March 16, 2009 / 10:44 PM / 10 years ago

UK says ready to oust Turks/Caicos govt over graft

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said Monday it was ready to remove the cabinet and elected assembly of a Caribbean colony, the Turks & Caicos Islands, after an investigation found evidence of widespread corruption.

A Commission of Inquiry was set up in July last year to look into whether there had been corruption involving past or present elected members of the islands’ House of Assembly, the 21-member parliament.

The island group, whose population is about 32,000, is marketed by its tourist board as a paradise of unspoiled beaches and coral reefs.

The head of the Commission, retired judge Robin Auld, said in an interim report that his enquiries had turned up information pointing to a “high probability” of systemic corruption in Turks & Caicos.

“Coupled also with clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of general administrative incompetence, they have, in my view, demonstrated a need for urgent suspension in whole or in part of the Constitution,” he said.

Auld’s report painted a chaotic picture of the islands, saying government was at a near standstill, the cabinet was divided and the financial position was so bad that the government could not pay many of its bills.

The islands suffered from “chronic ills collectively amounting to a national emergency,” he said.

The British government said it had, on Auld’s recommendation, drawn up an order suspending parts of the islands’ constitution.

Unless Auld’s final report, due by the end of April, changed its view, the order would be brought into force once the final report was received, junior Foreign Office minister Gillian Merron said in a written statement to parliament.

The order would remove the cabinet and the House of Assembly from office and hand their powers to the islands’ governor, who represents Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.

The partial suspension of the constitution, expected to last initially for two years, would have the aim of restoring “the principles of good governance,” Merron said.

Auld did not give details of the alleged corruption and said he was not ready to say whether there should be a criminal investigation.

Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Tim Pearce

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