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Peter Beckingham

Former governor in Turks and Caicos Islands

Part of UK in Grand Turk

9th November 2015


One of the questions I am most frequently asked in Turks and Caicos, and by friends in the UK, is “what is the difference between being a Governor and a Diplomat?” It’s not an easy one  to answer, but here are some of the bigger differences.

Compared to most of my jobs with the Foreign Office, which have included working in Mumbai, Manila and Sydney as well as London, there is an obvious difference in scale and size. As Deputy High Commissioner in India the office I looked after had around 200 British and Indian staff, whereas the Governor’s Office – as most of Grand Turk residents will know – has room for no more than ten of us, of whom the majority are Turks and Caicos Islanders.  I know that TCI visitors to Britain have  been taken aback at the sheer size – not to mention 19th century splendour – of the Foreign Office’s head office in London.

But of course size is not the only measure, and a fundamental difference between a Governor and a Diplomat is the nature of the work. As a diplomat in India or Australia one of my primary tasks was to try and influence Indian and Australian business people to invest in the UK. Some of Britain’s largest companies, including Jaguar Land Rover and British Salt, are now owned by a colossal Indian Group, Tata. Many of  the men’s shoes sold in Marks and Spencer stores across the UK are manufactured by the same Group in India. In the Philippines, as British Ambassador  I spent a good deal of time also trying to influence people, in that case the Philippine Government and rebel groups, to come to an agreement to stop a bloody and vicious form of civil war.

As a Governor, although I might sometimes attempt to influence the elected government towards a certain course of action, much more of my work involves day-to-day decision making and , for want of a better word, “authorising” something: signing contracts commissioned by the Government, agreement with others to release certain prisoners for deportation, approving decisions made by Cabinet every fortnight, and approving  certain appointments.

The power that I have over those decisions can sometimes be misunderstood. For example, the elected Government has a responsibility with the Planning Department for decisions about the height of buildings in Providenciales, the largest of TCI’s islands and focus for tourism: that is not a decision on which the Governor or the British Government can have  any influence. On the other hand the Constitution spells out that the Governor has  responsibilities for national security and external relations, albeit delegated to the Police Commissioner and, for regional issues, to the Government here.

A further distinction between the job of a Governor and a diplomat, and perhaps the most significant, is the sheer variety of work in an Overseas Territory. In my jobs in London I had responsibilities for particular issues or countries, for example at one time the Horn of Africa, including the plight of Somalia, and in another ensuring Britain’s overseas trade and investment promotion offices worked as effectively as possible.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands my work can vary, in just one day, from chairing a meeting on National Security or the Cabinet, to meeting local businesspeople,  visiting a school and encouraging overseas investors to expand to the benefit of the economy. The variety is fascinating, and of course sometimes challenging: but it is never dull and, thanks to the co-operation of everyone who lives here,  enjoyable and stimulating.

Grace Bay  Mumbai

Grace Bay, TCI                                                 Gateway of India, Mumbai

About Peter Beckingham

Peter was the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands from 2013 to 2016. Before this, he was British Deputy High Commissioner to India, based in Mumbai, the commercial capital,…

Peter was the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands from
2013 to 2016. Before this, he was British Deputy High Commissioner to India, based in Mumbai, the commercial capital, where he had a responsibility for developing UK-India trade and investment. His earlier appointments have
included Consul-General and Director-General of Trade and Investment in
Sydney, and British Ambassador to the Philippines, where he initiated
the UK Government’s involvement in a peace process with the Philippine
Government and Muslim rebel groups.
Peter is married to Jill, a teacher of special needs, and they have
two grown up children. His outside interests include cricket, golf and