Dirty Tricks in Paradise?

Last week the British governor of the idyllic Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), Gordon Wetherell, suspended the democratically elected government of the islands for ‘up to’ two years whilst he “puts the islands’ affairs back in good order.” The islands’ premier, Michael Misick, resigned in March supposedly as a consequence of a damning report on his administration by retired British judge, Sir Robin Auld. In addition to wholly suspending TCI’s constitution and sacking interim premier Galmo Williams (who has called the decision a coup), together with the entire cabinet in the name of good governance, the British have also suspended trial by jury for the duration of their takeover.

It is of course all but impossible for the average citizen to glean the real truth behind events such as these. We can only filter through the various snippets of information provided by the corporate press and try to work out what’s really happening by reading between the lines; and then hope against hope that what we come up with is a little closer to the truth than what’s being sold. The given reasons by the British government for their actions can obviously be dismissed out of hand, like the bit where Governor Wetherell says “it is not a British takeover” (In fact it’s a pretty good rule of thumb to usually believe the very opposite of what governments tell us). The good governor’s statement was full of the usual professional bureaucrat’s flannel: “We need to stabilise TCI’s finances and help rebuild a more diverse and vigorous economy.” (But according to the Independent, TCI’s economy grew under the leadership of Premier Misick from a GDP in 2003 – when he came to power – of $216m to $722m, and tourism grew from 175,000 visitors per annum to 264,000) And the bit I particularly liked: “We need to clean up public life and start to develop a fairer, more open society” – by sacking the elected administration and suspending trial by jury?

Other news reports suggest that Misick and his government were indeed living the high life – but that sort of thing never usually disturbs the slumbers of HMG; indeed, it’s more usually an essential qualification. So what might really be going on?

For me, one particular sentence stood out from a quite good report in the Independent way back in March (25th): “Sir Robin’s commission heard how Mr Misick and other ministers had grown rich by acquiring publicly-owned Crown land, selling it to developers and receiving commissions.” In the same article another interesting little gem claimed: “Canadian legislators have made regular overtures to unite with TCI. Nova Scotia voted in 2004 to invite the islands to join the province.” ((This is a little misleading, as indicated in the following excerpt:

In recent news, Nova Scotia’s parliament voted to offer a Caribbean nation, Turks and Caicos, to join their province if they were to pursue political and economical union between Canada. Although it’s official, no talks have commenced on the topic.

Canada has had several talks with the Caribbean country, which is a British colony, all of which have led to absolutely nothing. The main factors on Canada’s part has been it’s unwillingness to be seen as a neocolonist. The Caribbean islands have been pursuing a union for almost 100 years, and it has popped up yet once again.

See Christopher Walsh, “Turks and Caicos move to join Canada,” Canadian Content, 25 April 2004.))

Surely those dastardly islanders wouldn’t be presuming to decide for themselves what to do with their own land would they? Sorry, I meant to say HMG’s land?

The arrogance of the British government’s decision to scrap the islands’ democratically elected government is of course reason enough to arouse our suspicions – especially when none of the story has made it into Britain’s mainstream media (like the recent military coup in Honduras); but the real clincher is the fact that the government has also chosen to scrap trial by jury for the next two years. Something very dirty is happening in paradise.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on August 17th, 2009 at 10:50am #

    An interesting point is whether the European Convention of Human Rights applies. The Member State of the Council of Europe is the “United Kingdom” but the Convention has been applied to the Isle of Man, British sovereign teritory but not part of the UK and, if I’m not mistaken, the inhabitants of Diego Garcia were able to rely on the Convention in their recent (successful) action aganist HMG for expulsion to make way for a USAF base. Of course, the Convention requires due process, not necessarily trial by jury, and certainly not trial by jury in the American sense. Ireland’s Special Criminal Court, for example, has been opertaing without a jury for more than 30 years. In addition, the Convention permits exceptional measures in emergency situations.

    On the other hand, if things are as dirty as things are reputed to be in the Caribbean islands generally (think: Sanford, Cayman Islands), nobody in TCI may have any interest in going to court as all the dirt would then come out!

  2. Ivan Browne said on August 17th, 2009 at 1:04pm #

    On a point of clarification. Trial by Jury has not been scrapped other than for those who may be tried in court as a result of prosecutions arising from the evidence given at the Commission of Inquiry. Sir Robin Auld included this as one of the recommendations in the report as the defence lawyers for those called before the Commission told him that they did not think their clients would get a fair jury trial should any prosecutions be recommended.

  3. john andrews said on August 18th, 2009 at 1:17am #


    Thank you for your clarification – your source of information seems to have been more detailed than mine (not that that’s too difficult as I’ve only repeated what appeared in the papers).

    However, I don’t think I’m too reassured by the point you make. With the constitution being suspended and the British governor assuming absolute control of government, it seems unlikely that the witnesses to Aulds’s inquiry need to have worried too much about being prosecuted for anything; and if that were a legitimate concern what would happen when trial by jury was fully restored? Are the ‘crimes’ for which they feared prosecution timebound – do they expire if not prosecuted within a particular timeframe?

    It’s a very old trick of empire to introduce laws (or scrap them, as the case may be) under the pretext that it’s in the peoples’ best interests. Auld’s supposed concerns for the safety of witnesses is all very touching, but I suspect Michael Kenny’s point is a little closer to the mark: “nobody in TCI may have any interest in going to [open] court as all the dirt would then come out”

    Trial by jury has its fair share of weaknesses and failures, but it is the most democratic institution we have. How sad is that?

  4. Marian said on August 18th, 2009 at 9:27am #

    There are probably many Belongers heaving a sigh of relief because the British Government has stepped in, not for the first time, to combat corruption in TCI. Yes, the economy grew (so why is there no money in the kitty now?) during the Misick regime, tourism too, but did life get better for Islanders en masse? No. Why? Because financial gains were made by a few at the expense of the majority.

    Turks & Caicos Islanders have chosen in the past, on more than one occasion, not to seek independence and it remains to be seen if they do so in the future. The British government has stepped in not a moment too soon and on its own terms, which is reasonable when the money of British tax payers is being used to bail out the TCI economy.