The Turks and Caicos are a British Dependent Territory. The British monarch is Head of State, represented by a Governor, currently John Kelly. The Executive Council chaired by the Governor is formed by six ministers, the Financial Secretary, the Attorney General and the Chief Secretary, the last two being British government appointments. Mrs Cynthia Astwood, the first Turks Islander, took over as Chief Secretary when the present British appointee left. The Legislative Council has 13 elected members and two party-appointed members.
The traditional economic activity, salt production, ceased in 1964, and for two decades there was little to generate legal income apart from fishing, government employment and some tourism. National resources are limited, even water has to be strictly conserved. Agriculture is almost non-existent. Practically all consumer goods and most foodstuffs are imported. The lack of major employment activities led in the 1960s and 1970s to thousands of local people emigrating to the nearby Bahamas or the USA to seek work. This trend has now been reversed as the economy has improved and the population is rising. Belongers have returned to work in the tourist industry and professionals trained abroad are returning to work as lawyers, accountants, etc. Poorly paid skilled and unskilled labour, much of it illegal, comes from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
One area of growth has been that of offshore companies, over 14,000 of which were registered in the islands by 1997. There is no income tax, no company tax, no exchange control and no restriction on the nationality or residence of shareholders or directors. New legislation and the creation of the Offshore Finance Centre Unit (OFCU) were designed to regulate and promote the growth of offshore finance and encourage banking, insurance and trust companies. Five international banks have been granted offshore licences and some 2,000 offshore insurance companies have been licensed. Government revenue from offshore financial services was over US$6mn in 1997/98.
Budgetary aid from the UK for recurrent expenditure was eliminated in fiscal year 1986/87 and the islands are aiming to be self-financing. Capital aid from the UK remains, augmented by financial assistance from the European Community, the European Investment Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank.
One of the main areas of economic growth and revenue for the islands is tourism. Investment has taken place in infrastructure, particularly airfields, hotels and marinas, nearly all on Providenciales. The opening of a Club Méditerranée in 1984 doubled the number of visitors to the Turks and Caicos in two years. By 1991, the annual number of visitors reached 54,616, from 11,900 in 1980. The collapse of PanAm in 1992 threatened devastation of the local economy, only averted when American Airlines started flying from Miami to Provo. Numerous North American charters helped to push tourist numbers up to nearly 100,000 in 1997.