, many demanding that no changes be made.

However, it remains to be seen if the new coalition U.K. government will reverse its requirement that a new Constitution be in place before the government is returned to local rule. The current timetable is for the Privy Council to receive a new Constitution for approval in July.

Four representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office got a raucous welcome May 16 from more than 200 people crammed into the Community Fellowship Centre on Leeward Highway on Providenciales.

“Every time I open my mouth, you shout me down,” FCO constitutional advisor Ian Hendry said at one point while trying to answer a question during the nearly four-hour public consultation.

Many speakers from all walks of life vented their frustration over British rule since the 2006 Constitution was suspended in 2009, even some who supported the action. They are upset that the FCO refused to include local politicians and Belongers in negotiations to draft changes to the Constitution, and they question whether public consultation will make any difference.

They are not encouraged by the fact that very few objections and suggestions given to Constitution advisor Kate Sullivan during her consultations made it into the March 4 draft now being considered.

Despite all the cheering, jeering and often off-topic comments and speeches at the Providenciales meeting, the FCO team got the message loud and clear that the people especially oppose increasing the power of the governor, changing the way to obtain Belongership and altering the method of electing members to the House of Assembly.

Some accused the former Gov. Richard Tauwhare and the FCO of being just as responsible for alleged corruption and problems as former ministers now under investigation. They questioned the wisdom of giving more power to governors, who come and go every three years and may not have the country’s best interests at heart.

The 2006 Constitution gave most power to local ministers, requiring the governor to go along with ministers in most cases. After Sir Robin Auld said in his 2009 Commission of Inquiry report that the Constitution need strengthening to prevent future problems, the U.K. government hired Sullivan to revise the 2006 Constitution to do just that.

Hendry negotiated with the former TCI government during the writing of the 2006 Constitution, which he believes is a progressive document that could have led to independence, but he said his marching orders come from the British government.

“Obviously, while the Turks and Caicos Islands are an overseas territory and not an independent state, then the British government can call the shots,” Hendry said.

More power is proposed for the governor “because the U.K. remains responsible for the territory, internationally and constitutionally in terms of answerability to the U.K. Parliament,” he said.

“Please do not overreact and assume that because there are these powers, that they will be used every day of the week,” Hendry said, pointing out that territory governors rarely overrule local governments.

Progressive National Party Leader Clayton Greene was among those at the Provo meeting who asked about the possibility of holding a referendum on changes to the Constitution.

Hendry said there have only been two national referenda in the U.K. and none in the TCI, but that decision would be up to U.K. ministers.

At May 17 meetings on Salt Cay and Grand Turk, Hendry and his team got similar objections.

Grand Turk residents were at times as vocal and boisterous as those on Providenciales, but some of them gave thoughtful criticism and suggestions to the team.

The main concern of a polite, orderly group on Salt Cay was representation — they want a minister from their tiny island of fewer than 100 people. They say they have been overlooked for many years in matters affecting their residents because of a lack of representation.

The proposed new election method would give one representative to each island and nine others elected at large countrywide, answering Salt Cay’s prayers. However, most objected to the complicated compensating voting system proposed for selecting the at-large members.

Hendry explained that the compensating voting system is used in London to elect its mayor and members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

Sullivan suggested using a mixed system to preserve the current, popular first past the post method to elect island representatives, including Salt Cay, he said. The compensating voting system for countrywide representatives is aimed at preventing one party from getting a large majority of seats with only a narrow margin of victory, which can happen in first past the post elections, he said.

Members of the Middle Caicos community were cordial to the panel, which said it had a productive two and a half hour discussion on similar topics.

While many opposed the suggested voting system, one resident explained the benefits it could offer the smaller communities such as those on Middle Caicos.

“Proportional voting has a large number of positive values in a small community,” she said, noting that during the last election only 52 percent of the electorate elected 13 out of 15 elected members of government. “Forty-eight percent of the electorate was not well represented by two members of government. So I would really ask people to be open to this idea of proportional voting to make sure you understand what it is.”

She said the six island representatives would be “fabulous” because it elects six people to government who are going to do nothing but putting forward what is best for their island.

“This is a radical departure and would add something to the House of Assembly and to the way government functions to help move us away from corruption … doing things under the table.”

FCO Deputy Director of Overseas Territories Helen Nellthorp responded positively, saying, “These are drafts, these are proposals, but these are the sorts of things we would want you to be talking about locally and deciding what you want these governance principles to be.”

After several meetings, the team said it had heard clearly the strong feelings that the draft Constitution has created, and the team will be reporting this quickly and accurately to Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham. “We are already giving consideration to possible changes to the draft to present to the minister,” Nellthorp said.

“We hope everyone will understand that our work and the work of Kate Sullivan has been to ensure that TCI does not return to the difficult times of recent years. We want to work together to help reach the milestones needed to return to elected government.

“We will report faithfully all of these points, and more, back to ministers in London.”

Anguilla CM Assures Support for Financial Sector


The Anguillian

Chief Minister and Minister of Finance, Hubert Hughes, is of the view that the offshore financial industry can derive significant benefits for the Government and people of Anguilla. He made the point, however, that in order to accomplish this, it was necessary for Government to support the initiatives of the private sector Financial Services Association and work in a harmonious relationship with the body.

The Anguilla Government leader made the comments in a keynote address to a Financial Services Strategy Planning Conference at Paradise Cove Hotel on Friday, May 6. The conference, involving financial services personnel in the public and private sectors, was organised mainly by Anguilla Finance Ltd, a company aimed at marketing the island’s financial services, whose Chief Executive Officer is Stephen Garlick.

“I would admonish the industry to be vigilant; to continue to work closely with Government as a partner,” the Chief Minister went on. “Together, we can really, for the first time in our history, create the jobs and the revenue stream as a sustainable industry, but we must work together in order to achieve that end.

“It is accepted that a well-regulated industry can only result in prosperity but one must be mindful …that we can regulate the industry out of existence. There must be a balance and this has been and continues to be the challenge. We must also recognise that there are many countries competing for this business.”

Mr. Hughes hoped that the private sector financial services industry leaders, with whom the Government was working, would be able to produce a marketing budget and an accompanying marketing plan for consideration. “This Government is serious about moving forward with this industry so that it can derive all it can for the people of Anguilla,” he stated. “We will continue to do so even though the portfolio is not truly carried by the Minister of Finance, an anomaly that we must fix through constitutional reform.”

The Chief Minister thanked Anguilla Finance Ltd., the company he said was charged with marketing the Anguilla jurisdiction, for putting on the event and working so hard to move the island’s financial services agenda forward. “This will undoubtedly benefit the Government and people of Anguilla,” he stressed. “The private sector representatives have put their money where their mouths are, as all the costs have been met by their professional services providers in Anguilla. Government must do its part to support them both with legislation and marketing dollars because a lot of service providers are talking about cutting back or closing down. We need to ‘stop the slide and grow the pile’ and the only way to do so is to do what my Government has decided to do and, that is, to work with them and invest with them. In order to make money, we must spend money.”

Mr. Hughes saw offshore financial services as being second to the island’s tourism industry in which all the stakeholders had worked tirelessly together to produce a world leading asset. “The financial services industry must do the same,” he added. “All the stakeholders both here, and globally, must form themselves together, making the best use of best practice,…to achieve a product and a level of service that can surpass all jurisdictions that are household names.”

Mr. Garlick was pleased with the turnout of Government and financial services officials and outlined some of the proposals of his company.  He issued a booklet entitled, “Anguilla Finance: Working Together for the Common Good,” in which he stated that his company’s proposal was to be the marketing entity for the island’s financial services community as a whole.

Mr. Garlick listed various steps to be taken to significantly develop the financial services industry. They included looking for new markets; creating unique selling propositions; utilisingall the resources available to British Overseas Territories; creating a user-friendly and manageable website to allow members to post press releases, articles and brochures; working with British and Anguillian Government bodies;reviewing target markets and databases; organising events such as trade shows; speaking and sponsorship opportunities; and working closely with Chambers of Commerce, Embassies and Consulates in Anguilla, the Caribbean and worldwide.

Mr. Garlick noted that there must be a review of the cost effectiveness of all activities in order to move forward. This included a review of itemised expenditure; client satisfaction surveys; a review of closed deals and revenue generation.

President of the Anguilla Financial Services Association, Palmavon Webster, expressed gratitude to the Chief Minister for pledging Government’s support including the funding of part of the marketing programme.

She said all stakeholders had a significant role to play in the interest of Anguilla and its people. According to her, it was not about playing second fiddle to the tourism industry but, like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the BVI, Anguilla could equally distinguish itself in the development of its financial services.

Ms. Webster congratulated Anguilla Finance Ltd for taking the lead in marketing the industry. She underscored the Chief Minister’s desire to see the offshore financial services industry developed to a point where it would result in increased employment for Anguillians and financial business for the island’s economy. “What we need to achieve our goals, is to band together,” she added.” We can follow the lead of the tourist industry and do it better. We must not be complacent…I think we have an incredible opportunity to go forward now in a very logical and methodical way.”

Other speakers were Registrar of Commercial Activities, Lanston Connor whose topic was Working together for the Common Good; Paul T. Mason who spoke on The Growing Need for a Real Presence; John J. Koresko who gave an American view on the subject: How to make Anguilla an attractive destination given the current administration’s attitude to offshore financial centres; Martin Evenleigh, Chairman of Altlas Insurance Management whose topic was: Captive Insurance: What clients require from a jurisdiction; and Peter Reichenstein who spoke on Foundations: A legislative process case history.