Britain’s minister with responsibility for the Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham, arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) on Monday, on a previously unannounced visit, accompanying Governor Ric Todd on his return from a five-day trip to the UK to consult on the progress towards the “milestones” previously set down by Bellingham.
These milestones must be completed or clearly on the road to completion before Britain will agree to elections being resumed in the TCI to return a democratically chosen government to replace the current interim administration by Britain following the imposition of direct rule in 2009.
Hopes were high locally that the purpose of the surprise visit by Bellingham would be address the issue of elections and this hope seems to have been realised by Tuesday’s statement by Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, setting November 9 as the date for elections to be resumed (see separate story).
One of the issues relating to the election is voter registration, which is moving much more slowly than expected.
In the last election of February 2007, almost 7,000 people turned out to cast their votes. As of this week, only approximately half of this number has registered, with a registration deadline at the end of June.
In addition to the 7,000, it is estimated that approximately 2,000 more TC Islanders have come of age and are therefore qualified to vote. It is, however, not known how many of the past voters may now be excluded under the new registration qualifications.
Another problem being reported is the slowness in the issue of the required birth certificates. The presentation of an original birth certificate must accompany each voter registration.
One Providenciales resident, who is a former candidate for public office, has made several visits to the government offices in Provo attempting to expedite his birth certificate, which he applied for six weeks ago. While the interim government has since reduced the cost of the certificates from $40 to $20, this prospective voter had already paid his $40.
Another factor affecting the election is the current status of the political parties. The Progressive National Party (PNP) has had its senior executive gutted as a result of criminal charges brought against its former leader, five former ministers and one backbench member, who are scheduled in court next month to answer various allegations of bribery, corruption, money laundering and related charges.
However, the PNP now appears to be ahead of the other main party, the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), in setting up its new executive in anticipation of resumed elections.
While former chief minister Derek Taylor was elected to lead the PDM in November last year, it now appears he may not survive a strong challenge by another former chief minister, Oswald Skippings. Sources within the party, most media commentators and other local observers believe that, due to Taylor’s recent inactivity, he must be replaced. It also appears that, if Skippings is successful, this could signal a change in other elected and appointed party executives.