Turks and Caicos Islands

Britain imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos islands yesterday, suspending the constitution, dismissing the Parliament, handing power to a London-appointed Governor and halting the right to trial by jury. The move, announced by the Foreign Office, followed an inquiry into allegations of deep-seated corruption among the ruling elite in the Caribbean dependency, located about 500 miles south-east of Florida. The Turks and Caicos Islands are situated about 600 miles (970 km) southeast of Miami in the United States, and 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Mayaguana in the Bahamas, and have a total land area of 166 square miles (430 km2). The islands are geographically contiguous to the Bahamas, but are politically a separate entity. This British Overseas Territory consisting of two groups of sub-tropical islands in the West Indies, the larger Caicos Islands and the smaller Turks Islands, are known for tourism and as an offshore financial centre.

In 2008, after members of the British parliament conducting a routine review of the administration received several reports of high-level official corruption in the Turks and Caicos, then-Governor Richard Tauwhare announced the appointment of a Commission of Enquiry into corruption. The same year, Premier Michael Misick himself became the focus of a criminal investigation after a woman identified by news outlets as an American citizen residing in Puerto Rico accused him of sexually assaulting her,although he strongly denies the charge.

On Monday, 16 March 2009, the UK threatened to suspend self-government in the islands and transfer power to the new governor, Gordon Wetherell, over systemic corruption. On 18 March 2009, on the advice of her UK ministers, Queen Elizabeth II issued an Order-in-Council giving the Governor the power to suspend those parts of the 2006 Constitution which deal with ministerial government and the House of Assembly, and to exercise the powers of government himself. The order, which would also establish an Advisory Council and Consultative Forum in place of the House of Assembly, would come into force on a date to be announced by the governor, and remain in force for two years unless extended or revoked. The Foreign Office said it would suspend the local government for up to two years while the islands’ affairs were restored to “good order”.

On 23 March 2009, after the enquiry found evidence of “high probability of systemic corruption or other serious dishonesty“, Michael Misick, the Premier of the British dependency who has been at the centre of a corruption probe into the ruling elite, said in a statement he was resigning to give way to a unified government. The following day, Galmo Williams was sworn in as his replacement. Misick denied all charges, and referred to the British government’s debate on whether to remove the territory’s sovereignty … “tantamount to being re-colonized. It is a backwards step completely contrary to the whole movement of history.” The action came after the failure of a legal challenge this week by former premier Michael Misick in the UK Court of Appeal. Mr Misick resigned five months ago but, along with other senior officials, denies accusations of corruption. Mr Misick’s resignation comes as the British Parliament considers legislation to suspend the constitution of the islands and hand power over to the British Governor, Gordon Wetherell.

 On 14 August 2009, the United Kingdom imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands after Misick’s last legal appeal failed. The Caribbean islands’ administration has been suspended for up to two years and power has been transferred to the British-appointed governor, with the United Kingdom also stationing a supply vessel in between Turks and Caicos. Politicians were accused of selling crown land for personal gain and misusing public funds. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Chris Bryant said of the decision to impose rule, “This is a serious constitutional step which the UK Government has not taken lightly but these measures are essential in order to restore good governance and sound financial management.” Chris Bryant, Foreign Office minister, said there would be elections in July 2011 or earlier.


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