UK FCO Says It Made a Decision on Final Constitution for Turks and Caicos
What has been happening in Turks and Caicos has been worrisome for the United Nations, Caricom and other Overseas Territories. The United Kingdom has taken direct rule from the Turks and Caicos Islands which will be sealed with a new constitution drafted and decided by the UK's Foreign Commonwealth Office. Approaching the two year mark of UK direct rule, the Turks and Caicos Islanders have gone without democracy, elections or votes and now no referendum on a new constitution. The United Nations has deemed this to be concerning as it has been calling for greater autonomy/independence for overseas territories.
This week, Henry Bellingham of the FCO invited a handful of local Turks and Caicos Islanders selected by the UK for constitutional talks in London. Many Turks and Caicos Islanders were enraged by the constitutional process expressing deep concern for the lack of a democratically elected person to represent the people. The Turks and Caicos Islanders were also furious with the powers that the UK would be taking with the new constitution.
The talks were short, two days. After the opening remarks and discussions, at the end of the second day, Mr. Bellingham immediately made his decision on what he would allow as concessions on the new constitution.
It is completely evident that this was Mr. Bellingham's decision to make on his own. Though some Turks and Caicos Islanders are elated that the FCO made concessions at all on some of the areas of concerns within the new constitution, others are distressed that the FCO was able to make these decision without a referendum, while still others are unhappy and demanding immediate independence calling this a violation of their human rights.
Though Mr. Bellingham made concessions to certain contested terms in the new constitution such as "first past post" on elections and other such election concessions (for future elections if allowed pending approval). The FCO held firm on what is seen as the UK Governor's oppressive powers, Mr. Bellingham gives in a little by saying, "However, I am willing to require the Governor to consult the Secretary of State before exercising many of these powers." He agreed that the UK Governor would consult on excersing powers. Many Islanders have a problem with Mr. Bellingham's words: "he agreed" and "consult" and "many of"; Mr. Bellingham has the power to agree to the UK governor consulting on many of his powers. How is it that Mr. Bellingham came to these decisions so quickly at the end of the two-day consulting process and how is he, alone (after a year in office in London), in the position to decide what is in the best interest of the Turks and Caicos people?
Perhaps the most glaring problem is the problem with opening the voting franchise to residents, which will interfere with the will of the Turks and Caicos citizens. The new constitution will give only the UK governor the power to grant Belongership and thus voting rights in Turks and Caicos. The UK has already publicly said that the voting pool is too small in Turks and Caicos and thus plans to allow expatriate citizens a vote. This has been a lightning rod decision as it will undermine the true will of the people and decisions to their own country, their birth right. The UN has already said that there is "no country too small that its people forfeit the right to self determination". Even president Barack Obama said this week in Puerto Rico that he supports Puerto Rico's right to self determination or independence in keeping with UN's decolonialism declarations.
Another major problem is the UK stays committed to preserving its rights to withholding trial by jury in Turks and Caicos. This is seen as a fundamental right of citizens of any nation and a democratic right.
If or when the British government ever allows local elections, it will be a much different outcome than what the Islanders have seen in the past. The UK Governor no longer has just an advisory role, in fact he will have the ultimate powers and decision. The new constituents will be foreigners (who retain citizenship in their own homelands) who are living in Turks and Caicos with no real stake in the future of Turks and Caicos. This has many Islanders feeling like they are becoming extinct or second class citizens in their own country without any control over their homeland.
Tags: Turks , Caicos , Caribbean , Overseas Territory , UN , British , Colonial , Democracy , Constitution , Government
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