UK foreign secretary blasts Turks premier

Premier spoke of UK ‘abuses’

United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague laid into the Turks and Caicos Islands this week in a sharply-worded letter that criticised Turks Premier Rufus Ewing’s recent address to a Caribbean Community forum where the premier made reference to UK “abuses”.  

“You substantially misrepresent both the past and present situation to both the people of the TCI and to the leaders of the Caribbean,” Secretary Hague wrote. “The previous [Turks] government left behind a chaotic situation including – through incompetence, abuse of power and corruption – rapidly deteriorating public finances. As a result, the TCI was, in effect bankrupt. 

“In 2009, the UK government provided emergency funding to enable public workers to be paid. In 2010, we provided a guarantee that enabled the TCI government to borrow up to $260 million at an affordable interest rate in order to enable the government to maintain essential services …”  

It was in 2009 that the UK, following a commission of inquiry that uncovered a high probability of systemic corruption within the Turks government, enacted direct rule within the territory.  

That direct rule was ended in November 2012 when the elections that put Mr. Ewing in power were held. Following the vote, Mr. Ewing’s government rejected a previous agreement made by the UK to enact a value-added tax in the Turks and Caicos Islands. That tax system was to have taken effect next month.  

The attorney general’s office recently challenged the election or candidacy of six people who contested public office in that November election on the basis that they did not declare interests in government contracts.  

Premier Ewing drew the ire of British officials last month when he accused the Mother Country, which also oversees the Cayman Islands, of perpetrating “abuses” within Turks and Caicos. 

During the 18 February speech to the CARICOM assembly in Haiti, Mr. Ewing said the following: “Under the direct authority of the United Kingdom government, the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands witnessed the following: The implementation of new laws such as ‘The Trial Without Jury Law’ and amendments to the laws governing the admissibility of hearsay evidence. To the extent that these laws are intended to be retroactive, they erode the confidence in the judiciary that must underpin every democracy and challenge the very rule of law that the interim administration was charged to promote.  

“The approval of budgets without debate, so that there was no opportunity for the ordinary citizen to influence in any way, how his tax dollar was being spent, the transfer of protected pension funds from the National Insurance Fund to the Consolidated Fund. The implementation of laws facilitating the imposition of taxation against the wishes of the people,” he continued. “Such were but some the abuses of the United Kingdom government visited upon the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the name of Democracy and Good Governance during the rule of the Interim government.”  

Mr. Hague did not directly address any of those allegations, but noted that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office had “full confidence” in Turks Governor Ric Todd. He said that if the Turks government wished to remain a part of Britain it would have to “abide by the same standards as the UK government”.  

“These steps should help minimise the chances of a few corrupt people exploiting the assets of the TCI for their own benefits,” Mr. Hague wrote.