MIAMI (AFP) — Turks and Caicos Prime Minister Michael Misick said Tuesday he was resigning to give way to a unified government, amid lawmakers' complaints and an investigation that found systemic corruption among the ruling elite.
"I still think I have the majority of support in the public, and in the country, but suddenly the majority of elected members, who represent voters at this time wanted me to step aside, therefore I think I have done the honorable thing in doing so," Misick said in a statement and interview carried by the island's Caicos Free Press newspaper.
"At this time the country needs a unified government. All of the trying I have done it seems as if I was unable at this stage to do it and I did not want to hold on to leadership at all costs," he added.
Misick's resignation as leader of the eight-island British overseas territory near the Bahamas comes as Britain's parliament considers legislation that would strip the territory's cabinet and elected assembly of their powers under a 2006 constitution and put the British-appointed governor in control.
A probe was launched last July into allegations of corruption in land sales, distribution of government contracts and development deals and the granting of voting rights, and misuse of public funds.
Preliminary findings published Monday pointed to a "high probability of systemic corruption or other serious dishonesty" among the ruling elite, British junior foreign minister Gillian Merron told lawmakers in London.
On March 16, Governor Richard Tauwhare suspended self-government in the islands while corruption allegations were investigated against Misick, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Misick, who became Turks and Caicos' first prime minister in August 2006, attributed his lack of support in parliament to party "in-fighting" and said he has had "regrets and personal pain and agony" stemming partly from his job and partly "from mistaken judgment."
However, he railed against London's decision to strip the territory of its independence.
"No matter what my personal failings may have been, they do not support the pretext ... to suspend our constitution and take us back to a time we had thought long past."
"This is tantamount to being re-colonized. It is a backwards step completely contrary to the whole movement of history," he added.
Misick pledged "my full support" to the new prime minister, fellow Progressive National Party member and leader Galmo Williams, and asked the islanders to also give him "the necessary encouragement."
The islands -- which locals claim were visited by Christopher Columbus in 1492 -- have been at one point part of the Bahamas and of Jamaica, but were granted their own governor in 1973.
The current democratic system was set up under the 2006 constitution, which provides for an appointed governor, a cabinet made up of a premier, six ministers and an attorney general, and a majority-elected House of Assembly.
About 32,000 people live on the territory, according to the Foreign Office, many of them British citizens, and it derives most of its income from tourism and as a tax haven.
In July, a parliamentary inquiry expressed serious concerns about corruption on the territory, warning that there was a "climate of fear" that stopped people speaking out and calling on the British authorities to intervene.
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