My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 16 March 2009, the Minister for the Overseas Territories informed the House of the publication by the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) of the interim report of the commission of inquiry into whether there was information that corruption or other serious dishonesty in relation to past and present elected members of the TCI House of Assembly may have taken place in recent years. In his interim report, the commissioner, the right honourable Sir Robin Auld, found there was information in abundance pointing to a high probability of systemic corruption and/or serious dishonesty. In Sir Robin’s view this, together with clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of general administrative incompetence, demonstrated a need for urgent suspension in whole or in part of the constitution and for other legislative and administrative reforms.
On 31 May Sir Robin delivered his final report to the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
In that report, the commissioner has confirmed that nothing that has happened since he submitted his interim report has prompted him to change his original view. His close examination of the information and evidence before the inquiry has reinforced, not weakened, his conviction of a need for urgent and wide-ranging systemic change.
On systemic weaknesses, he confirms the recommendations in his interim report covering: partial suspension of the constitution and interim direct rule; criminal sanctions and civil recovery; integrity in public life, Crown land allocation, sale and management; and a new constitution. Some recommendations focus on deterring or preventing corruption and other serious dishonesty, while others look at the broader constitutional and statutory framework of governance. He recommends the appointment of an independent expert on the management and allocation of Crown land as well as strengthening the Governor’s Office and Attorney-General’s Chambers.
The commissioner’s final report also makes preliminary findings and recommendations, including the institution of criminal investigations in relation to former Premier Michael Misick, and four of his former Cabinet Ministers. It confirms the recommendation in the interim report for the establishment of a civil and criminal recovery unit and the appointment of a special prosecutor.
The commissioner states that the information he has gathered points to a high probability of systemic corruption and/or other serious dishonesty involving past and present elected Members of the legislature in recent years. This same information (and his preliminary findings against individuals) has highlighted weaknesses in the law and its administration.
Although the governor intends, if possible, to publish the full final report in due course, he is not currently able to do so owing to legal proceedings brought in TCI by two persons named in it. Consequently, I hope that a redacted version of the final report will be published as soon as possible.
Legal proceedings are also ongoing in the United Kingdom relating to the Order in Council made on 18 March which would suspend parts of the TCI constitution. This was to be expected and it will take time for this to run its course. However, I am determined to push forward now with the implementation of recommendations in the final report that do not depend on the entry into force of the order. To ensure that good governance can be re-established as swiftly as possible in TCI, the governor, with the full support and assistance of the British Government, is therefore taking steps to appoint experts to work in areas of concern highlighted in the final report. These include: a special adviser to the governor to oversee reform of the public service; three public financial management advisers; an economic adviser; a good governance adviser and a Crown land adviser. Other governance recommendations are under active consideration. Direct support for the governor has also been increased with the appointment of an additional senior FCO official to his office.
A special prosecutor and head of the civil and criminal recovery unit, and a senior investigating officer have been identified and the necessary procedures relating to their appointment are now under way. The holders of these positions will work together with a team on the investigations recommended by the commission. I will announce further details soon.
In summary, the British Government are working hand in hand with the governor to start implementing commission recommendations without delay and remain determined to do everything in our power, as swiftly as possible, to tackle systemic corruption and to restore good governance in TCI.
I wish to acknowledge, again, the help and support provided by the keen eye of the FAC in highlighting the situation in TCI.