30 January 2012

Process And Substance In Turks & Caicos Islands Politics


 by Washington Misick

Washington Misick is a former chief minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands

The concept of a government having a legitimate mandate to govern via the fair winning of a democratic election is a central idea of democracy. Any other form of government, whether by means of coup d’état, appointment, electoral fraud, conquest, right of inheritance or other means, does not qualify as a democratic government.

Colonial governments earn their authority to govern by means of conquest. Can government by conquest be legitimate, and can an unelected government have a mandate? Absurdly, yes.

In politics, a mandate is consent granted by a constituency to act as its representative. In my view a constituency gives consent expressly or implicitly. “Consent of the governed” embodies the concept that a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised.

Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” To the extent that we the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands have not chosen to join the nations of the world, our implied will is to be governed by Britain. Until we opt for self-determination, any local government — corrupt or honest — serves at the pleasure of politicians in Britain.

It is for precisely that reason that Britain should take full responsibility (financial and otherwise) for the alleged wrongs of successive past Turks and Caicos governments. Its knee-jerk tendency to react in overly passive or excessively controlling ways — currently demonstrated by excessive compliance and control — is largely responsible for the continuing economic stagnation.

The interim government enjoys a de facto mandate similar to that of an oligarchy. This political oligarchy headed by the governor acts as game keeper and poacher at the same time: An oligarchy is not responsible to the governed, and is not obliged to make its agenda public.

While one may question the process or even-handedness of the last elected administration political agenda of Belonger Empowerment — “Turks and Caicos Islanders First” — the agenda was made public. Is the achievement of the milestones the only agenda of the interim government? The British coalition government has as its agenda many of the people empowering objective of the previous Turks and Caicos administration, which are ignored by the interim administration. These include:

* Targeting educational resources on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

* Ensuring that lower earners do not have to avoid the brunt of taxation

* Tax system reformed to create the “most competitive corporate tax regime in the G20”

* Further decentralisation of government

* Main burden of deficit reduction to be tackled by spending cuts, rather than tax rises

* Established fixed-term, five-year parliaments.

* Bring in referendum on voting reform

* Give voters power of recall, forcing by-election where ministers are found to have done wrong

* Speed up voter registration

* Stop ministers accused of serious wrongdoing from using parliamentary privilege as a defense

* Fund 200 all-postal primaries for parliamentary seats which have not changed hands in many years

Britain should come clean and admit that it is responsible for the accountability lapse which took place at an accelerating pace over a long period of overly passive engagement with the islands. It is therefore disingenuous for it to absolve itself from blame and punish the innocent people of the Turks and Caicos Islands for its failures.

We at the same time must share the responsibility for the breakdown in good governance because of lack of our own passive engagement and the low standards of expectation demanded from our leaders.

Unfortunately, under the interim government transparency is also in question if, for example, members of the consultative forum are not informed of government’s position, including who pays the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team.

Since the message from Britain is that public accountability is the most important plank of democracy, the country must now demand accountability from Waterloo. After two years and six months, it is time that the interim administration take ownership of the economy and government expenditure.

How deep are the desk drawers in government that they continue to find new unpaid bills from the last administration every quarter? That excuse is now tired. The serial backtracking on government financial position does not instill confidence; neither does the continued moving of the goal post for elections. Britain’s contingent liability for securing the TCI loan should not be the main financial objective of government, and should not ignore the need to stimulate economic growth.

So far the main accomplishment of the wholesale takeover of the island by the U.K. has been its success in persuading us to turn on each other. It is time for all who call these islands home — regardless of how we come to claim that right — to recognize that all our hopes and dreams are inextricable bound together. Whether one supported the wholesale take over by Britain or not, one has to agree that the results have been disappointing.

Recognizing our common destiny, the New Year is a good time to engage in collective soul-searching so that together we may tap into the core traditional decency that makes these islands special. We need a new sense of neighborhood, one that is not defined by physical boundary, but by the actions of the Good Samaritan as we prepare to face the challenges of 2012 and beyond.

In that regard, justice requires even-handedness in arriving at impartial verdicts for those who are accused of crimes associated with the usurpation of representative government. Imposing outcomes from above or manipulating legislation and the justice system to achieved desired outcomes is not a solution, but part of the problem of political tyranny.

Ironically, Britain has become involved in regime change in several places recently for precisely these reasons. In the end, fairness dictates that large businesses, however important to the economy, as well as wealthy individuals, go through the same due process as the politicians they are accused of corrupting.

It is unjust that approximately 10 percent of the local gross domestic product should go towards the payment of criminal investigation of corruption in a government constitutionally headed by Britain as the administering power of these islands.

“If democracy does not promote justice, it cannot be defended to the people who become victims of injustice.” True democracy values both process and substance. Britain in my view has failed on the issue of process. Let’s demand that they get the substance right.

Let us vow in 2012 to no longer behave like victims, for if we do we will continue to be victimised and marginalised. Political patronage by any name, practiced by any individual or group, is still political patronage, and our own people should be careful not to be used as agents of deceit by the interim administration.

To that end, I am happy that some members of the Consultative Forum are at last finding their voices. Maybe for the first time at last we can all put aside our parochial politics and find our collective voice, or become an endangered species in our own home. Let’s make it our Christian duty to objectively condemn wrong in government and in society in general, without the subjective hate of individuals or groups of individuals.

There is no reason we should allow Britain or any other group to impose collective guilt on the entire Belonger population. The accused among us should be given the opportunity to face their accusers with dispatch, and let the business of the country, including the return to representative government, proceed without delay. Justice demands no less.