Saturday, May 25, 2024
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UK Government seeking additional colonial powers over the BVI

By Premier Natalio Wheatley

I come to you on a matter of the utmost urgency. As you are aware, the government has been working diligently on governance reforms since May 2022. We have made genuine strides in strengthening the systems and institutions of government. Good progress has been made and the work involved continues.

We are taking the necessary steps to build the British Virgin Islands into the model democracy our people desire for ourselves so that we can thrive as a community. One just has to look at areas such as procurement and social assistance to see the improvements thus far in strengthening our internal processes.

We remain firmly committed to good governance and our commitment to reform is unquestionable. A presentation on progress was made to the public earlier this week by the premier’s office. It is available online for you to review.

This is not to say that there are not challenges, but things are going in the right direction. We have pressed forward, despite the initial timeliness that were agreed under duress. Some deadlines have been adjusted to ensure we have the additional time and resources to complete certain reforms and that the people and relevant stakeholders affected are consulted.

This should be understandable, especially since we have had to simultaneously balance implementation of reforms and the delivery of public services and hurricane recovery. This is not even to mention the pause in work after the House of Assembly was dissolved to hold our free, fair and incident-free general election last year.

To be clear, a number of the reforms that are still in progress fall under the responsibility of the Governor.

Like my administration, he has also had the challenge of balancing reform implementation and overseeing his own constitutional responsibilities in areas such as security, especially as it concerns the police and prison where there are internal problems that must be addressed.

My administration has tried to support the Governor the best we can with additional resources so he can improve these areas while progressing the reforms he is responsible for.

Clearly, a reform exercise of the scale we are undertaking cannot be completed in its entirety in two years. In the United Kingdom (UK), Brexit was not completed in two years and there are still outstanding issues. Based on all that we have had to do here in the British Virgin Islands in a very short span of time, we have done well. This is despite the Governor’s wish for certain reforms to be in place before his tenure ends later this month.

My administration has worked in the spirit of partnership with him as we have delivered reforms, while at the same time executing all of our other responsibilities.

This is why all of my honourable colleagues and I on both sides of the isle are highly disappointed with the Governor’s request for additional powers in his most recent update on governance reforms. It appears he wishes to act in areas of constitutional responsibility devolved to the elected arm of government.

The Governor should not be seeking additional powers to bypass democracy and the people of the British Virgin Islands so that he can implement measures as he sees fit without any democratic accountability. It would be a colonial act.

We must remember an election was held in the British Virgin Islands in April 2024. Each and every District and Territorial Representative in the House of Assembly was elected by the people of these islands so their voices could be heard. A government was formed to govern the society and make decisions in consultation with the people. That is democracy, for better or worse.

It would be an insult to the voters and people of these British Virgin Islands for additional powers to be granted to the Governor to empower him to push his agenda in devolved areas of responsibility. Subjects such as immigration and crown lands fall under the elected arm of Government and there is no justification for powers being transferred or given to the Governor to undermine the democratic will and democratic rights of the people of the British Virgin Islands.

Decision-making should be underpinned by democratic governance. We must stay true to this principle not just in the UK, but also right here in the British Virgin Islands.

For the past 20 months, my administration has engaged constructively with the UK Government in a genuine effort to improve relations. We substantially contributed to the development of the political declaration recently agreed between the UK and Overseas Territories in what was thought to be a genuine effort to re-establish a modern partnership and end the drift backward toward a colonial relationship.

Last September my administration hosted the UK-OT Illicit finance dialogue meeting of senior officials here on Tortola. It was a great meeting and we made good progress between UK and Overseas Territories colleagues on critical issues.

The UK facilitated a British Virgin Islands delegation’s participation at COP28 and we held positive talks on UK climate support to the Overseas Territories, (OT).

In addition, early last year Lord Goldsmith visited these islands in what was the beginning of a positive rapprochement between the British Virgin Islands and UK.

The current Overseas Territories minister David Rutley continued in this vein, and I have commended him for positively changing the tone of the relationship.

I will be writing to minister Rutley to urge him to not support the Governor’s request to grant the Governor additional powers, but rather to continue his approach of constructive engagement between the UK and British Virgin Islands as partners and support to the elected arm of government in implementing governance reforms.

I will ask him to stay true to democracy.

Granting the Governor additional powers would go directly against the political declaration we and other Overseas Territories have just agreed with the UK and would do considerable damage to the relationship. It would also set back democracy in the British Virgin Islands and destroy any trust the people and Government of these islands have in the UK.

We wish for partnership, not a confrontation that is completely unnecessary.

People of the British Virgin Islands, this is another uncertain moment in our relationship with the UK and we must be united.

To my political colleagues on both sides of the isle, we must be united. To the private sector, public sector and civil society, we must be united. To every district and community across these islands, we must be united.

Virgin Islanders from every walk of life, we must be united because unity is the only way that we can protect democracy and defend our human rights and rights as a people.

I will update you in due course as things develop.

God bless you and God bless these beautiful British Virgin Islands.



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