Date: 18 February 2013
By: Floyd Hall
Subject: Duty Concessions
It was a fascinating read for me going through the Development Order entered into by the Government of the Turks & Caicos Islands and West Caicos Development Company. This was particularly so given that at the Commission of Inquiry of 2009 and the past Interim Administration no effort was speared by the Commissioner and the British big wigs in branding these types of concessions offered by the then PNP Administration as being corrupt and damaging to the people of the Turks & Caicos Islands. In fact, I can still hear the constant refrains from the British folks that included: “because of the concessions offered by the former PNP Administration the country is broke; because of the former PNP Administration the country has lost millions of dollars in revenue; or because of the concessions offered by the previous administration we have to cut cost.”
Those refrains became so monotonous that I think some people begun to tune them out. However, those statements served their purpose well for they cultivated a diabolical and malicious narrative that fed into the notion that the PNP Administration was corrupt and that those investors who were associated with that administration or benefitted in any way from duty concessions offered by that government were likewise corrupt and ought to be held to account. Others harped on the chorus to draw erroneous conclusions that as ministers in government, we stole from the Government’s Treasury or sold the country out.
Needless to say that to jump to such a conclusion was a huge leap especially given that all Development Orders had to be processed through the Attorney General’s Office and ultimately approved by the Cabinet where the British Attorney General set as legal counsel and the Governor set as President. It would appear to me now that for the British, the only thing that mattered was for the elected government of the day to be destroyed and if it were necessary to brand the activities of that government as being corrupt in spite of the vast level of prosperity that it brought to our shores then so be it.
As far as the British representatives were concerned, they had the “support” of the people of the Turks & Caicos Islands to go after us and that they did. They obliterated our Constitution and cast us all as a group of misfits, saved for the few that they picked out to sit on their appointed bodies. Consequently by their actions or, in some cases inaction, they brought our economy to a screeching halt.
A different tale of sorts is now evolving in the Turks & Caicos Islands today. The sinister plot of the British representatives is gradually being exposed. Even those who were in the minority calling out for the British suspension of our Constitution and to take control over our country are beginning to see that this was a monumental mistake. The gross incompetence of some of these British representatives is wreaking havoc on our country daily. We now have a Governor who thinks he is the law; an Attorney General who is absent more often than he is present (both physically and mentally) and law suits that appear to have no end. One has to ask the question these days, was it worth it? Or, are we any better off for what we have had to endure?
Getting back to the issue of duty concessions, I must say that I support the West Caicos Development Group getting its concession. Likewise, I support the concessions that we gave during our time in office to the Seven Stars, Grace Bay Club, The Regent Group of Companies, Third Turtle Club, the Salt Cay Group, Dellis Cay, Beaches, The Veranda and many other foreign investment entities that came to our shores during that period. These concessions are a necessity in small island economies such as ours.
As a small developing country, we have to remain cognizant that we operate in a competitive environment both regionally and internationally. Within the fifty states of the U.S. there is fiscal competitiveness constantly. Texas competes with California for corporate business, New York with New Jersey and there are countless other areas of competiveness. China competes with the U.S with Trade and technology, Hong Kong competes with New York and the City of London. We operate in a competitive universe and elected governments need control of their fiscal policy to make their countries’ economies competitive.
We offer tourism as our main product. Unless we are attractive to foreign investment, it will go elsewhere for certain. Investors everywhere look at the rate of return on their dollars invested and to help them in selecting the TCI for their investment the cost of doing business on our shores is a huge factor in the calculation. That is why we need to remain nimble to adjust to variations in the market place to maintain our competitive edge.
But in meeting the foreign investor’s need for concessions, we cannot forget our indigenous Turks & Caicos Islanders. That is why I am particularly proud of the concessions that our government gave to our local Turks & Caicos Islanders. These included generous concessions to the taxi drivers, the tour boat operators, the owners of apartments, on the fixed assets for commercial businesses, the local car rental agencies, the cargo brokers dealing with bulk material and the list goes on and on. The only criterion that was necessary by my office was that you had to be a Turks & Caicos Islander who was engaged in a business endeavor in our country. The benefits that were given went equally to persons of all walks of life, regardless of political persuasion or color of one’s skin.
Some will quickly say that as a small country we cannot afford these concessions. In fact that is exactly what some of the British pundits said. However, they failed to take into account that had it not been for those concessions many of the properties that we now call development and are contributing heavily to our revenues in the form of accommodation tax, departure tax and import duties would not be here today. Likewise, had we not given concessions to our local businessmen, they would not be the owners of businesses in our country either. Therefore, it would be a huge mistake to look at the concessions in isolation. While concessions must be tempered with reason and balance, they do serve an important function to stimulate or maintain both local and foreign investment.
Our party is indeed very proud of our initiative with duty concessions as well as the others we made in tertiary education, health and Crown land. Before our administration, these areas were beyond the reach of our people on this scale. Many Turks & Caicos Islanders were able to get their businesses started and have remained successfully engaged in their companies to this very day. Some, however, are holding on by a “wing and a prayer” hoping for the construction industry to rebound. Nevertheless they are grateful for the opportunity from our government and expressions of gratitude are given by some to us regularly.
Unfortunately for some of the foreign developers who benefitted from duty concessions during this period, the British Interim Administration rewarded them by assessing heavy penalties simply because they supported our political party with campaign contributions. They have been criminalized or at the very least had their once impeccable reputations besmirched. This is patently unfair to these developers as they were properly entitled to support the political party of their choosing with whatever amount they wished under the prevailing laws of our country at the time. These developers were responsible in part for the exponential growth that our country enjoyed during this period. Many of these developments today are beacons of success for the Turks & Caicos Islands like the Seven Stars. Companies like these are a source of pride for Turks & Caicos Islanders who enjoy employment there. Regrettably, developments like the Salt Cay Group that could have been the gem for Salt Cay residents or Dellis Cay which could have provided invaluable opportunities for the people of North and Middle Caicos had to perish in this ill-conceived exercise by the British.
It is my understanding that some of these developers decided to settle their issues with the SIPT even though they felt that they could win legally but rather than being dragged through an arduous and litigious fight in the courts, they chose to exit this way. For some they settled even if it meant falsely admitting to being culpable to some form of impropriety with the government. For others I understand that no admission was necessary with their settlement.
Regardless of the situation, it seems to me that good governance is only dispensed when duty concessions or other governmental activities are undertaken by the British representatives to our shores. The question now for all indigenous Turks & Caicos Islanders is, are we back to those days when only those who come to our shores could receive a benefit from the government?
You be the judge!
Response from Former Deputy Minister Hall for West Caicos Development
Date: 18 February 2013