Cayman Islands not mentioned
The United Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Committee issued a clear indication last week that it would no longer allow UK ministers to turn a blind eye to allegations of corruption within British Overseas Territories or Crown dependencies.
For its part, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office also gave notice that it was time for the overseas territories’ appointed governors to get out of the hammock and into the office.
‘We have…revised the requirements for those being appointed to governorship to ensure they have the right capabilities for the job; that they are clear about their responsibility for governance,’ Minister for the Overseas Territories Gillian Merron said Thursday during a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
‘Those governors who raise concerns about good governance will have support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,’ Ms Merron added.
UK Members of Parliament who testified before the committee Thursday afternoon in London were outraged at the situation that has unfolded in the Turks and Caicos Islands over the past several months. An independent Commission of Enquiry called to look into the situation in Turks has uncovered preliminary evidence of widespread government corruption that has led to the ouster of Premier Michael Misick.
Of more concern to committee members was the apparent disregard for democracy and a ‘climate of fear’ they discovered when they visited the small Caribbean island group.
‘We had to arrange meetings with individuals who would only see us if the place, the date and the time of the meeting were completely secret,’ MP John Stanley said. ‘It was quite shocking to us that this was a situation that was prevalent in a British Overseas Territory.’
MP Andrew MacKinlay put at least part of the blame at the feet of the FCO.
‘Doesn’t it say something about the foreign office?’ Mr. MacKinlay said. ‘Their man was there.’
‘The foreign office seemed to be so oblivious to what was going on in the Turks and Caicos,’ Mr. Stanley added.
Ms Merron responded by stating that, ultimately, the Turks and Caicos government was responsible for the present situation, not the United Kingdom.
However, committee chairman Mike Gapes said the UK’s foreign office should have moved more swiftly to respond in a territory for which it has direct constitutional responsibility regarding the management of finances and where the UK ‘is most exposed’ to liabilities.
Mr. Gapes also noted the Foreign Affairs Committee, during its fact-finding trips to the Overseas Territories, received allegations of corruption in Bermuda and Anguilla.
The Cayman Islands was not mentioned by the UK committee. In fact, it was applauded for establishing a witness protection programme under local law to protect those who come forward to report wrong-doing.
‘I would be grateful to know if there’s been progress anywhere else,’ Mr. Gapes said, adding that he knew of no other overseas territories that had done so.
Ms Merron urged all overseas territories governors to review the interim findings of the Commission of Enquiry in Turks and Caicos ‘to ensure a thorough assessment of any systematic controls that need improving in the overseas territories.’