Policy statements and positions announced by Premier Rufus Ewing continue to reflect continued inconsistency and confusion, leaving the TCI without a clear picture of the course the government will take on a number of issues.
Premier Rufus Ewing
At a press conference on September 6, Ewing said that a boycott by him and his government of all activities of the current Attorney General Huw Shepheard is on the table. Online blogs picked up Ewing’s statement as a call to boycott cabinet meetings that are attended by the attorney general, who Ewing has insisted must be recalled by Britain. In fact, in a September 4 letter written by Ewing to the governor, the premier indicated he is not prepared to work with Shepheard.
If the cabinet meetings are boycotted this would effectively shut down the government and could result in a return to direct rule by Britain or another election. With the current disappointment in the performance of Ewing’s one seat majority government, this could end Ewing’s term as premier and spell the end of the Progressive National Party (PNP) government.
If, however, Cabinet meetings continue and are not boycotted by the elected ministers, Ewing’s rhetoric will be seen as unprincipled and ineffectual.
Outgoing Governor Ric Todd offered to bring Ewing and his ministers together with Shepheard in an attempt to resolve their differences. Ewing did not accept this invitation, saying, “He (Governor Todd) would like the attorney general to meet with us to defend himself in regard to the allegations leveled against him by myself with a view that maybe he could change our minds or our opinion or views of him (Shepheard) being the person to occupy that job.”
Attorney General Huw Shepheard
Ewing then went on “…he should not expect me to change my mind or the perceptions of me having confidence in him.”
Ewing has also called Shepheard incompetent.
The current push for Shepheard’s recall began in earnest after the Crown took over the PNP headquarters in Providenciales. The PNP had been squatting on the valuable commercial property for years without paying rent or obtaining a conditional lease.
Joining the fray was finance minister Washington Misick who said, “The AG is the government’s lawyer and basically we must be able to fire our lawyer.”
However, the attorney general is appointed by the Crown through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). He serves in a non partisan legal capacity on behalf of all the people of the islands not just the current government. Pending criminal prosecutions of former PNP ministers on various corruption-related charges, following the 2008/2009 Commission of Inquiry, which found evidence of widespread and systemic government corruption in the TCI, have not found favour with the current PNP ministers.
Elected ministers have expressed a preference for Shepheard’s deputy, Rhondalee Brathwaite-Knowles, a known PNP supporter, who came in for widespread criticism and allegations of partisanship earlier this year following her filing of out of time court actions contesting the candidacy of predominantly Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) members of the House of Assembly.
On another current issue Ewing seems equally confused as to his official position. He has refused the offer of a $15 million grant from the European Union, believed to have been arranged by the FCO. Ewing refused the grant based on what he claims is an insistence by the EU to encourage foreign capital to bring new development to the TCI. This, Ewing claims, would not empower belongers who, he says, must be part of the process of development.
However, on September 24, Ewing will be speaking at a conference in Miami about his dream agenda, which would include causeways joining all the Caicos Islands and the creation of a mega port on now dormant East Caicos. These projects would require massive injections of foreign capital, as islanders are unable to pay any additional taxes to finance the projects.
The current high taxation is the result of the need to repay hundreds of millions in debt run up by the 2003-2009 PNP government and the 25-year contract with health care provider Interhealth Canada and the 25-year mortgage on the new hospitals. The high health care costs are the result of a contract negotiated by Ewing himself as then director of medical services.
The third project, one that is already underway and started by the former interim government, is the airport expansion, which is being financed by yet another increase in the departure taxes paid by visitors and islanders travelling overseas for shopping and other purposes. Currently, departure taxes cost travellers approximately $100 per trip and this may be increased by an additional $35.