PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos -- Three years after Britain suspended direct rule in this tiny sun-kissed territory amid allegations of widespread government corruption, Turks and Caicos islanders are getting their right to self-government restored.
General elections are being set for Nov. 9, William Hague, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, announced Tuesday.
“The interim government in the TCI, led by the governor and supported by the TCI and UK public servants and specialists advisers, has made significant progress with an ambitions reform [program],” Hague said in the written statement. “We now judge there has been significant progress, on the milestones and on putting in place robust financial controls to set 9 of November as the date for elections.”
Hague’s statement was issued hours before Henry Bellingham, the United Kingdom’s parliamentary under secretary of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was set to give a noon news conference Tuesday in Providenciales. He is visiting the Turks and Caicos to give an update on the progress that has been made since the British took over in 2009.
Britain’s move to suspend the parliament and take over the day-to-day governance of the Turks and Caicos, has been heavily criticized by both islanders, and the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Most of the leaders of CARICOM now lead former British colonies in the Caribbean.
Since, British authorities, with help from the U.S. Department of Justice, have been combing through thousands of documents as part of a corruption probe involving one-time elected officials.
At the same time, Britain has been introducing a number of cost-cutting measures including layoffs to address the country’s financial woes.
Bellingham’s visit comes as Britain prepares to introduce a controversial consumption tax, know as Value Added Tax (VAT) in the islands. The tax is opposed by the business community, who complained that it will discourage investments, raise prices and make it even more difficult for poorer people to make ends meet.
"What is the hurry?" former chief minister of the islands, Charles Washington Misick, asked during a public forum Monday night in Providenciales. "Why can’t we pace it to make sure people understand?"
Misick asked for a delay in implementation of the tax, which is to take effect in the next several months. His request, however, was ignored by Chief Financial Officer Hugh McGarel-Groves.
McGarel-Groves led the contentious meeting during which he was accused by worried business owners of providing contradictory, and incomplete information on how the tax would affect impact them.
McGarel-Groves said the islands need to stabilize it’s financial outlook and recoup money being lost in current tax system. VAT, he said, will help that and catch tax cheats.
"Honest taxpayers have nothing to worry about," he said to an unconvinced crowd.
British authorities argue that the new tax will help put an additional $10 million in the islands’ coffers.
"Given the difficulties endured by the TCI economy since the collapse of the last government, it is in the best interests of the entire community to ensure that government finances are secure and that it can continue to develop expenditure plans in line with local peoples’ priorities — a process already begun in this year’s budget," McGarel-Groves said.