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Ex-Turks and Caicos PM accuses UK

15 August 09 11:57 GMT

The ousted prime minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands has hit out at the UK government for imposing direct rule amid corruption allegations.

Politicians are accused of selling crown land for personal gain.

But premier Galmo Williams said UK Foreign Office findings of "systematic corruption" must also reflect badly on the territory's British governor.

Power was transferred to the governor on Friday, when the Caribbean colony's administration was suspended.

The UK government had been threatening action for several months after an inquiry commissioned by the Foreign Office returned a damning verdict.

It examined the actions of the Turks' Cabinet and Assembly and found "information in abundance pointing to a high probability of systematic corruption or serious dishonesty".

It also concluded there were "clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of a general administrative incompetence".

However, Mr Williams told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have a British governor who's responsible for good governance; who's responsible for civil servants."

This made the British government equally responsible for systemic weaknesses, he said, adding that his administration could have worked alongside the UK to address the problems.

"It's a very sad day for us in Turks and Caicos to see... that democracy has been taken away from the citizens," Mr Williams said.

He said his administration had not been given the same opportunities as British politicians, who were being allowed to put right the issues exposed by Parliament's expenses scandal.

Mr Williams said he could not comment on accusations that former premier Michael Misick had corruptly built up a multi-million dollar fortune since coming to power in 2003.

Mr Misick resigned in March but has denied the allegations and says he attracted valuable foreign investment to the islands.

The imposition of direct rule for two years went ahead after a legal challenge by Mr Misick failed at the UK Court of Appeal earlier this week.

'No takeover'

Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant said Britain's move was essential to restoring "good governance and sound financial management" but said elections should be held by July 2011, if not earlier.

Gordon Wetherell, who took over as governor last year, has said the UK's move does not amount to a "takeover".

"Public services will continue to be run by people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, as indeed they should be, but I hope we can now begin to run them better," he said.

It is extremely rare for the UK to impose direct rule on an overseas territory.

The last similar move also involved Turks and Caicos, in July 1986, when an inquiry found ministers had "indulged in unconstitutional behaviour, political discrimination and administrative malpractices".

Public reform

In practice, on this occasion, the governor - who usually retains an overview of the ministers' work - has taken back powers which had been delegated to them.

Supported by senior foreign office staff, he will appoint advisers from the Turks and Caicos community to help him oversee reform in areas such as public services, economics and public finances, Crown land and governance.

A popular tourist destination, Turks and Caicos is a UK overseas territory whose residents, numbering some 30,000, have British citizenship.

It is a leading offshore financial centre where thousands of foreign companies are registered.

Once a dependency of Jamaica, the islands become a crown colony when Jamaica gained its independence in 1962.

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