The corruption scandal during the spring that quickly engulfed Britain’s Parliament and threatened to bring down Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s short-lived Labor Party government is no longer a global headline news story. To some, it was merely a case of petty corruption gone on for far too long; for the jaded souls among us, the fact that politicians are on the take hardly comes as a surprise. But Britain’s scandal has far reaching implications that extend way beyond its shores to a place close to home for Americans.
The Turks and Caicos islands, an upscale Caribbean paradise a mere two-hour flight off the shores of Miami and a British overseas territory, has been featured in the news lately because of former Prime Minister Michael Misick’s reputedly corrupt government. In fact, the press has so maligned the former leader that one would think that a homegrown Idi Amin was living just off America’s shores.
But more critically, the British government has attempted to use the corruption case in the Turks and Caicos as justification for suspending the islands’ constitution, disbanding its parliament and suspending the right to jury trial on the Island. If you speak to the people of the Turks and Caicos today, they will bluntly tell you that their small Island nation has been paralyzed and that business has come to an unbelievable halt.
Britain convened a Commission of Inquiry last summer to investigate corruption charges on the Island. Tales of lavish expenditures on private jets, entertainment and overseas travel paint the picture of too many hands in the cookie jar. The commission’s interim report included findings of “political amorality” and widespread corruption that, in Britain’s view, justifies its draconian actions.
However, the recent scandal in Britain should make us pause and reflect as to whether an old sinner such as the UK government should be casting stones at the young government of the Turks and Caicos, which is fewer than 35 years old, having been formed in 1976 after a long and protracted struggle by the people of the Island. While many drastic mistakes have been made, and certainly corruption was out of control at the highest level, some would say that these are understandable for a country so young along the way towards a solid democracy.
While it’s hard to excuse the flagrant abuse of power in the Turks and Caicos, one certainly can see the contradiction and different standards to which Britain is held. No one, including Queen Elizabeth II herself, has talked about disbanding the British Parliament, suspending its Bill of Rights and having the crown taken from the judicial system.
In fact, Britain’s current fiscal and political woes bring its paternalistic policies towards its remaining colonies squarely into focus. Here we have Britain insisting upon its imprimatur - it appoints a governor to sit at the head of a locally elected Cabinet - supposedly because it has a responsibility to its colonies to ensure good government. And when things don’t go its way, or it thinks that the territories could serve some strategic purpose, it then takes over; it eliminates the democratically elected local government, and suspends vital civil rights and human rights laws, all in the name of good governance.
Since when did it become good governance for a country to be ruled by a government it did not freely elect? Only the absurd fictions of colonialism could advance such a notion with a straight face. We Americans soundly rejected the notion that somehow we should pay homage to a government far across the Atlantic Ocean. Our Founding Fathers, more than two centuries ago, fought to make sure that we would be the masters of our own destiny, and no one else. And we know that although no government is perfect, only a government by and for the people can ever be capable of ruling legitimately.
The British have made a major miscalculation when it comes to the overseas territories - especially those territories that, like the Turks and Caicos, are home to offshore financial centers. In their haste to placate the Obama administration, they have used the pretext of fiscal mismanagement in the Turks and Caicos to intervene in the islands’ local affairs and to disenfranchise their people. Perhaps, because of the islands’ proximity to the U.S., Britain thought it could convince the Obama administration that it is really serious about getting tough on the international banking system.
But Britain’s real problem is much closer to home. It stems from a culture of greed and entitlement that has beset its own government. It stems from the onshore decisions to extend cheap credit without any collateral, and to allow hedge funds to run amok with the money supply. It smacks of hypocrisy trying to make a small Caribbean island nation the scapegoat for a system that is rotten to the core.
It is one crime to steal money and cover it up. But it is a far greater crime to steal money, kill an innocent bystander, and then blame the dead for your deeds. Britain should be ashamed of itself for having colonies this late in the game in the first place. After all, this violates their obligations under both the United Nations charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - both of which state unequivocally that the right to self-determination is a fundamental human right. But to have the gall to actually exercise coercive political power over these countries in order to cover its own misdeeds exceeds even the normal limits of villainy.
The people of the Turks and Caicos should be free to elect their own government. It should not be within the arbitrary discretion of the British whether or not they have a constitution. And it is finally time to hang up the cleats on colonialism once and for all. That’s so 19th century.
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