|U.K. backs off some proposed changes||| Print ||
|Written by Richard Greenemail@example.com|
|Thursday, 23 June 2011 12:40|
The House of Assembly will still be elected with first past the post voting, and the deputy governor must be a Belonger — a term that will be changed to Turks and Caicos Islander in the country’s Constitution, U.K. Foreign Minister Henry Bellingham has decided.
“We have made some important concessions,” Bellingham said after meeting June 15-16 with seven islanders in London to discuss proposed changes to the 2006 Constitution.
However, Bellingham insisted on removing the absolute right to trial by jury in criminal cases in the Supreme Court, which is currently the case in the U.K.
The TCI interim government already has passed a law that allows a defendant, prosecutor or judge to request a non-jury trial if it can be proven that a fair jury trial cannot be held. The decision can be appealed to a three-member Court of Appeal.
Bellingham also was resolute on increasing the governor’s reserve powers over elected officials, but he agreed to requiring the governor to consult with the U.K. Secretary of State before exercising most of those powers.
In opening statements at the meetings, both Progressive National Party Leader Clayton Greene and People’s Democratic Movement Leader Doug Parnell repeated their parties’ stances that both the former governor and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not exercise the powers they already had to prevent many of the country’s problems that ended with suspension of the Constitution and elected government in August 2009. Both leaders argued against giving the governor more power, but Bellingham was not swayed.
“I firmly believe reserved powers should be increased in order to ensure the Constitution is sufficiently robust, to guard against a return to the situation that led to the Commission of Inquiry (in 2009),” he said.
House of Assembly
In what Bellingham called the FCO’s biggest concession, the parties won their fight to preserve the election method and number of members in the House of Assembly, in part because Bellingham said he was “adamant” that the country not adopt a proportional voting system. U.K. voters recently decided overwhelmingly to keep first past the post voting for Parliamentary elections.
Advisory Council member Doreen Quelch-Missick told Bellingham in her opening statement that most council members were in favor of proportional voting as proposed, saying the current method “has lent itself to political pandering; it has been nothing, but divisive and is vulnerable to manipulation.”
But she said she was persuaded that the proposed system was too complicated and could delay returning the country to elected government.
The House of Assembly is currently made up of 15 members elected from single-member districts, plus four appointed members — one by the governor, two by the premier and one by the leader of the opposition. Constitution advisor Kate Sullivan said 15 was enough, and that the appointed members should be eliminated because they only served to increase the majority’s membership.
Bellingham agreed with politicians that the number of ministers should remain the same at 19, except that only 10 of them will be elected from single-member districts, with five others elected at large countrywide.
Four members would still be appointed, but the governor would appoint two at his discretion and two after consultation with the premier and the leader of the opposition. No one who has unsuccessfully stood for election could be appointed, and they should be “persons representing shades of opinion which would not otherwise be represented in the House.”
Bellingham also approved a term limit for premier of two consecutive four-year terms, unless at least one term has expired since the office was last held.
Sullivan also recommended allowing the governor to appoint someone other than a Belonger as deputy governor, who would be head of the public service. But Bellingham agreed with overwhelming objections against allowing a non-Belonger to be deputy governor.
Consultative Forum Chairwoman Lillian Misick was among those attending the meetings who called for a move away from the term Belonger, suggesting it be changed to citizen. Bellingham agreed that it be changed, but to Turks and Caicos Islander throughout the Constitution.
Sullivan also had recommended adding the definition of and conditions for being a Turks and Caicos Islander to the Constitution. Bellingham agreed to remove the definition but retained the minimum conditions.
Those conditions require that an applicant be a British overseas territories citizen or a British citizen who has held a permanent residence certificate for a period of at least five years, or who has been a legal resident for a period of at least 10 years. Applicants also cannot be serving a sentence in any country or been declared bankrupt in any country if the bankruptcy has not been discharged.
Public Service Commission
Sullivan had recommended that the governor be given authority to reduce the size of the five-member Public Service Commission (PSC) to three members and to appoint them at his discretion after consulting with the premier and the leader of the opposition. The 2006 Constitution forces the governor to accept one appointment each from the premier and the leader of the opposition.
Bellingham decided that PSC membership stay at five, with the governor making all five appointments, including the chairman. However, the governor would be required to consult with the premier on selecting one member, the opposition leader for one member and Civil Service Association for one member. And he would have to consult with all three on the choice of a fifth member.
Changes would also give the governor final say in making appointments to public offices and in disciplining those officials without having to follow recommendations of the PSC. The 2006 Constitution forces him to listen to the PSC unless instructed by the Secretary of State or Her Majesty.
One request that was unanimous across the smaller islands during public consultations was the need for local councils to deal with local issues. The Constitution will soon require that an ordinance be passed to “provide for the establishment and functions of local councils to contribute to effective local government in the islands.”
Freedom of Information
The TCI has never had a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the 2002 Constitutional commission recommended one, and both political parties renewed that call in September in their All-Party Commission report on the Constitution and election reform. It was called for again during public consultations.
Bellingham agreed that the Constitution will be amended to require an ordinance to “provide for a right of access to information held by public authorities, for the conditions for the exercise of that right, and for restrictions and exceptions to that right in the interests of international relations, the security of the Islands and the United Kingdom, public safety, public order, public morality or the rights and interest of individuals.”
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