Independence Is Up To The People of Turks and Caicos

Mr Henry Bellingham
INDEPENDENCE for the Turks and Caicos Islands is up to the people, according to Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Mr Henry Bellingham.

There has been much talk about an independent TCI by local politicians and Progressive National Party (PNP) leader, Dr Rufus Ewing, last week confirmed that independence will be a part of his platform going forward.

An independent TCI is appealing for many TC Islanders who are disgruntled with the Brits after three years of interim administration rule.

Bellingham, in an interview with the Weekly News, acknowledged the people’s sense of dissatisfaction, but noted that the decisions made by the interim administration were in the interests of a better TCI in the long-term.

“We have had to make some tough decision so I can understand the interim administration was somewhat unpopular,” he said.

The Under Secretary noted that these decisions are what will allow the new TCI Government to take over a very strong position, with a reformed public service, a budget surplus and a new constitution.

ESTABLISHED ROUTE
He said the new constitution sets out clearly what needs to be done if the TCI people decide they want to be an independent nation.

“There is a well-established framework in the constitution for the TCI people to have self-determination,” Bellingham said.

However, he stressed the need for decision makers to be realistic.

He said, “It will have to be a transition to have home rule, we have elections coming up and that is one step toward what is looking to be a bright future for the TCI.”

The Under Secretary added that the United Kingdom government in their White Paper, which will be published shortly, shows commitment to its territories.

Bellingham said, “We will invest in our territories to make our partnership a true reality.

“We want to give the territories a bankable proposition, for example, so that when they go into the capital markets they have all the support, partnership and protection they need.

“We believe that the Overseas Territories benefit a great deal from the UK, it is a mutually beneficial partnership.

“But we also make it clear in the White Paper that the future of the people is in their own hands and so we believe in self-determination, we are not neutral on this.”

According to him, once there is a majority vote in Parliament, a referendum will follow and independence will be granted to the TCI because it is the wish of the people.

He said, “It is very simple, the people of the TCI, if they want independence it is up to them, self-determination means exactly that.”

CHECKS AND BALANCE
Until then, Bellingham maintained that there will be some checks and balances in place to support good governance and accountability, for example with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) ordinance.

Having a CFO appointed by the UK was one of the conditions set by the UK government in the provision of the $260m loan guarantee, which was agreed on in 2010.

Without the guarantee, it would not have been possible for TCIG to access the funding it needed to function and to provide public services.

The agreement allows for the CFO to be retained for as long as any UK loan guarantee is in force – currently up to 2016.

The Under Secretary said once the loan is repaid and the guarantee is no longer needed a UK appointed CFO will no longer be a condition, a fact corroborated by the current CFO, Mr Hugh McGarel-Groves.

Bellingham said, “Working together we can achieve a great deal…the future is very bright for the TCI.”

Asked if the UK wanted to retain control of not only the TCI, but also the five other British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean, he reiterated that the UK supports self-determination.

Along with the TCI, the other Overseas Territories include Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Montserrat.

Bellingham stressed that the future of the people is in their own hands.

NOT READY
Retired politician and former PNP Leader, Mr Daniel Malcolm, maintained that this is a future that the TCI is not ready for.

“Self-determination is where the government and the people of TCI, and other territories like us, make advances toward greater political, social and cultural determination or say within the framework of their own situation,” he said.

Malcolm contended that the Turks and Caicos Islands is much too young for independence, but noted that achieving a measure of self-determination is a move in the right direction.

He said, “We are at least 10 years away from being ready for independence…we must develop our country and our people so that when we move to independence we will do so from a position of strength.”

According to him, the ultimate goal of decolonisation is independence, but there are other options that can be looked at on that road, such route taken by Bermuda.

Bermuda is a self-governing British overseas territory in the western North Atlantic Ocean.

The original system of government was created under the Virginia Company, which colonised Bermuda, accidentally in 1609, and deliberately from 1612.

The country’s 1968 Constitution provided the island with formal responsibility for internal self-government, while the British Government retained responsibility for external affairs, defence, and security.

The Bermudian Government is always consulted on any international negotiations affecting the territory.

Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament.

Currently, most of the Overseas Territories have a House of Assembly, Legislative Assembly (Cayman Islands), or Legislative Council (Montserrat) with political parties.

The Executive Council is usually called a cabinet and is led by a Premier or a Chief Minister (in Anguilla), who is the leader of the majority party in parliament.

The Governor exercises less power over local affairs and deals mostly with foreign affairs and economic issues, while the elected government controls most ‘domestic’ concerns.

Malcolm maintained that the road ahead will be a long one, but with the right expertise and strategic moves, the TCI will be in a position of strength when the time comes for it to take its place as a nation independent of the UK.(Vanessa Narine)

published in Turks and Caicos Weekly News

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