By Michael Jarvis, London UK
TURKS AND CAICOS AT THE POLLS
Voters in the Turks and Caicos Islands cast their ballots on Friday February 19th to elect a new government.
Key campaign issues have been the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, economic management - especially tourism, as well as crime and illegal immigration.
There are 38 candidates vying for the 15 elected seats in the 21-member House of Assembly.
The six other seats are assigned to two appointed members; one each by the Government and Opposition, two members appointed by the Governor, along with the Attorney General and the Speaker.
The territory’s two-tier electoral system is comprised of 10 voting districts with two competing candidates each, and 18 At-Large candidates.
Among the At-Large candidates are incumbent Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson, the territory’s first female leader who heads the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), and her main challenger, Charles Washington Missick of the opposition Progressive National Party (PNP).
The PDM won six of the ten constituencies and four of the five At-Large seats in the last election in December 2016.
The next election constitutionally due last December was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thirteen people have died in the Turks and Caicos Islands from the disease.
There have been over 1,800 cases in the TCI since the outbreak. At present, there are over 300 active cases with 10 people hospitalised.
The territory’s COVID vaccination programme is well underway with over 7,000 of the UK-supplied Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine administered since the programme started last month.
The islands are presently under a 9pm to 5am curfew until March 3rd.
Polling Stations will open from 7am and close at 7pm on all Islands except Providenciales at 9pm.
Meanwhile, an issue which is competing for attention alongside the election campaign is the sudden death of the presiding judge in the corruption case against former Chief Minister Michael Missick.
The case arose from the 2008 Commission of Inquiry which saw the territory placed under direct rule from the UK for a period.
With the sudden passing of Mr Justice Paul Harrison, a legal wrangle has ensued over the future of the protracted trial.
The Turks and Caicos Chief Justice Mabel Agyemang has set a deadline of March 1st for the territory’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decide the future of the trial.
BERMUDA TOURISM A CASUALTY OF COVID
Bermuda tourism industry has been severely set back because of the COID-19 pandemic.
In its 2020 year-end report, the Bermuda Tourism Authority(BTA) says the sector suffered a major contraction but they were hoping for some recovery by the middle of this year.
The BTA’s interim head Glenn Jones said in the report that they were “motivated to find green shoots within the industry and leverage those opportunities to accelerate the destination’s recovery in 2021.”
According to the report, revenue across all sectors of tourism declined by over 80 per cent.
Tourist air arrivals were down by 85 per cent and cruise visitors by over 90 per cent.
However, the BTA said “Bermuda fared better through this storm than many competing destinations and is positioned well to recover faster too as forecasts suggest travel habits returning to some normality by the middle of 2021.”
MONTSERRAT CLAMPS DOWN ON INTERNET ABUSE
The government of Montserrat has tabled legislation to criminalise internet abuse.
An amendment to the territory’s penal code will slap heavy penalties for a range of listed offences from cyberbullying, so-called revenge porn, defamation, hacking, sharing of malicious content, and fake profiles.
Proposed fines include jail terms up to 20 years and fines of $EC750,000.
The government says the intention is not to curtail freedom of speech but to ensure that safeguards are put in place.
JERSEY OFFICIALS SUBJECTED TO CYBER BULLYING
The issue of online abuse is also occupying the attention of legislators in Jersey, a UK Crown Dependency in the Channel Islands.
In one recent case, a Deputy in the government was sent a Facebook message saying ‘please die of Covid’.
Incidents of other online abuse directed at the local officials have resulted in calls for steps to be put in place to curb such behaviour with the Jersey Attorney General being criticised for failing to take action in the face of ‘overtly threatening’ messages.
But a spokesman for the Law Officers Department has stated that the issue did not amount to a criminal offence.
A Senator in the Jersey Legislative Assembly said he’ll be writing to the Attorney General “to tell him that his refusal to deal with cases like this is basically a green light for these people to continue to behave in this way.”