Associated Press Writer
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — An election to return self governance for Turks and Caicos Islands has been postponed, a British Foreign Office minister announced, extending London’s direct rule over the island dependency.
Henry Bellingham, the minister for overseas territories, said that elections set for July 2011 would be delayed to allow time for anti-corruption and good-government reforms to take effect in the islands some 500 miles southeast of Florida.
Britain imposed direct rule on Turks and Caicos in August 2009 after a government probe into allegations that local leaders misused public money and profited from the sale of government-owned land to developers.
The U.K. suspended the government and legislature and put the London-appointed governor in direct charge.
“We want elections to take place as soon as practicable. But I have concluded that more time is needed,” Bellingham said in a statement from the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the close of a short visit to Turks and Caicos.
In a radio address to islanders, Bellingham said he would announce the “remaining milestones which will have to be met before elections can take place.” He said the vote should be held “as soon as practicable.”
“Ultimately, we all want to see TCI stand on its own two feet,” he said.
The islands’ former opposition party called the decision an insult and a “blatant attempt to further separate Turks and Caicos Islanders from our fundamental and inalienable rights to full democracy.”
“We demand, here and now, for a return of power to the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands.” said a statement from the People’s Democratic Movement, which previously welcomed the British effort to clean up politics in the territory.
An interim government led by London-appointed Gov. Gordon Wetherell was created after Britain appointed a panel to look into allegations of corruption against former Premier Michael Misick and other officials in the islands of 23,000 inhabitants.
Public hearings revealed Misick spent lavishly after taking office in 2003. His estranged wife, actress LisaRaye McCoy, described using private jets to commute from Los Angeles and other luxuries including a leased Rolls-Royce. Misick has denied any wrongdoing and described the British corruption probe as “modern-day colonialism.”
Earlier this year, the former premier put his 11,000-square-foot beachfront estate on the market.