By Deandrea Hamilton
#TurksandCaicos, February 15, 2022 – Edwin Astwood and Robert Been, of the People’s Democratic Movement party had a lot to say when they sat down with Magnetic Media about a number of nationally pressing issues including the level of violent crime, the rising cost of living and plans to raise worker taxes through the National Insurance Board.
As the Opposition party, People’s Democratic Movement continues to get louder on matters, which are irking the general public, the messages are resonating and demonstrating that despite having just one elected seat in the House of Assembly, the PDM intends to bring brawny representation.
Edwin Astwood, the PDM’s Leader and Leader of Opposition business in parliament, said cost of living in Turks and Caicos is simply too high, and raising the minimum wage is not enough of an answer. During the one on one session, February 3, Astwood said bringing up the lowest wage does nothing for those who are not earning minimum wage, so the change needs to come at the border with customs duties.
“Those are the two things that have to be looked at, the duties, our islanders are paying in order to reduce the cost to the suppliers; they will then have to pass that savings on to the consumer, or Government can look at the amount of money that people are making.”
Both men had a lot to say about the spate of crime and how it is being handled. Astwood, who said he was among the panelists at the public meeting held recently by Police in Grand Turk, said he was also on the receiving end of harsh words from a frustrated public.
The party’s leader shared that he and Been have met directly with the Royal TCI Police about crime and crime fighting.
“It was a very helpful, very useful, very detailed and respectful discussion. Ideas were bounced back and forth. He listened to our ideas, what can work, what cannot work, what can be implemented, what cannot be implemented, and we have an idea on the way forward.”
During the interview, which lasted just over an hour, we were reminded about Robert Been’s campaign stance on crime. The Deputy Party Leader of the PDM has advocated for community policing to be enhanced and he put forth an idea to do it, affordably. He still wants to see mobile police stations, and said after their chat with the RTCIPF, the concept seems to be on the way.
“Substation units; which are mobile where you can have a station in an area one minute and the next ten to fifteen minutes it can be in another area. What this does, is it basically deters criminal activities and crime from happening. As leaders we met the assistant commissioner (of Police) on Monday (Jan 31) and we discussed a whole number of topics and again that came up, so Police are looking to invest in the substations.”
Been said communities like Wheeland and Kew Town, the former is one of the furthest flung residential districts; the latter is one of the most crime ridden in the country – would benefit from the pop up police stations.
“It could also be used as a station in the event of a crime, when it is happening. It could be like a headquarters and the whole idea is to bring back the trust within the community.”
Robert Been said it was unconfirmed during their meeting if there would be one or two mobile police stations to start, but the duo felt confident the Police were moving toward the concept in an effort to abate crime.
“As your opposition, we will definitely be putting pressure on this current administration to bring that mobile station to fruition,’ he said.
A youth survey conducted by the Department of Youth Affairs and published in the National Youth Policy revealed that young people are afraid to live in their neighbourhoods. They are fearful of being sexually assaulted and/or robbed.
We asked the PDM about the fear among youths and whether the opposition feels the Police is giving the country its money’s worth in the fight against crime.
Been, one of the youngest candidates to run on the ballot, still considered in the category of youth himself, shared that Police presence is vital.
“We need to get more community and neighbourhood watch programs. It is something which has been missing from neighbourhoods, and while I cannot confirm if it is present now in any neighbourhood, I think it is a solution to help in reducing some of the criminal activities and again working to build back the confidence of the people in Police,” said Been.
Edwin Astwood disagrees with the school of thought which says that national security is the Governor’s job.
“We put the funding there, we direct how we want it to be spent, we don’t have to be involved in the technical issues, we are not asking for that. But it is our responsibility. We as elected officials have the main role to play and we have to start playing our role even more,” said Astwood who also offered that Police need to present its full plan for full funding.
He does not agree with a piecemeal approach to the funding of national security initiatives.
“Instead of just allocating a certain budget to deal with it (issue of fighting crime) just for this year, maybe we need to do it in a one big purchase phase and get all the resources they might need.”
In a recent Budget Supplementary under the current government administration, Royal TCI Police is earmarked to receive over $1 million dollars including $50,000 to support a gun amnesty program.
A vexing issue for islanders is the announcement that in two months, April 2022, the government has approved for the National Insurance Board to raise contribution rates across the board.
While NIB Executives, including its project manager of the now controversial increase – Walter Gardiner, Sr – have been making the media circuit to educate the public on the need for the hike, the PDM recently held a meeting with Rhesa Cartwright, Director and Diandra Mills, Deputy Director on the coming change.
“They gave us two important dates; 2027 when the current contribution rates will not be able to pay the current obligations and 2049, if we have to tap into the reserves, we will completely wipe out the reserves… that’s only 17 years from now,” said Mr. Astwood.
The NIB is running out of time and out of options when it comes to how the public fund will be protected from running out of money.
Edwin Astwood, seems to be learning more about the challenges at the National Insurance Board than he did when he was a minister in the last government. He said the PDM was hesitant on activating the increase because they felt it was too much for people at the time; now, he is briefed about two to three other options not being explored to bring greater fiscal buoyancy.
Two of them are: expand the investment portfolio and stop the fiscal leakage.
“So, you look at either investments, administration cause or the contributions. So, they decide that the best way is to increase the contributions to reach it up to their twelve percent, but we were thinking to gain one other investment. More could be done in investments. Now, there’s $40 million for local investment and I don’t think that is barely touched.”
People are also conning the NIB’s system. Contributors are claiming injury after three years knowing that if supported, this could serve them up regular payments from NIB as still move toward qualifying for the NIB pension after ten years.
This crookery is costing the TCI big money, the PDM leaders exposed.
“Another thing that we gathered that what has been happening, is that even if you have a person who have left the country over nine years you still have some persons paying to reach the ten year. So, it’s all about putting the right policies in place.
“There are loopholes, and these came out of discussions because we were having discussions and asking questions.”
Robert Been said it does not seem likely there will be a change of heart, however.
“Its only time that’s against the whole system so I think (she said) the government didn’t ask for any delays and even if delays were to be considered I don’t think they would extend more than three to six months.”
It boils down to political will and Board approval. The public has expressed deep concern about the 12 per cent increase, which will take on a staggered implementation beginning in April 2022.
“Let NIB invest here. It is a policy decision, it has to come from the policy makers and that is us, that is the government that is in place.”
CARPHA Remembers Former PAHO Director Emeritus – Dr. Carissa Etienne as a “Tireless Advocate for Regional Solidarity”
Port of Spain, Trinidad. 01 December, 2023: It is with profound sadness and shock that I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends, people of Dominica, the Caribbean Community and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), on the untimely passing of PAHO Director Emeritus, Dr. Carissa Etienne.
Dr. Etienne’s contributions to public health in the Americas were not only significant, but also transformative. Her leadership and unwavering commitment to our Caribbean Community’s collective pursuit of healthier people, healthier spaces and a healthier Caribbean were a source of inspiration to many. Dr. Etienne was a tireless advocate for The Americas’ regional solidarity, for she knew that was the only way to address the glaring inequalities that exist here.
She was the Director at PAHO for most of the life of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and under her leadership, CARPHA graduated from the PAHO Biennial Work Programme (BWP) arrangement to having framework agreements.
PAHO funded many of the programmes that are difficult to attract support, like the Caribbean Regulatory System (CRS) and the Medicines Quality Control and Surveillance Department (MQCSD), which are important services for the Region to ensure the quality of medicines. Under Dr. Etienne’s leadership, PAHO also funded non-communicable disease interventions, another area that does not attract large pots of funding, although the number one cause of deaths in the Caribbean region.
During the Pandemic, CARPHA worked with PAHO to fund the downpayments to give 12 Member States access to COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX to the tune of US$2.6 million.
Dr. Etienne will be remembered as a true Caribbean lady who worked with great dedication and focus throughout the horrible COVID-19 period and right up to her last working day at PAHO.
During this challenging time, we pray that God will give strength to Dr. Etienne’s family, friends, and colleagues. CARPHA cherishes the memories of her remarkable contributions to the well-being of individuals and communities throughout the Americas, but especially the Caribbean.
The CARPHA Executive Management and staff stand in solidarity with our Caribbean Community as we mourn the loss of a visionary leader.
Dr. Joy St. John
Executive Director, CARPHA
Energy & Utilities Commissioner says new legislation will help to stabilize energy costs in Turks & Caicos Islands
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands – Thursday, 30th November 2023: The Energy and Utilities Department (EUD) of the Turks and Caicos Islands, today reminds the public that the comprehensive Renewable Energy Legislation is currently before the House of Assembly and that the Legislation not only addresses the existing challenges posed by fuel price volatility but also lays the foundation for a sustainable and resilient energy future for the TCI.
In a recent press release, FortisTCI cited global factors such as production cuts and increased demand for fuel, leading to a surge in market prices. The EUD acknowledging these challenges thanks our power supplier for its proactivity when it comes to informing consumers of any changes in the cost of electricity. Further, the Government of Turks and Caicos wants residents and guests to know that it is committed to taking proactive measures that will transform the energy landscape through robust Renewable Energy Legislation.
In that vein, Delano Arthur, the new Energy and Utilities Commissioner looks forward to working with FortisTCI in the upcoming days to find innovative and collaborative solutions to reduce the cost of Fuel and Energy in the Turks and Caicos Islands. This initiative aims to not only mitigate the impact of volatile fuel prices but also secures a sustainable, reliable and affordable energy future for all of us.
Key components of the Renewable Energy Legislation include:
- Integrated Resource Plans: A formal planning process to prioritise renewable energy in addressing evolving energy needs.
- Competitive Tendering Process: Government-run initiatives to promote healthy renewable energy competition, achieve low-cost energy, and meet Paris Agreement goals.
- Administrative and Regulatory Measures: Establishing clear processes and responsibilities for all players who are in the renewable energy market.
- Licensing and Safety Standards: Comprehensive licensing provisions to ensure accountability and safety standards for renewable energy systems.
- Net Billing Program: Allowing building owners to self-generate and sell surplus electricity back to the grid.
The Renewable Energy Legislation serves as a mitigation against volatile fuel prices. By transitioning to cleaner energy sources and fostering a diverse renewable energy infrastructure, these Islands aim to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. The competitive tendering process introduced in the legislation ensures the selection of the most cost-effective renewable energy solutions, contributing to energy affordability and stability.
As the Islands invest in renewable energy, the increased share of clean, locally produced electricity provides a stable alternative to fluctuating fuel prices. The Net Billing Programme further incentivises distributed energy generation, offering a predictable path for building owners to contribute to the grid and receive compensation, thus reducing reliance on traditional fuel sources.
For further information, please contact:
Delano R. Arthur
Energy and Utilities Department
Turks and Caicos Islands Government
CANARI outlines climate priorities ahead of Cop28
The Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) informed that the Caribbean Climate Justice Alliance, in preparation for the upcoming annual COP28 in 2023, launched its “Caribbean Climate Justice and Resilience Agenda,” outlining the priorities for climate justice and resilience in vulnerable Caribbean small island developing states (SIDS).
In a press release, CANARI highlighted that the agenda recognizes the major threat of climate change to the region as well as aims to louden the voices of the at-risk groups “on the frontlines of the climate crisis and catalyze actions for climate justice and local resilience in the Caribbean SIDS.”
The priorities stated under the agenda are:
- Curbing emissions to limit global temperature
increase to 1.5 ̊C
- Scaling up locally-led solutions for adaptation and
loss and damage
- Improving access to and delivery of climate finance
for frontline communities, small and micro enterprises, and civil society organizations as part of a ‘whole of society’ approach
- Scaling up just, nature-based solutions for resilience
- Supporting a just transition for pro-poor, inclusive,
sustainable and resilient development
- Promoting gender equity and social inclusion
approaches to climate action
- Promoting youth and intergenerational equity as
core to the climate response
- Integrating a rights-based and earth-centered
approach in addressing all these priorities and ensuring climate justice
The at-risk groups referred to in the release include small-scale farmers and fisherfolk, rural women producers, income-poor people, elderly and disabled people, Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, migrants, and LGBTQIA+ people.
Being cognizant of the severity of the effects of climate change on the Caribbean, CANARI referred to the fact that the very existence of the region is on the line.
“If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated and global temperature exceeds 1.5 ̊C, the impacts of rising sea levels, more intense hurricanes, rainfall variability, ocean acidification, and other changes threaten the very existence of our way of life in the Caribbean and other SIDS that have contributed the least to global emissions.”
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