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Mutiny in the Caribbean

By Mike Thomson
Today programme

The beach in Turks and Caicos

Looking out across the sparking turquoise waters lapping golden palm-fringed lands, all seems well on the beautiful Turks and Caicos islands.

But storm clouds have been gathering ever since the British government dissolved the local parliament and restored direct rule in August, following claims of high level corruption and misrule.

"People feel assaulted about their country being taken from them on the world stage," says Hayden Boyce, editor of the Turks and Caicos Sun newspaper

Turks and Caicos from the air
From the air, Turks and Caicos looks like the quintesential Caribbean island

The British government took matters into its own hands following a Foreign Office report which found "clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of a general administrative incompetence" within the island nation's parliament.

Records of government spending under the former administration of prime minister Michael Missick make for fascinating reading.

Many millions were blown on items like a bullet proof car for the premier, the use of a jet, body guards, lavish summer parties and a fleet of Range Rovers for ministers. All in a country of little more than 30,000 people.

"We could have been more prudent," admits former prime minister Galmore Williams, who served as a minister in Michael Misick's government.

'Military Junta'

But while most islanders were in favour of direct rule to begin with, says Hayden Boyce, 95% of the population are now "anti-Brit". One politician even suspects mutiny may be close at hand.

Governor Gordon Wetherall
The mountain of unpaid bills was around $70m and if you add a loan portfolio of about $60m, you come to total indebtedness of $130m.
Governor Gordon Wetherall

"We currently have petitions going on about concerns of new taxes that are coming on stream. I think we'll see a greater agitation on part of the people," says Douglas Parnell, the new leader of the Peoples Democratic Movement party (PMP).

"My view is that if he [the Governor Gordon Wetherall] doesn't correct course very shortly, you'll see that people will become ungovernable.

"The Gordon Wetherall administration is the only other administration besides from Castro's Cuba that has the type of power that exists in the Turks and Caicos. One man can decide the fate of an entire country."

These comparisons with dictatorial regimes continue in the offices of the island's oldest newspaper, The Turks and Caicos Weekly News.

Editor Blyth Duncanson supported the arrival of direct rule in August, but that changed, he says, when it became almost impossible for his journalists to get information on how government decisions are being made.

"Many times we are just shunted aside. And we're not really getting solid information," he says.

COUNTRY FACTS
Population of approximately 30,000
Status is of UK overseas territory - residents have British citizenship
Leading offshore financial centre where thousands of foreign companies are registered
Islands became crown colony when Jamaica gained independence in 1962

"The interim administration, which is supposed to be run by the governor with the aid of an advisory council and a consultative forum, is operating like a closed shop. Its more like a military junta."

Mountain to climb

Putting these claims to the UK appointed governor isn't as easy as you might think. The bulk of the country's population live on Providenciales, but the governor's residence is many miles away across the waves on the tiny island of Grand Turk.

After crossing what amounts to a massive moat, I asked the man some are calling a dictator if it was really necessary to dissolve the country's entire elected House of Assembly when only a handful of its politicians were implicated in corruption.

"The terms of reference of the commission of inquiry required them to look into those allegations of corruption and serious dishonesty among members past and present of the House of Assembly," he says.

Map

"Although relatively small number of people may have actually been mentioned in recommendations, those five actually amount to no less than one third of all elected members of the house."

Governor Wetherall went on to reject claims that the territory's press is routinely kept in the dark about how government decisions are reached, or that he ignores views expressed by his two advisory groups.

But his biggest job, he says, is dealing with the financial mess left by previous Turks and Caicos administrations.

"The mountain of unpaid bills was somewhere around $70m and if you add a loan portfolio of about $60m, you come to total indebtedness of $130m, which for a country of this size is actually a lot of money," he says.

'The only step'

Blyth Duncanson  Editor Turks & Caicos Weekly News
Blyth Duncanson says the governor is acting "like a military Junta"

Those I did find still in favour of the British intervention believe any temporary loss of democracy is a price worth paying for stopping excesses, and helping to restore the territory's damaged reputation. Some also claim that free speech was being curtailed under the former Michael Misick regime.

Aubrey Butterfield Junior, Chair of the Providenciales Chamber of Commerce, was one of those who publicly advocated for Britain to introduce direct rule.

"If direct rule had not been introduced one or two things would have happened," he says.

"Either people would have stood up and you would have had a major revolt in this country for good governance or the country would have ended up another banana republic like some other countries around."

But going by the conversation that was already in full flow when I entered a bustling island café, some here have no time for direct rule or the man charged with running it.

"The governor he is acting like a dictator. The Foreign Office need to look into the governor and remove him immediately," said one of the men.

"I would like to see our people take over this country. You've got to take independence, that's the only step you can do. independence."




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