PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands, CMC – Governor Gordon Wetherell Friday signed a proclamation suspending sections of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) constitution in a move that Premier Galmo Williams has condemned as a “coup” by the British government.
“....Today our country is being invaded and re-colonized by the United Kingdom, dismantling a duly elected government and legislature and replacing it with a one man dictatorship, akin to that of the old Red China, all in the name of good governance,” Williams said.
Former Premier Michael Misick Wednesday lost his appeal against moves by the United Kingdom government to suspend the constitution and impose direct rule.
A three-member panel at the Court of Appeal in London delivered a final judgement in the case, paving the way for Wetherell to officially take over the management of the affairs of this British Overseas Territory.
Misick had argued that the Turks and Caicos Islands Constitution (Interim Amendment) Order that allows for suspending the constitution contravenes European Union laws but the court said there was little evidence to support the case going any further.
“Following the decision in the Court of Appeal in London on 12th August and on the instruction of UK Ministers, I have today signed a proclamation, published in the Gazette, which brings into force the Order in Council suspending parts of the Turks and Caicos Islands constitution,” the Governor said in a statement Friday, promising fresh elections in 2011.
He said that with “immediate effect, Ministerial government and the House of Assembly are suspended meaning that Cabinet will no longer exist and the House of Assembly is dissolved and Members’ seats are vacated”.
“The constitutional right to trial by jury is also suspended with immediate effect. In accordance with the Order in Council, this will be for a period of two years, subject to extension or abbreviation as necessary.”
The Governor said that during the two-year period, he would be responsible for the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands and that he has appointed Martin Stanley as Chief Executive to head the TCI public service.
“Shortly, I will also be appointing an Advisory Council and a Consultative Forum, both of which will be composed entirely of Belongers. I expect to announce the membership and rules of business of these two new bodies in the next few days.”
But in a message to the population, Williams said he had “every reason to believe that the much talked about coup that the Government of the United Kingdom has been planning for the Turks and Caicos Islands is about to be executed even though he assured citizens “that my days of service to my country, will never be over”.
“In my life time I will never hold a position higher or take an oath more sacred than that of your Premier, but know too, that there is no title I will wear more proudly than that of citizen of these our Turks and Caicos Islands.”
Williams, who succeeded Misick, thanked all the outgoing legislators and the public servants for their support and that while “there will be greater challenges in our future... I am convinced now more than ever that the Turks and Caicos Islands will successfully meet whatever challenge and uncertainty the future might bring”.
“...As the grand children of slaves, left abandoned on these barren shores centuries ago, we, together with those who came later on, have turned these Islands into something that we can all be proud of, and indeed something that our once delinquent masters, have stated that they will do anything except a return to slavery to repossess.”
He said his outgoing government had had “brought more development to Turks and Caicos over the last six years than at any other time in our history.
“We have educated more of our people at university level than at any other time in our history. We have made more provisions for the health care and welfare of our people than at any other time in our history, and we have created for our country one of the most respected brands in the tourism industry the world over.”
Williams said “as the legitimately and duly elected leader of this country” he was “strongly” objecting to the recommendations outlined in the Report of the Commission that examined corruption allegations against Misick, who is alleged to have amassed a multi-million-dollar fortune since he was elected in 2003.
Sole commissioner, Sir Robin Auld, had recommended that the constitution be suspended for an indeterminate period, "to replace the democratic process presently provided by the Cabinet and the House of Assembly with direct rule from Westminster, acting through the Governor with, but not bound by, the advice of an Advisory Executive Council".
Williams said he was against allowing non-TCI nationals to vote “and I wish to go on record as stating that I am opposed to the recommendation of trial by judge alone rather then a trial by a jury of your peers.”
“My government and I also object to the removal of the House of Assembly, thereby leaving the people of these Islands voiceless and without representation.
“But I am convinced that this coup d'état committed against the legitimate government of our Turks and Caicos Islands by the United Kingdom puts them on the wrong side of history, for I can assure you that this action which they have taken against us was not done because it is the right thing to do nor because it is necessary, but rather it is being taken because they are able to do such things in a country of our size and status.
“We as a people however, should be comforted by the thought expressed by Abraham Lincoln when he said that government of the people, for the people and by the people shall never perish from this earth, for I am comforted in the knowledge that our little Turks and Caicos, under God, shall indeed have a new birth of freedom.”
Williams said it was time now for TCI citizens to “reunite on the basis of democratic principles, so that it could be said of us both in dark nights and in bright days that we have found and have kept our faith”.
But the Governor said he was looking forward to running the affairs of the island and dismissed talk of a “talk over”.
“After a long and frustrating period of waiting and delay, we can finally move ahead together towards a fresh start for the Islands. Our goal is to make a clean break from the mistakes of the past by establishing a durable path towards good governance, sound financial management and sustainable development.
“Our guiding principles will be those of transparency, accountability and responsibility. I believe that most people in the Turks and Caicos will join with me in welcoming these changes.
“This is not a ‘British takeover’. Although, as I said in my statement of 2nd July, I have appointed experts to work in areas of concern highlighted in the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry, the TCI public service will continue to exercise their normal functions.
“Public services will continue to be run by people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, as indeed they should be. But I hope we can now begin to run them better,” he said, urging support from the entire population.
“The British Government and I are committed to working towards holding free and fair elections by July 2011. In the meantime we must all learn to foster a quality of public spirit, listen to all those who have the long-term interests of these Islands at heart, and safeguard the fundamental assets of the Territory for future generations.
“Achieving a fresh start has to be a joint effort. As we embark on this challenging new period, I trust and look forward to your keen support.”