Hon. Premier’s Response to Mr. Mark Simmonds Re: VAT
Minister Mark Simmonds MP
Minister for the Overseas Territories
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
Dear Minister Simmonds,
I acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 25th instant. As your letter does much more than convey the decision of Her Majesty’s Government not to implement VAT come April 1st, my sentiments were that it required more than a mere acknowledgment of receipt.
The Turks and Caicos Island Government does not doubt your commitment to the development of the TCI and so to the extent that we disagree it must necessarily be on our respective paths to that end. In turn I hope that Her Majesty’s Government recognizes that the commitment of the TCI Government to the economic, social and indeed political development of the TCI must be greater, not least because that development benefits Turks and Caicos Islanders and all those who call these Islands home.
In that context and in the true spirit of partnership I trust that HMG will allow the TCI Government the discretion to implement those policies which in our view, will result in our economic recovery and social development. We cannot bear the responsibility of ensuring sound finances without a commensurate degree of autonomy with respect to revenue generation and spending initiatives.
I can say without fear of contradiction that our Government has always been open to frank debate and compromise with HMG and all its representatives. We will not, however, allow our desire for compromise to cause us to abdicate our responsibility to the people of the TCI. I turn now to the several issues in your letter that require specific comment.
Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
You have invited the members of the Assembly to condemn what you describe as “vitriolic public attacks” on members of the judiciary and public servants. I do not know what it is you describe as vitriolic public attacks as you have provided no example. In any event I am sure that like me, my colleagues in the House would be slow to take any position that would leave any person in this country feeling that they are unable to comment on matters of public importance or to be critical of any institution or public officer.
The concept of free speech is a bastion of democracy. It is a check and balance against tyranny. The essential ideal of self government by the people is undermined if those in power are able to manipulate the electorate by either withholding information or stifling criticism. It was the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton who wrote: “Beneath the rule of men entirely great. The pen is mightier than the sword”. It is therefore no wonder that the right of free speech has been described as “a safety valve to let off steam when people might otherwise be bent on revolution”. Those who abuse the right of free speech open themselves to criminal prosecution or civil suit. The courts in my view are best suited to determine whether laws have been breached or whether unabashed but otherwise lawful criticism, is being characterized as vitriolic public attack.
You have also denounced the Assembly’s decision to bring the VAT Repeal by way of Private Members Motion as being unacceptable. The Bill was neither conceived nor presented as a Government Bill with the result that both Cabinet and the Attorney General’s Chambers were properly excluded. The purpose of the Bill was to repeal legislation passed by the Interim Administration. The Interim Administration was headed by the same Governor who continues to be the President of the Cabinet and who together with the FCO had much vested in the VAT Ordinance. It would in the circumstances, be foolhardy for a Parliament that was united in its resolve to see the Ordinance repealed, to seek to have the Repeal Bill originate in a Cabinet where the Opposition does not have a voice and where the Governor wields disproportionate power and influence to the extent that he may refuse to have the question of the Repeal Ordinance placed on the Cabinet Agenda.
The fact that the Governor has refused to assent to the Repeal Bill and that you have failed to instruct him to assent to it and his comments immediately following the passage of the Bill through the Assembly, is justification enough for our decision. The members of the Assembly are bound by the Constitution and the laws of the Turks and Caicos Islands generally and we each have a duty to represent the best interest of the Turks and Caicos Islands. In acting as we did we have been true to both law and duty and in the circumstances we need neither the blessing nor approval of the FCO. That you have ascribed a sinister motive to our action is indeed regrettable. Your castigation of the Assembly’s actions in the way that you have could leave one with the clear impression that you see the Assembly as no more than an extension of the Executive and that is likewise most unfortunate.
Finally we remain concerned that you have decided against instructing the Governor to assent the Repeal Bill. Unless the Bill is assented to, the people of these Islands will continue to question Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to the ideals of democracy in the Turks and Caicos Islands and that will not augur well for the partnership that we are desirous of building.
The Government will likewise have legitimate reason to believe that there is not a genuine intention on the part of Her Majesty’s Government to allow the TCI Government to move forward unimpeded. There will always be the real threat that the VAT can be implemented by the stroke of a pen without the need for further debate. I am firm in my conviction that on the question of VAT the only fair solution is for the Ordinance to be repealed thus removing once and for all the possibility of taxation without representation. I hope that you will give this course further consideration.
For the reasons you indicate I am likewise copying this letter to the Leader of the Opposition.
Dr. The Hon. Rufus W. Ewing
Premier, Turks and Caicos Islands