Turks and Caicos Islands - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Background

1. In July 2007, we resolved to undertake an inquiry into the United Kingdom's Overseas Territories. This was the first Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the Territories (with the exception of Gibraltar) for over a decade.[1] The inquiry focused on the FCO's exercise of its responsibilities in relation to the Territories and its achievements against its then Strategic Priority No. 10, "the security and good governance of the Overseas Territories".[2]

2. Our Report, which was published on 6 July 2008, contained conclusions and recommendations relating to all the Territories.[3] One matter of particular concern to us was the very serious allegations of corruption we had received in relation to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Members of the Committee visited TCI in March 2008 and had been disturbed to encounter a "climate of fear". In our Report we commented that "alarmingly for a British Overseas Territory, many individuals expressed great concern about being seen to be talking to British parliamentarians and some individuals declined to meet us altogether for this reason".[4]

3. We concluded that the allegations of corruption were:

    already damaging TCI's reputation, and there are signs that they may soon begin to affect the Islands' tourism industry. There is also a great risk that they will damage the UK's own reputation for promoting good governance. Unlike the Cayman Islands, where the Governor has taken the initiative in investigations, the onus has been placed on local people to substantiate allegations in TCI. This approach is entirely inappropriate given the palpable climate of fear on TCI. In such an environment, people will be afraid to publicly come forward with evidence. We conclude that the UK Government must find a way to assure people that a formal process with safeguards is underway and therefore recommend that it announces a Commission of Inquiry, with full protection for witnesses. The change in Governor occurring in August presents an opportunity to restore trust and we recommend that the Commission of Inquiry should be announced before the new Governor takes up his post.[5]

4. In reviewing the Government's overall record of discharging its responsibilities for the Territories, we commented that:

    the Government has acted decisively in some Overseas Territories, for example in the investigations and prosecutions that took place on the Pitcairn Islands. However, in other cases which should also cause grave concern, in particular, allegations of corruption on the Turks and Caicos Islands, its approach has been too hands off. The Government must take its oversight responsibility for the Overseas Territories more seriously—consulting across all Overseas Territories more on the one hand while demonstrating a greater willingness to step in and use reserve powers when necessary on the other.[6]

5. Although the Government's formal response to our Report was published in September 2008,[7] it had taken earlier action in direct response to our representations about alleged corruption in TCI. In May 2008 we sought a private meeting with the then FCO Minister for the Overseas Territories, Meg Munn MP, and impressed upon her our deep sense of unease about the situation in TCI and our belief that urgent action was required. On 10 July the outgoing Governor of TCI, Richard Tauwhare, announced the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry. The Commissioner was the Rt Hon Sir Robin Auld, a retired Lord Justice of Appeal. His remit was to inquire into whether there was "any information that corruption or other serious dishonesty in relation to past and present elected members of the House of Assembly (previously known as the Legislative Council) may have taken place in recent years".[8]

6. The new Governor, Gordon Wetherell, published the Commissioner's interim Report on 16 March 2009. On the same day, in a statement to the House, the then FCO Minister with responsibility for the Overseas Territories, Gillian Merron MP, stated that the Commissioner had identified:

    a high probability of systemic corruption or serious dishonesty. In his view, this, together with 'clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of general administrative incompetence, have demonstrated a need for urgent suspension in whole or in part of the Constitution and for other legislative and administrative reforms', and change in other related matters.[9]

7. On the basis of Sir Robin's interim report and the "accumulation of evidence in relation to the TCI over the past year or so", the Government accepted the Commission's view that it was necessary to suspend parts of the TCI Constitution.[10] The Turks and Caicos Islands Constitution (Interim Amendment) Order 2009 was laid before Parliament on 25 March 2009, with the intention that its provisions would be brought into force after Sir Robin's final report was received.[11] That report was delivered to the Governor on 31 May 2009[12] and published on 18 July. The report identified a need for "urgent and wide-ranging systemic change".[13]

8. On 14 August 2009, the UK Government partially suspended parts of the TCI Constitution, for a period of two years.[14] The Order in Council left in place important elements of the Constitution, including the fundamental rights chapter and provisions relating to the Governor, the courts and the public service. It removed the provisions relating to the Cabinet and House of Assembly, and references to ministerial and related powers. It made provision for an interim Government, so that powers currently exercised by Ministers would be exercised by the Governor, acting at his discretion, including in relation to public finances, legislation and necessary regulatory reform. Gillian Merron MP described this as an "act of constitutional significance in order to restore the principles of good governance".[15] The interim Government took office on the same day.[16]

9. In addition to the partial suspension of the Constitution, a Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT) has since been established in accordance with Sir Robin Auld's recommendation that provision be made for a special criminal process and civil recovery of assets arising out of any criminal or other investigations prompted by the final report. On 10 August 2009 Ms Helen Garlick was appointed by the Governor as Special Prosecutor, heading the SIPT.

10. In a statement to the House on 2 July 2009, the present Minister for the Overseas Territories, Chris Bryant MP, outlined other steps taken by the Government in response to the Commission's report.[17] He acknowledged the help and support provided by the "keen eye of the FAC" in highlighting the situation in TCI.[18]

11. When the interim Government took office on 14 August 2009, it faced a daunting task. It inherited a national debt of US$135 million, and a huge challenge in implementing proper financial management and maintaining the provision of public services to the residents of the TCI. At the same time it has been attempting to implement the political and economic reforms required to address the systemic corruption identified by the Auld Commission. The Governor has set out his account of progress to date in quarterly reports, the first two of which were published in November 2009 and February 2010.[19]

12. We have closely monitored subsequent development in the Islands. We have received regular briefings from the Governor and the Special Prosecutor, as well as from a number of other interested parties. We have continued to receive a significant amount of correspondence in relation to TCI. We have raised some particular issues of concern with Ministers, and print their responses with this Report.[20]

13. We welcome the actions that the Government has taken to address the serious concerns we expressed in 2008 about alleged corruption in the Turks and Caicos Islands. These actions include the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry, the subsequent suspension of parts of the TCI Constitution, and the creation of a Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT). However, in recent months significant concerns about the speed and effectiveness of the Government's plans to reform and "clean up" the political system in TCI have been brought to our attention. This brief Report focuses specifically on those concerns.

14. Although this Report deals specifically with issues relating to TCI, a number of concerns have been brought to our attention in relation to allegations of corruption and poor governance in other Overseas Territories—for example, in Anguilla. We recommend that the Government should supply us with a memorandum setting out in detail what support is provided by the UK Government to each of the individual Territory governments to assist them in tackling corruption and maintaining standards of good governance. In the event that it is not possible to supply this information to us before the dissolution of the present Parliament, we recommend that the Government should make it available to our successor Committee in the next Parliament when it begins its work.

1   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Overseas Territories, HC 147-I, para 2 Back

2   Ibid., para 3 Back

3   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Overseas Territories, HC 147-I Back

4   Ibid., para 174 Back

5   Ibid., para 196 Back

6   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Overseas Territories, HC 147, para 437 Back

7   Seventh Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2007-08, Overseas Territories: Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Cm 7473 Back

8   Governor Richard Tauwhare's Press Statement, 10 July 2008, www.tci-inquiry.org/tci_inquiry.html Back

9   HC Deb, 16 March 2009, col 40WS Back

10   IbidBack

11   The Turks and Caicos Islands Constitution (Interim Amendment) Order 2009 Back

12   HC Deb, 2 July 2009, col 25WS Back

13   Report of the Commissioner, the Right Honourable Sir Robin Auld, Turks & Caicos Islands Commission of Inquiry 2008-09, 18 July 2009, para 5.12 Back

14   FCO country profile, via www.fco.gov.uk Back

15   HC Deb, 16 March 2009, col 40WS Back

16   First Quarterly Statement from His Excellency Gordon Wetherell, Governor, Turks and Caicos Islands, 30 November 2009, via http://turksandcaicosislands.fco.gov.uk Back

17   This included the appointment of a number of Advisers in the areas of public service, public financial management, economics, good governance and Crown Land. Back

18   HC Deb, 2 July 2009, col 25WS  Back

19   First Quarterly Statement from His Excellency Gordon Wetherell, Governor, Turks and Caicos Islands, 30 November 2009; Second Quarterly Statement from His Excellency Gordon Wetherell, Governor, Turks and Caicos Islands, 28 February 2010, via http://turksandcaicosislands.fco.gov.uk Back

20   Ev 1-2; Ev 7-10  Back

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