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CARICOM speaks out against direct British rule in BVI; Political leaders in the territory propose counter


by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Acting Premier of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Honourable Dr Natalio Wheatley, has expressed that direct rule of the territory by the United Kingdom Government is not an acceptable option.

Other Caribbean territories have also expressed contempt for the move by the United Kingdom to put the BVI under the direct rule for the next two years through Governor-General John Rankin following the conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry Report (COI) earlier this week.

The COI Report also outline other recommendation for the overhaul of the financial sector of the BVI government system because of corruption and dishonesty in the implementation of the initiative from 2011 to present.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) said in a statement released on May 3 that they support “the decision of the duly elected Government of the BVI to welcome the recommendations for improving governance and their commitment to work with the United Kingdom to address the weaknesses identified in the COI report.”

Good governance, transparency, accountability and collaboration to achieve mutually acceptable solutions to address the concerns within the COI report were also highlighted by CARICOM as essential to the rebuilding of the BVI’s government system.

However, CARICOM expressed concern over the imposition of Britain’s direct rule in the  Associate Member country.

“CARICOM is, however, deeply concerned by the Report’s recommendation to suspend “those parts of the Constitution by which areas of government are assigned to elected representatives” and taking the retrograde step of restoring direct rule by the Governor in Council as existed in Her Majesty’s colonies during the colonial period. CARICOM supports the BVI government and people in their objection to this recommendation.”

CARICOM says that any action to suspend the House of Assembly in the BVI and the imposition of direct rule from the UK would be inconsistent with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reminds the UK of its international obligations in respect of United Nations Resolution 1514 of 1960 – the United Nations Declaration on The Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

Minister for the Overseas Territories, the Rt. Hon. Amanda Milling was said to be in the BVI to meet with Governor John Rankin, the Acting Premier, and others to discuss the range of recommendations contained in the COI Report.

In a statement on the visit of the UK Minister, Acting Premier Dr. the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley stressed that direct rule would be undemocratic.

“No matter how uncomfortable the recommendations may be, they provide us with a golden opportunity to fundamentally change how we do things here in the Virgin Islands, which I believe is achievable within the framework of democratic governance. To be clear, I see the implementation of the recommendations as a path to achieving our national renewal, but this can be done successfully without resorting to direct rule,” said Dr Wheatley.

As a counter to the possibility of direct rule, the National Unity government was formed with the ruling party Virgin Island Party and the other two opposition parties to circumvent the move to implement direct British Rule.

“In a combined meeting, the representatives of the opposition parties and I pledge our commitment to working together in unison with each other and in partnership with the governor and the United Kingdom to implement the recommendations of the report under a democratic governance framework if we are given the opportunity to do so. Toward this end, the Virgin Islands Party, National Democratic Party and the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement have agreed to propose a National Unity Government to Governor ranking under my leadership as Acting Premier.”

The last meeting with Minister Milling was on May 3, and she is expected to return to the UK today (May 4). According to Wheatley, Milling shared that no decision was made, but it was vital for her to visit and hear the views of the people in the BVI on the recommendations.

“In terms of implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry Report, my political colleagues and I are of the view that the urgent reforms needed cannot be delivered as things stand today. We must be honest about that. There needs to be a fundamental cultural shift in the way we handle the people’s business as a government. There must be a new attitude in the way we do business. The established institutions of good governance need much more resourcing to effectively do their job. New institutions will also have to be created to support good governance, including an Independent Commission of Inquiry Recommendations Implementation Body that is not a part of our existing institutional structures. A National Unity Government is committed to making the financial resources available to advance and support the taking of these steps.”

According to Dr Wheatley, an update on any decisions to be made will be communicated later this week.

Leader of the Opposition in the BVI Marlon Penn said direct rule is a significant move by the UK and is undemocratic.

“Why is it so significant? In my estimation, because direct rule is fundamentally undemocratic, it offends many of the key principles of democracy, including regular, free and fair elections and [the] Constitution itself. It could also negatively impact other principles such as economic freedoms, human rights, including our human dignity. During the period of suspension, the report recommends that there is direct rule by the Governor. This would mean that the Executive powers and responsibilities that currently lie with the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands would rest with His Excellency. It would also mean that the House of Assembly, comprising of the intellect elected members by you, the people will not function for an unknown period. It is also significantly consequential because Virgin Islanders now stand on the brink of losing the advancements made over 180 years since a fore-parents moved from the property to citizens; 70 years since they marched for political advancements, and 55 years of governing ourselves.”

The Opposition Leader added, “In short, we are facing the potential loss of democracy, the loss of who should represent your interests, deliver social services to support your needs, manage your finances, support your economic empowerment, and develop strategies and policies to advance the further development of our country. To avert a national tragedy and marry this unprecedented crisis in the best interest of the people of the BVI, I, along with other members of the opposition, proposed to the United Kingdom for Overseas Territories Minister Milling a high-level framework for [implementing] the COI recommendations. We advanced nine principles, and most importantly, we made very strong advocacy that continued democratic representation is a fundamental right of the citizens and residents of the Virgin Islands, which must be preserved. We also stressed that maintaining an elected government for an interim period but with restrictions is consistent with achieving the key objectives of the COI recommendations. We were firm in the position that implementation of the COI report recommendations must not obstruct ongoing operations of government. Direct rule would [do just that].”

If the counter-recommendation made by the political leaders of the BVI is accepted, two Opposition Leaders would be assigned portfolios, with Penn set to become the Minister of Health.

See the full statements on the post meetings with the Minister for the Overseas Territories here: https://www.facebook.com/BVIGovernment/videos/693870121838570.



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