Since Great Britain’s direct rule over Turks and Caicos Islands on August 14, 2009, land deals and developments have been stalled by the islands’ government. This could be costly for the economy of the Islands, analysts predict.
Certainly, the Islands’ main source of revenue comes from tourism dollars. Yet many land developments have remained on hold for months or have not been given assurances of support from the new government.
There have been some promising recent movements, such as the planning commission’s announcement of green lighting some of the developments on hold. However, many are still concerned that focus on land deals in general has been too slow, causing a further burden on the Islands’ economy.
Stalled land deals could be due in part to Great Britain’s inquiry into Turks and Caicos former government, with Michael Misick as Premier. One of the elements of the investigation included accusations of improper usage of Crown land by the former government.
Turks and Caicos Islands’ Crown land provisions are enumerated in a document entitled: “Crown Land Policy.” Therein, it is emphasised that “commercial land development is one of the main purposes of Crown land use and sale.” The policy is formulated to “attract investments judged best for the interest of TCI (Turks and Caicos Islands).”
How Crown land became a pawn in a political contest is where this story gets a bit messy and complicated.
Sometime in the last year or two, a political opposition party led by local islanders Shaun Malcolm and E. Floyd Seymour initiated a political campaign to take on big developers in the islands. Their intentions are not yet fully discovered. However, it is noted that their core platform is to rise up against foreign developers for stealing Crown land rights from Islanders (Belongers).
Specifically, Shaun Malcolm made his own personal and specific complaint to Great Britain alleging that Crown land was promised to him by the Misick administration, which he claims was punitively dishonored due to political reasons. Malcolm, Seymour and their number of anonymous supporters (we are not sure how many are duplicates), wrote to the British parliament “in confidence” alleging Crown land abuses in the Islands. Based on assurances of confidentiality, Great Britain claims an inability “…to quote from them” (Commission of Enquiry Report). Accordingly, there are no means available in which to corroborate or verify the accuracy of many of the alleged complaints.
The main message of the “confidential” letters to the UK parliament were virtually all the same, anonymous allegations of government corruption, demands of more or exclusive work permits for Islanders and allegations against the land development business community.
The UK inquiry, led by one person, Sir Robin Auld, noted that, “Crown land is a major resource on TCI, which has built its economic growth on real estate and tourism.” Great Britain further documents that the Islanders’ anonymous complaints include alleged abuses of Crown land sales by the government, and land rights should be reserved for, once again, Islanders.
Another item in question is alleged campaign contributions by the business community to the then political parties on the Islands. However, it is clearly documented that there are no campaign finance laws or restrictions on donations in Turks and Caicos.
It is argued by the business community and foreign investors that they were acting in accordance with the laws and customs of the land as well as in good faith. Undoubtedly, Turks and Caicos has complicated Crown land policies and Belonger policies which were unfamiliar to foreign investors. The developers relied on the lawful transactions with the Turks and Caicos government with the authority of the Attorney General for land approval. Furthermore, the foreign investors argue that they were busy with the time-consuming task of building their resorts, worth millions, instead of the seemingly petty political debates about local government at the time.
Though the aforementioned complaints against developers are said to exist, on overwhelming number of Islanders are in favor of these foreign dollars being invested into Turks and Caicos, creating tourism dollars, jobs and local economic growth. However, it appears that their voices are not as audible and that a proper outlet for their opinions is not available.
With economic woes hitting the Caribbean community, questioning of this group of Islanders’ motivation against developers, particularly in this recession, are being raised. Many argue that this is a time to be stimulating the economy with growth and development and not merely focusing on containing the government spending budgets.
As reported in the Turks and Caicos Sun Newspaper on October 5, 2009, “People are now becoming reluctant to purchase any land.” And, “…to take the opposite position in saying that ‘no more activity in Crown Land’, is equally as dangerous …all of a sudden, you end up crippling your economy.”
The Turks and Ciacos Sun Newspaper further reports that, “due to careless utterances in some quarters, there had been a lack of confidence not only in Crown Land sales but also private land sales as well, since such comments were broad and general that they frightened off potential investors.”
One can only conclude that the author is referring to Shaun Malcolm, the aforementioned political activist and Crown land complainant who runs a local blog called TCI Journal. TCI Journal has been particularly brutal writing suggestive blogs and innuendo against developers and foreign investors.
As it turns out, the foreign investment community has come out of this debacle asking for certainty. Land deals with developers were negotiated and approved by the appropriate officials, and as such, developers eagerly and legitimately began multi-million dollar projects in earnest and under the color of authority. Great Britain has not yet fully addressed this matter with foreign investors nor has it made any declarations asserting the land’s bona fide transfer.
Great Britain, now being in control of the government in Turks and Caicos, is obligated to these land developers and businessmen/women to make certain that they are secure and made whole so that they can continue the projects for which they have duly invested, for the betterment of Turks and Caicos.
The glory days of Turks & Caicos Islands’ robust economy can return. However, what incentive do new investors have, considering the existing investors are not only not being supported but are being unfairly judged?