Britain to restore self-rule to Turks and Caicos
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos, Friday June 15, 2012 – After almost three years of running the show in this British overseas territory, Britain is ready to hand power back to the people and has set general elections for November 9.
The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), rocked by a corruption scandal that involved its ruling elite, has made progress since Britain suspended direct rule, according to officials.
"We now judge that there has been significant progress, on the milestones and on putting in place robust financial controls to set 9th of November as the date for elections," said William Hague, the United Kingdom's secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs.
The announcement garnered a positive response from many islanders who are disillusioned with British rule and wearied by the ongoing $11million-a-year criminal corruption probe.
Last week, the Anglican Diocese of the Turks and Caicos and Bahamas issued a statement saying it had "grave concern" over the winds of discontent blowing in the islands as well as decisions being taken by the interim British government.
The London-appointed governor has been implementing safeguards against future corruption while a cadre of British investigators, assisted by the United States Department of Justice, have combed through a reported 100,000 pages of evidence, uncovering suspicious land deals, unpaid government bills and possible fraud, bribery and money laundering by former leaders.
To date, 13 people, including four former government ministers and two developers, have been charged in the political corruption scandal.
On Tuesday, Henry Bellingham, the United Kingdom's parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, met with several leaders in the country to discuss the progress that had been made.
Bellingham's visit came as Britain prepared to introduce the controversial Value Added Tax (VAT) in the islands. The tax is opposed by the business community, which complains that it will discourage investments, raise prices and make it even more difficult for poorer people to make ends meet.
Former chief minister of the islands, Charles Washington Misick, asked for a delay in implementation of the tax, which is to take effect in the next few months. His request was overruled by Chief Financial Officer Hugh McGarel-Groves.
McGarel-Groves, who led the meeting, said tax opponents didn't like the VAT because it would force tax cheats to pay up and prevent others from using their businesses to support their lifestyles.
"Honest taxpayers have nothing to worry about," he said.
British authorities maintain that the new tax will help put an additional $10million in the islands' coffers.
"Given the difficulties endured by the economy since the collapse of the last government, it is in the best interests of the entire community to ensure that government finances are secure and that it can continue to develop expenditure plans in line with local people's priorities - a process already begun in this year's budget," McGarel-Groves said.