– The following is a statement by acting premier and minister of finance Dr Natalio D Wheatley, on the British Virgin Islands Commission of Inquiry Report recommendations.
British Virgin Islands, (BVI) – Earlier this morning, His Excellency the Governor John Rankin, CMG made the Commission of Inquiry (CIO) report public. I was afforded the opportunity to receive a copy from the Governor yesterday (April 28) and began reviewing the report. The entire document is quite long, but the recommendations can be read without taking up too much time.
As you will see, the anchor of these recommendations is the recommended partial suspension of the constitution and direct rule by the UK for at least two years. I know that this will be of great concern to many persons, and I too am very concerned about the recommendation.
What this would mean in real terms is that there would be no more elected representatives who represent the people of the districts and the territory in the House of Assembly where laws are made for our society. There also would be no government ministers to advance the public’s priorities or a cabinet to approve policy. All of this authority would be vested in the Governor.
The benefit of representative democracy to the public is the understanding and responsiveness of their elected representatives to their challenges, who also serve as conduits of their views, especially on reforms.
I have written to Governor Rankin, and also shared with UK minister for the Overseas Territories, my initial thoughts on the recommendations as a whole from the standpoint of good governance and democracy.
The report makes a number of recommendations aimed at reforming and strengthening the systems of government in the Virgin Islands. In my view, these can be achieved without the partial or full suspension of the constitution in which direct rule would apply. The report’s recommended reforms, and also actions for the Governor to take up, are not mutually exclusive or contradictory to maintaining democratic governance in the Territory. Constitutional powers already exist under the constitution that can be exercised if necessary.
Good progress by the local government has been made in strengthening the systems of government by passing bills and implementing legislation and other measures by working with the Governor. There is much more to do, but the good working relationship between the Governor and the ministers of cabinet is at the heart of the UK-BVI modern partnership in which there can be closer cooperation to achieve the standards we collectively desire.
In terms of those recommendations that call for investigations into the very serious matters highlighted in the report, which spanned successive administrations, my ministerial colleagues and I fully respect that security is a constitutional responsibility of the Governor which requires action on his part across sectors and institutions. The Governor has an obligation to carry out the duties of his office to maintain the security of the Territory and the redressing of any wrongdoing that has been found to have taken place, especially in the public sector.
What I believe is in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands, is an enhanced cooperation mechanism or framework between the Governor and the government to swiftly implement recommendations under a very tight timetable, without resorting to direct rule. These arrangements can be extended every 12 months until satisfactory progress is made. We already have some very good examples of good cooperation of this kind, including the Recovery to Development Agency and the Protocols for Effective Financial Management.
My political colleagues and I still fully support the proposal for UK-BVI talks on the findings and recommendations of the report which the Governor previously announced, including the participation of the political parties represented in the House of Assembly, UK ministers and the Governor himself. This format ensures the democratic representation of the people of the Virgin Islands in the dialogue on the UK-BVI response to the report.
This afternoon I had an initial call with the Governor and UK minister for the Overseas Territories, Amanda Milling, MP on the recent developments and also expressed that I look forward to discussions on the Commission of Inquiry report when she returns to the Territory next week.
Finally, the BVI and UK are making good progress on our modern partnership, especially as we work together on medicinal cannabis, sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and strengthening the government’s systems. The goodwill between the BVI and UK should continue to be nurtured and not eroded by the removal of democratic governance which has been enjoyed in these islands since 1950 when the legislature was restored. There is much more work to be done to strengthen the systems of government, but this should be done in partnership.
As partners, the UK and BVI are presently working together to protect democracy in Ukraine and around the world. Let us be the example we wish to see and maintain democracy in the Virgin Islands. It is time to turn the page. As acting premier, I am committed to continuing our modern partnership and working together in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands.
My political colleagues and I are also committed to working with the opposition in good faith and as one people, to achieve the best outcome for the people of the Territory. Toward this end, I wish to inform you that I met with the leader of the opposition and representative of the Eight District Marlon Penn and had very positive discussions. He expressed his support and that of the opposition.
I look forward to working together with him and the members of the opposition on the response to the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry report. This process will begin with an informal meeting of the House of Assembly this afternoon. I strongly encourage everyone to engage with their district and territorial At-Large representatives on the recommendations of the report so your voices can be heard.
I will close by repeating what I said yesterday. I urge you the public to read the report with an objective eye in terms of strengthening our systems of government under a democratic framework of governance, as opposed to draconian measures that would set back the historical constitutional progress we have made as a people.
This is a time to come together as a community. We must stay hopeful because before us is an opportunity to enter into a new era of democratic governance and modern partnership.