|U.K. should pay to clean up corruption, 2011 elections unlikely||| Print ||
|Friday, 02 April 2010 08:33|
The U.K. Foreign Affairs Committee agrees with what many Turks and Caicos Island residents and politicians have been saying all along — the U.K. government allowed “a culture of systemic corruption” to occur here and should pay to clean it up.
Because of the U.K.’s lack of funding — especially for the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team into alleged government corruption — the FAC says returning control of the TCI government to elected officials in July 2011 is “unrealistic.”
Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant told another House of Commons committee just last week that the TCI government would almost certainly be returned to the people in 2011 as scheduled, but the FAC doesn’t agree.
“If elections proceed on this timetable, there is a real danger of a return to the status quo ante, and the possibility that politicians against whom serious allegations of corruption are pending could seek to return to power,” the FAC said in a report published Wednesday, March 31.
“In such circumstances, it is possible they might seek to use bribery and intimidation to engineer a return to office, and then use the many means at their disposal in office to roll back the reform process and undermine the work of the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT). While we welcome the steps being taken by the governor to create new constitutional arrangements aimed at fostering probity and good practice, we are not convinced that these can be put unassailably in place within such a tight timescale.”
Asked for comment on the report from FAC, a committee of members of the House of Commons, a TCI government spokesman issued this statement:
“The interim government welcomes the interest and attention that the Foreign Affairs Committee has shown to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Today’s report is a useful follow-up to FAC’s contribution in 2008 reports on all Overseas Territories.
“We welcome the support the committee has shown to action taken in August 2009 following Sir Robin Auld’s recommendations. FAC latest recommendations will be considered carefully by the British government.”
It remains to be seen if the committee’s report prompts the British government and the FCO to reverse its decision to make the TCI pay for SIPT and other expenses related to the Commission of Inquiry.
Sir Robin Auld, who conducted the Commission of Inquiry last year that led to suspension of the elected government, criticized the U.K. government for not properly funding his recommendations.
“All or most of the troubles (Governor Wetherell) faces in trying to restore the territory to good order, efficient governance and financial health — and the increasing chorus of challenge to his conduct of the territory’s affairs — flow from the British Government’s failure to provide urgently needed financial support,” Sir Robin wrote in a March 23 letter to the FAC.
SIPT lead prosecutor Helen Garlick has been worried all along about the TCI’s ability to pay for her team’s work, which would amount to as much as 5 percent of the TCI’s budget. But Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant told her in December that “neither the FCO nor HMG can fund, or provide a loan for, the full cost of the investigation. It has always been our view that the former TCI Government is responsible for its present financial crisis. It is therefore correct that the Territory pays to sort out these matters. It is not appropriate to ask the British taxpayer to do so.”
That stance has lead to severe financial problems that prompted the governor to announce 10-percent salary cuts for all 1,700 public servants beginning this month.
The report said Garlick foresaw the potential problems with the lack of funding:
“Given the financial difficulties that TCIG faces, this raised the ‘real prospect that there will be months when the SIPT’s expenses and salaries will be met, whilst (those of) TCIG government servants (...) will not,’ and that ‘other important government expenditure that has a real impact on the well being of the islanders will be subordinated to the SIPT’s needs.’ Ms. Garlick commented that ‘in my view this is wrong in principle’ and that ‘it is hardly likely to help us to win and maintain essential public support.’”
The lack of funding has also made it impossible for the SIPT to react quickly to urgent developments in the investigation that could effect prosecutions and recovery assets for the TCI government and people, the report said.
The report also recommended that the U.K. pay for:
“Despite the progress that has been made, the concerns we have raised in this Report suggest that TCI’s future is still far from secure,” the report concluded.
Read the complete FAC report HERE
FAC report reveals investigation details
Part of the evidence received by the FAC for its report provides a glimpse of what the SIPT has done so far.
Here is an excerpt from a letter to the chairman of the FAC from David Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:
“Some members of the (SIPT) team have visited the United States on a number of occasions to follow up lines of inquiry and to interview witnesses. Additionally, officials from my department went to TCI in October to assist the SIPT with the recording of data seized from the offices of former TCI ministers. Several promising lines of inquiry have been followed up.
“Ms. Garlick has reported that the team has made initial enquiries with a number of people in TCI who might be able to offer credible and substantial evidence to the investigation. They continue to receive information and telephone calls offering assistance.
“The Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) and Deputy SIO (DSIO) visited the U.S. in December 2009 to carry out a detailed interview of a highly significant witness which directly impacts on two development projects in TCI. Significant progress was made in respect of these two projects as a result of the visit to U.S. Enquiries are being made with U.S. counterparts and the Dominican Republic where it is believed former Premier Michael Misick has assets. Recent meetings have been held with federal agencies and agreement has been reached in respect of sharing evidence and information on key individuals/projects. The DSIO and two other members of the SIPT were in TCI in January to interview key individuals who have come forward and to make priority follow up enquiries.”
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