x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Britain accused of 'return to imperialism'

The UK is accused of "a return to imperialism" over moves to suspend the constitution of a Caribbean holiday paradise.

LONDON // Britain has been accused of "a return to imperialism" over moves to suspend the constitution of a Caribbean holiday paradise. Queen Elizabeth II has already signed the necessary consents that will dissolve the parliament on the Turks and Caicos islands and leave power with the crown colony's British governor for up to two years. The United Kingdom took the drastic action after evidence emerged of "systematic" government corruption, including claims that a former premier had become a multimillionaire by selling off crown land to developers.

Michael Misick, who stood down as premier this year, has denied any wrongdoing, but his cause has not been helped by LisaRaye McCoy Misick, the MP's now-estranged wife, who has told stories of flights on private jets to the United States and chauffeur-driven journeys in Rolls-Royces. Mrs Misick, however, has the reputation of a woman scorned. The US-born actress is suing for divorce after her husband's alleged affair with a striptease artist and the fact that he has a second family in Florida.

Last week, a report from a commission of inquiry headed by Sir Robin Auld, a former High Court judge in London, recommended that Mr Misick should face a criminal inquiry over the corruption allegations, along with four other former ministers. Mr Auld concluded there had been "clear signs of political amorality" in the way the islands, which have a population of about 30,000, had been run. Many in the adult population were said to be existing in "a climate of fear" because of the ruthless exploitation of the islands' assets by some ministers.

Britain remains determined to take over control of the islands in a bid to institute reforms to end the corruption. But before power can be handed to Gordon Wetherell, the islands' governor, Britain will have to see off legal challenges being mounted by multinational developers on the islands. However, government sources in London suggested yesterday that these challenges were unlikely to get anywhere and that the UK was now on course to suspend large parts of the islands' constitution and dissolve the parliament - the House of Assembly, which has 15 elected members - in October.

Chris Bryant, a foreign office minister, said in a statement that he was going to appoint advisers to oversee the reform of the islands' public services, financial management, economy and the management of crown land at the centre of the corruption investigation. "We are determined to do everything in our power, as swiftly as possible, to tackle systematic corruption and to restore good governance in the Turks and Caicos islands," he said.

The British action, however, has not won universal approval. Though ministers in the UK claim that most of the islanders would welcome the clean-up of a corrupt government, Galmo Williams, the current premier, has described the British plan as a "return to imperialism". He has called a general election for October, even though one is not due for another two years, in a bid to demonstrate what he believes is public opposition to the British plans.

The Caribbean Community, a body representing states in the region, has also criticised the proposed takeover. In a statement, the organisation said: "The Caribbean Community, whose members strongly uphold the exercise of democracy, do not believe that good governance, the rule of law and representative democracy can be ensured or strengthened by constitutional suspension in the TCI and a return to direct rule by the colonial power through its governor.

"On the contrary, suspending the functioning of the democratic, representative and constitutional institutions of the TCI can only weaken the efforts to ensure good governance in the TCI, the ultimate objective of the commission of inquiry." Mr Misick himself has accused the British governor of being "a racist dictator". Mr Misick, however, has not yet explained how, six years ago when he entered political office, he had declared assets of £25,000 (Dh150,000) but is now a multimillionaire.

After he became premier, Mr Misick also held the following ministerial briefs: civil aviation, commerce and development, planning, district administration, tourism, broadcasting and investment. A local press report pointed out last weekend that, until the House of Assembly is dissolved, "the country will continue to foot the bill for MPs' salaries and expenses, which tops a staggering $250,000 [Dh918,000] a month".

The real fear among both locals and the British is that the corruption allegations are scaring off legitimate investors interested in expanding and Turks and Caicos holiday business, which attracts 300,000 visitors, mainly from the United States and Canada, each year. Continuing uncertainty over governance of the islands is also believed to be adversely affecting the islands' only other, major business activity as a hub of offshore banking.

dsapsted@thenational.ae