Political Scandal in the Turks & Caicos

17 March 2009 By Kelly Sanford

As world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown seek to pierce the veil of financial disclosure in offshore tax havens, several nations have come under intense scrutiny. Topping the list of most corrupt nations (this week) is the Commonwealth of the Turks and Caicos.

Following a series of allegations, a commission of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) began to uncover evidence of widespread corruption throughout the island nation in 2008. The commission, headed by retired judge Robin Auld, began its investigation last July and has concluded in an interim report, scheduled to be put before Queen Elizabeth on March 18, that there was systemic corruption under the administration led by Turks and Caicos Premier Michael Misick. Auld is reported as describing it as, “chronic ills collectively amounting to a national emergency.”

Turks and CaicosCommonwealth officials are accused of developing “a culture of serious dishonesty.” The commission found evidence that a large volume of money flowed though the islands’ financial system with no documentation. Though no specific allegation of money laundering was mentioned, there appears to be mounting evidence of such practices.

At the heart of the investigation is Michael Misick, who, according to the UK’s Times Online, is “alleged to have built up a multi-million dollar fortune since he was elected in 2003,” fueled in part by having allegedly “sold off Crown land to property developers for [his] own personal gain.”

Misick claimed his lavish lifestyle – which allegedly included two private jets and outlandish shopping sprees with government credit cards – was necessary to draw a high-caliber clientele and developers to the islands. His estranged wife, TV sitcom actress LisaRaye McCoy Misick, was reportedly paid $300,000 with government funds to be the spokes-model for a tourism campaign.

When the audacious Misick was asked to justify why he was paid more than Prime Minister of England, he reportedly replied, “I have done more for the Turks and Caicos than Gordon Brown has done for England.” Misick defends his use of government money and insists the title of his office was never misused for personal satisfaction or gain.

However, Auld’s FCO report says, “Coupled...with clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of general administrative incompetence… [the Misick administration has] in my view, demonstrated a need for urgent suspension in whole or in part of the Constitution.”

The Crown is represented on the Commonwealth by a Governor who typically yields authority to the ministerial body of the Turks and Caicos. But in light of the FCO report, that is about to change. Governor Gordon Wetherell announced on March 16, “I am today…making public a draft Order-in-Council, which would suspend parts of the constitution, including those relating to ministerial government and the House of Assembly, initially for two years, although this period could be extended or shortened…. The draft order will be submitted to Her Majesty in Council at a meeting on March 18. [Once] made, the order will be laid before Parliament on March 25.”

So what does this mean to yachting? Well, unless your yacht’s owner has been banking in the Turks and Caicos, it shouldn’t mean much. Though the Times Online cited a Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee which allegedly found “a palpable climate of fear” in the Turks and Caicos. Sources on the island disagree.

“The Government here has been effectively suspended for months,” says Dockmaster, Carole Klinko who manages the Turtle Cove Marina, on Provo. “The locals think this is a good thing. There are no riots or safety concerns for yachts. Nothing has changed, and the island is perfectly safe.”