By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands — The recent fact-finding mission sent by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), led by the foreign minister of The Bahamas Fred Mitchell, and comprising the foreign ministers of Haiti, Jamaica and St Kitts and Nevis, has released its report of the visit and its findings. However, the report is widely seen as lacking in credibility due in particular to its conclusion that the interim administration had “dismantled” local institutions including the TCI Bank
The now defunct TCI Bank was in fact a privately-owned entity headed by current Finance Minister Washington Misick which, according to the Financial Services Commission (FSC), failed in 2010 as a result of poor management practices after just three years of operation, taking down with it the savings of some 4,000 small account holders and at least $25 million in National Insurance Board (NIB) funds.
The NIB had purchased now worthless TCI Bank stock and deposited a total of $19.5 million in pension funds in the bank.
In February 2010, then head of the interim government, Governor Gordon Wetherell, gave approval for the NIB to deposit an additional $5 million in an attempt to shore up the TCI Bank’s shaky financial position.
However, the effort by the interim government to save the bank was rendered futile by three large depositors who immediately withdrew the rescue funds provided by the NIB, leaving the bank in worse shape than before. Despite public calls for a full investigation, the identity of the depositors concerned and how they were alerted to the bank’s temporary liquidity has never been publicly revealed.
The report asserted that the bank’s liquidation resulted in a downturn in government education scholarships, which is not true. If anything, the downturn in scholarships resulted from widespread abuse by former ministers, one of whom granted her own daughter a scholarship without going through the proper procedures.
For the CARICOM mission to misconstrue or be deceived as to the events surrounding the failure of the TCI Bank and to blame the interim government rather than the bank’s management has therefore called into question the entire report and the purpose of the mission itself.
Other obvious errors in the report include an observation that trial by jury has been abolished. This is not true. Jury trials are still available in most civil cases and in most criminal cases. However, they are not available in the case of prosecution of local politicians due to the high level of bias by the small residential population.
It was also reported that the ruling Progressive National Party (PNP) complained that it could only authorize expenditures of no more than $5,000. While this is indeed the case without legislative approval, the government through decisions by cabinet and the House of Assembly is free to spend any amount available for projects needed by the people they represent.
There were complaints that the special investigation and prosecution team (SIPT) was enforcing justice for white developers by allowing them to purchase freedom from prosecution. While in some quarters this may be viewed as a valid criticism, one of the former politicians charged with corruption and malfeasance has been able to escape further prosecution by surrendering a piece of land that was illegally obtained. It is also felt that those developers that were able to escape prosecution for bribery may have been victimized to some extent by the 2003 – 2009 PNP government, when ministers solicited the subject bribes. The report fails to address this
There are reported charges that the SIPT has overreached and destroyed reputations. However, the 2008-2009 Commission of Inquiry uncovered evidence of massive corruption by the previous PNP government and former ministers currently charged with various offences have used every legal method available to them to delay prosecution.
It was also reported that those charged with serious offences by the SIPT have had their travel documents restricted by the court. This may be true in some cases but not all, and is certainly by no means unusual in high profile cases.
The court’s approach to this may well have been influenced by former Premier Michael Misick, who fled first to the Dominican Republic and later to Brazil, where he sought asylum. Currently Misick has twice been refused asylum and is now in custody in Brazil while making yet another appeal, despite professing on a number of occasions that he wanted to return to the TCI
It was also erroneously reported that there is widespread anti-British sentiment in the TCI, due to the heavy handed operations of the interim government following the imposition of direct rule by Britain. However, this is only true of certain PNP government members and some supporters who are currently facing criminal charges or may be dragged before the courts because of their possible involvement with the alleged corruption and other malfeasance.
The universal complaint against Britain is the continuing delay in the pending prosecutions, although these seem to be caused by the defendants themselves. In fact, Helen Garlick, who heads the SIPT, reported that she was ready to proceed with the prosecutions one year ago.
Bahamas foreign minister and leader of the CARICOM mission to the TCI, Fred Mitchell
The report concludes with a number of recommendations:
• A referendum on the acceptance of British rule under the present Constitution might be held.
• A Truth and Justice Commission type exercise along the lines of the South African post apartheid experience might be considered as an alternative to the current SIPT and prosecutions given the long time that it is taking to conclude the matters and the feeling expressed that the justice is costing too much money and has the society on pause.
• Britain should give some public explanation of their position on the culpability or non culpability of the last Governor for events that led to the Commission of Enquiry in view of his oversight responsibility.
• An investigation by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons with specific reference to the consistent descriptions of a “climate of fear”. Indeed, a recurrent theme was that justice could be purchased, that there were no local people or regional people on the SIPT which gave the impression that it was designed to treat all people of TCI as crooks and target only Islanders. That Committee might also investigate a common thread and view espoused at all levels of the society that the British have used the imposition of Direct Rule and the subsequent new constitutional arrangements to provide jobs for British nationals in key areas of the government and economy of the TCI to the exclusion of the Turks and Caicos Islanders. Another common narrative that bears examination is that the justice being administered by the SIPT has cost the people of TCI some $46m with no end in sight; that only Islanders are facing criminal charges and jail time while non-Islanders have been able to purchase justice.
• CARICOM should further engage its Associate Member and encourage and support their participation in the organs of the Community.
• While independence is a matter ultimately for the TCI, self-determination is a democratic norm and aspiration for every territory. The administrative power has a responsibility to provide the means for full self- determination.
• There is need to put an amending mechanism in the Constitution.
• Britain must in the TCI extend the same standards of democracy that obtain in the United Kingdom with communities able to govern themselves fully according to democratic norms.
• A copy of this report should be made available to the British Government, the Turks and Caicos Government and the TCI Opposition.