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The Business Community in Turks and Caicos Seeks Certainty

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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?

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About CBurke

  • DG

    Where a small country is so reliant on tourism as a main source of income and job creation, it can only have a very negative impact on the Nation as a whole if deals are stalled. Especially in the current negative global economic climate.

    Investment should be encouraged and nurtured. For a country so reliant on tourism it is not just essential, but critical. Sound economic policy (which clearly includes the tourism industry) is needed. If tourism development grows then it can only benefit the whole Nation and all its inhabitants. From job creation to supporting any small businesses on the Islands.

    To stall the tourism industry or scare off foreign investment is not sound economic policy in my view. Political agendas or games which burden or hamper the growth of such an important resource does not seem to be in the interest of the Islands or it’s population. It takes money to make money (and create jobs for locals).

    To hamper foreign investment in any manner (especially in such a tiny country which desperately needs it), is like cutting off your own nose to spite your face. The local economy can surely only suffer, not grow.

  • STM

    Bollocks. The best way to scare off investors is to have a corrupt government running the place. The only certainty you’ll get from the British being in the Turks is … certainty.

    At least they bring transparent rule of law. Transparent being the all-important word, here.

  • Colin

    Certainty comes from UK? There are some misguided souls to believe that UK is going to give Turks and Caicos anything but illegal international manuevers.

  • Jimmy

    Developers should be given the confidence that the good ones will be helped and the corrupt ones will go to prison. What’s wrong with that?

  • One man’s opinion

    Right and anyone who did any business with the Misick government is corrupt too? Land and work permits only for islanders? Very myopic opinion that one is. It is clear that anyone who disagrees has not lived away from the local islands. It’s called an economy and prosperity which would bring the people of the islands money and jobs. Give the islands and the economy back to the locals. Misick is long gone — give it back to the people.

  • Jimmy

    Doing business with Misick was not corrupt. Bribing him was corrupt. Do you see the difference?

  • One man’s opinion

    The authorities will sort out past and present corruption. The islands need to be given back to the people of Turks and Caicos to move forward. The islands do not belong to UK to govern or not — The UN has declared this. UK never had the right to run the government of Turks and Caicos, under international law.

  • Martin

    Please do not forget that there are many other options for government transparency other than what happened in Turks and Caicos with UK’s move for control. And for the corrupt government to be gone long before UK decided to move in?

    It is just fishy to me.

    Who is verifying the claims of the anonymous complainers? How many were there really? I think that should be investigated for corruption and prosecuted. The people who lied, exaggerated and/or duplicated complaints to UK. There’s some conspiracy going on with that? It doesn’t even begin to sound credible.

  • STM

    There are some great quotes here from Floyd Seymour, former head of the PDM party (which provided information to the Commission of Inquiry), who stepped down on Friday.

    From the T&C Weekly News: ” “I am sad when I see where our country is right now but there was definitely a need for an end to the way government was being conducted under the previous administration.

    “Some of the decisions made and the contracts entered into will haunt our people for decades to come.

    “I still believe the TCI should be governed by TC Islanders. I believe in democracy and I always will but what we had over the last six years can’t be conceived as democratic.

    “And I don’t regret seeing the end of that.”

    He said prudent financial management was the country’s biggest challenge ahead.”

    Trying to be an effective opposition wasn’t that easy either considering the numbers stacked against them.

    There are issues there too and that’s also part of the problem.

    I believe the Commission of Inquiry report is available on the web for the perusal of the doubters.

    No one, anywhere, wants to see Britain “re-colonising” (most of all the British, I suspect … I’d bet London to a brick they’d rather have no former colonies to worry about) but given the history and status of The Turks and Caicos, do you not think they at least have some responsibility to ensure that this ultimately benefits the people of TCI, not a small group with power and influence.

    If you want to see how that works, go to somewhere like The Philippines and see what it might look like (on a micro scale, compared to that, admittedly) if some changes aren’t made.

    Turks and Caicos Islanders have the right to self-government, self-determination, rule of law and a decent standard of living.

    They also have the right not to be ripped off as a nation through dodgy government, although I’d be hesitant to point the finger at anyone in particular right now as a Commission of Inquiry is just that.

    But I have no doubt at all the British will be true to their word on this issue.

  • One man’s opinion

    My tiny violin is making crying kitten noises. Who would take over the Philippines government. Let’s call Spain to rescue them? Please people.

  • STM

    OMO: It’s more likely the sound of a cat being strangled. And that wasn’t my point. I used it as an example of how corruption and cronyism can line the pockets of the rich and powerful and leave others in poverty when a little sharing of that weatlth in a transparent fashion, and according to the law, might ultimately have the opposite result.

    That has certainly been the case in The Philippines over the past 40 years or so.

    Had it been my point though, the answer would be: No, OMO, not Spain: The Philippines became an American colony – yes, that’s right, a US colony – for 50 years after Spain’s demise.

    After the US worked out it was cheaper to keep a naval base than a whole country, they gave it back to the Filipinos.

    But just walking out isn’t always the answer. Sometimes it’s good to try to undo some of the damage wrought by colonialism first.

    The Americans are still helping out … and still trying to work their way around the corruption there.

    Perhaps the real issue is that of colonialism in the first place.

    But that’s for another day, maybe.

  • One man’s opinion

    It doesn’t matter if it was Mars taking over the Philippines “to help” them. One country (or planet) has no business taking over the government of another. Helping is one thing, but a take over is another.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    At least you’ve got one thing right, OMO:

    “In Renaissance and Neoclassical works of art, Ares’ symbols are a spear and helmet, his animal is a dog, and his bird is the vulture. In literary works of these eras, Ares is replaced by the Roman Mars, an emblem of manly valor rather than the cruel and blood-thirsty god of Greek myth.”

    Source: Ares

  • One man’s opinion

    Good one.

  • STM

    OMO says: “It doesn’t matter if it was Mars taking over the Philippines “to help” them”.

    That’s not what I said, OMO; (at least do me the courtesy of reading the comments properly before you sound off) quite the opposite, in fact. The Philippines is just one good example of how cronyism and the whiff of corruption can destroy a nation’s true promise and set it back decades.

    How can you call something a genuine democracy when a small group of people have all the money, power and influence and the rest find that they have no power to speak out, or live in fear of some form of retribution (physical, financial, etc) if they do??

    In these cases, often the only sign of life for true democracy and the existence of free speech hanging on by its fingernails is a press that isn’t frightened to stand up and have a go. But it can do that all it likes if it ultimately has no power to wield much influence that makes a difference for one reason or another, which is how a Filipino journalist recently explained his situation to me. Fiji is another classic example (which is partly why I’m so interested in current developments in TCI).

    Both situations in TCI and Fiji allegedly have the same aims (restoration of democracy), but Bainarama’s regime has figuratively killed off any dissenting voice. That’s not the case in the Turks & Caicos.

    And Rog, do you know much about what’s behind all this (the allegations of impropriety), about TCI, its history, people, status, even the about the Commonwealth? Nice of you to come in through the grouter but there are some real issues here. Had something like this happened in the US and the press got a sniff of it, heads would be rolling left, right and centre.

    And as OMO (nice pseudonym BTW) himself points out, his is just one man’s opinion (as is mine). The author’s opinion also doesn’t appear to be the opinion of all T&C islanders.

    There were plenty of others on another thread on this issue that were the polar opposite.

    I’m not advocating colonialism, a return to it nor condemning any individual over unproven allegations … just suggesting that a system of transparency in government (anywhere in the world) that stops ordinary people getting dusted over once again and gives them a genuine voice is the preferred option.

    If somone can explain to me another way of doing that in this particular case, I’m all ears.

  • One man’s opinion

    You call UK taking over the Turks and Caicos government progress? How unsophisticated that opinion. I will let you debate yourself on that one.

  • Jimmy

    The problem with your argument is that it ignores the fact that TCI is not a sovereign country, never has been and has never asked to be.

  • One man’s opinion

    UK has never been recognised as anything more than a partner of TCI, if at all. This was confirmed in a statement by the UN again on 9 Oct – a few days ago. This is not a new policy, this has been nearly 20 years of UN policies wherein a special (fourth) committee to aboloish colonisation was formed. I would suggest that you brush up on your international news, but after 20 years of this law and policy, I doubt it will just now sink in.

  • Jimmy

    You need to brush up. TCI is a UK overseas territory. Nothing the decolonization committee says has any legal weight at all.

  • One man’s opinion

    Read about it so you don’t spread ignorance. Here is the document of 9 Oct. The UN specifically addresses TCI. In any event, it has never been lawful — for the last 20 years.
    Misnomer that an overseas territory can have its governmental rights taken by another country. This is just a fact. Don’t know what else to tell you other than to read a bit.

  • STM

    Jimmy: “The problem with your argument is that it ignores the fact that TCI is not a sovereign country, never has been and has never asked to be.”

    Yeah, exactly right Jimmy. Maybe OMO didn’t understand that.

    In a way, it’s a bit like the federal government in Australia moving to stop shonky property deals in one of its self-governing states. Really, that’s the equivalent status.

    And who cares what the UN says OMO. Like I say, about 80 per cent of the countries belonging to the UN are struggling to run themselves.

    That doesn’t mean TCI doesn’t have the right to self-determination, though.

    But given what’s alleged to have gone on, it’d be good to see it being transparent. I’d seriously hate to see it go down the path of Fiji …

    Perhaps the British were mindful of that when they made a move.

  • One man’s opinion

    You have no idea what you’re talking about. The UN only recognised the existance of TCI as an Island Territory under the condition that it would only be a partner of TCI. You cannot tell me that you did all of that research on Fiji, Philipines and Australia but failed to research Island Territories of UK. Come one. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

  • Jimmy

    “I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.”

    What kind of truck was it then?

  • One man’s opinion

    I will let you look up that saying too. You have some homework to do Jimmy.

  • STM

    You are starting to sound like a turnip.

  • One man’s opinion

    I am a stubborn bloke. I need the last word. So here it is: word.

  • R.F.Houseman

    Whilst the British Government is cleaning house in the Turks and Caicos Islands, they need to clean house at the TciJournal to make sure that Mr.Malcolm and his organize group of bandits don’t cause the country any more lost of revenue. They have single handedly cause the Turks and Caicos Islands Government approximately US$30 Million or more in revenue, simply because known investors decided to take their money elsewhere.

  • Jimmy

    Where did you get that figure?

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    Don’t worry Stan, His brain will “turn up” eventually.

  • One man’s opinion

    More taxes will now likely be imposed on the citizens too, not to mention the new $400 flight tariff for islanders. Everyone should stand up to these changes and get to the bottom of it. These are unfair consequences handed down by a couple of stupid people who have no idea what they’re doing. I wonder why TCI Journal is doing this. Is money a motivating factor. My father always told me to follow the money and you will find your rat!

  • Jimmy

    OMO, I don’t understand your argument. We all saw the big house, the flashy cars, the music and film festivals. We knew about the private jets. Who did you think was going to end up paying the bill?

  • One man’s opinion

    Jimmy — what would you say are the developes are the good ones? I am not sure which ones are trusted, we have only heard which one’s are corrupt. Specifically which ones are the good ones so that we can support them.