Turks and Caicos Islands: Government Response to the Committee's Seventh Report of Session 2009-10 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Government response

Letter to the Chair of the Committee from the Rt Hon William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State

I welcome the interest and attention that the Foreign Affairs Committee continues to show in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Since this latest report was published, Andrew Rosindell MP has visited TCI, and we are grateful for his report which we have considered and discussed with him. The Minister for the Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham, visited the territory in September and met the members of the Advisory Council and the Consultative Forum, the leaders of the two main political parties, representatives of the Haitian community and local business people.

My department has studied the Committee's Report carefully. Henry Bellingham wrote to you to explain the delay in replying. This Government needed time to take stock and assess the steps taken to ensure TCI receives the support and resources it needs to underpin its return to elected government. This letter sets out our formal response to the Committee's recommendations.

A number of the Committee's recommendations propose the UK Government directly funds certain activities in TCI. I should explain at the outset that our policy is based on enabling the TCI Government to fund its own criminal justice system and public service. The focus of our financial support is therefore to stabilize, reform and bring greater efficiency and control to the management of public finances within TCI Government. We think this is the right way to set TCI—which is not a poor jurisdiction—on the path to sustainable financial independence.

We recommend that the Government should supply us with a memorandum[1] 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.

We recommend that, should the need be identified, close personal protection should be provided to the Special Prosecutor and the members of her team, and that the cost of this protection should be wholly met by the UK Government.

The security of the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT), while it carries out its work in TCI, is the responsibility of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force (RTCIPF). The RTCIPF carries out regular assessments of the security situation in TCI and reports to the Governor and the regional law enforcement adviser. The RTCIPF would provide close protection should it deem that the threat warranted this. If a need was identified for close protection which the RTCIPF could not provide from within its existing resources, the UK Government would give careful consideration to any request from the TCI Government for technical or financial assistance.

We recommend that the UK Government fully fund the work of the SIPT or risk severely undermining its own credibility in its use of reserved powers, both in the TCI and in all of the Overseas Territories.

It is generally for territory governments to fund commissions of inquiry and criminal investigations within their jurisdictions. Making sufficient budgetary provision for the criminal justice system is part of good governance. However, the FCO funded the initial costs of the SIPT to ensure that the Special Prosecutor could start her work as soon as possible. At a press conference in TCI in April, the Special Prosecutor announced that the SIPT was at full strength and that its work was on schedule. Ms Garlick estimated that 18 months was a reasonable time for the inquiry to be completed. The team now has a permanent presence in the territory. In a statement issued on 29 September, Ms Garlick confirmed that the SIPT was continuing to make good progress and was confident of meeting the targets and deadlines that it had set and agreed with the Strategic Oversight Group which was established to oversee the progress of the investigation and the management of its budget. She said that if the SIPT succeeded in its aim of bringing successful prosecutions, it was her intention to ensure that the TCI recouped most, if not all, of the costs.

We will ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect the SIPT's funding from the TCI Government budget for as long as it is required.

We recommend that the Government respond positively to the Governor's requests and fund the required number of additional British police officers through the DFID budget.

DFID's focus in TCI is in the key area of public financial management. In a Written Ministerial Statement on 1 July, the Secretary of State for International Development announced plans for the provision of a temporary package of financial support. Work to put this package in place is currently underway. This support is conditional on the TCI Government strengthening its capacity and systems to manage its public finances, and balancing its budget within the next three years. To address the immediate shortfall, DFID provided a loan of £9.7 million to TCI between June and August, and have agreed to provide a further loan of up to £10 million to cover the period September to November.

The TCI Government allocated an additional US$ 4 million to the RTCIPF earlier this year and has recruited four experienced UK police personnel in the fields of Community Policing, Criminal Investigation, Crime Analysis, and Scenes of Crime/Fingerprinting. They started work in the Territory in June and have already made a significant impact. In addition, Canada has offered to provide police training which we expect to start later this year. In response to a recent increase in violent crime, the Governor has announced that the TCI Government is strengthening the penalties for gun related crime and the illegal possession of guns and pursuing short term assistance from the UK for the police specifically to target, investigate and arrest those responsible for violent crime and the illegal possession of guns. The UK Government is currently dealing with this request for assistance.

We further recommend that the UK Government provide the capital and running costs of the Integrity Commission for an initial period of three years.

A budget (US$500,000) for the Integrity Commission has now been agreed by the TCI Government. The Commission, chaired by Sir David Simmons, the former Chief Justice of Barbados, has met three times, most recently in September. Persons in public life listed in the Integrity Commission Ordinance will now have to provide declarations of income, assets and liabilities and it will be the Commission's responsibility to examine these and verify their accuracy. The implementation of a proposal for the development of an executive arm is under consideration. The Governor has appointed a temporary Chief Executive Officer and hopes to be able to appoint one or more investigative officers later this year. Some funding from the FCO's Overseas Territories Programme Fund may be available to assist with start-up costs.

We recommend that the Government take all reasonable and necessary steps to reassure the people of the TCI that a new constitution will not be put in place, nor elections held, until there is absolute confidence that the necessary reforms have been fully embedded.

I agree it is important that all necessary reforms are fully embedded before elections take place. That was a major consideration behind the announcement by the Minister for the Overseas Territories in September to postpone elections beyond July 2011.

The Constitutional and Electoral Reform Adviser undertook a series of public consultations in June and produced a paper setting out her initial recommendations for changes to constitutional and electoral arrangements in TCI. The paper was published on 30 July and its suggestions included alternatives for a new voting system. The Adviser has recently completed a second round of public consultations in TCI and will be revising her recommendations as necessary. We regret that the political parties have not engaged in this process so far. We have encouraged them to do so.

We further recommend that, in response to this Report, the Government set out clear criteria as to what must be achieved by way of these reforms before elections take place.

The Minister for the Overseas Territories will issue a Written Ministerial Statement by the end of this year setting out remaining milestones which must be met before elections can take place. FCO and DFID ministers have established a Ministerial Steering Group which held its first meeting in September to ensure a joined-up strategy towards TCI. We are working hard to ensure that the key elements of good governance and sound public financial management detailed in the recommendations of the Commission's report are well embedded before elections take place. Other immediate challenges that must be addressed include: setting public finances firmly on the path to a balanced budget within three years; cutting the cost, while improving the capacity of the public service; stabilising the economy; preparing for elections in light of the outcome of the constitutional and electoral review process; and further progress on the criminal investigations recommended by the Commission of Inquiry.

We recommend that our successor Committee in the next Parliament continue to monitor developments in TCI and the Overseas Territories closely.

I welcome the FAC's support and interest in TCI and hope this will continue.

15 November 2010

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