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BVI CONSTITUTIONAL FUTURE UNCERTAIN

Regional 30 Apr, 2022 Follow News

BVI CONSTITUTIONAL FUTURE UNCERTAIN

The British Virgin Islands(BVI) is facing the real prospect of being placed under direct rule from London by the British government.

The likelihood of the Caribbean British Overseas Territory having its constitution and its Parliament suspended is one of the key recommendations in a damning report by a UK-government-installed Commission of Inquiry(COI) into allegations of corruption and maladministration in the BVI government.

The situation for the territory’s government became more precarious this week with the arrest and subsequent charging in Miami of BVI Premier Andrew Fahie on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

However, the local government is seeking a less intrusive intervention by the UK.

DIRECT UK RULE RECOMMENDED

Already the UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss had issued two urgent statements on the crisis of governance facing the UK Overseas Territory both in the wake of the serious charges against its government leader and the COI report which has just been published.

The inquiry heard evidence since 2021 and its report was submitted a few weeks but only now released.

In a statement on Friday (following an initial reaction on Thursday) since the detention and subsequent charging of Premier Andrew Fahie, she said: “The arrest yesterday of the Premier of the British Virgin Islands on charges related to drugs trafficking and money laundering is extremely concerning and underlines the need for urgent action.”

Premier Fahie has now been formally charged by US authorities in Miami with drug smuggling and money laundering. He remains in US custody and is due to make court appearances for a pre-trial detention hearing on May 4th and a preliminary hearing on May 13th.

According to the British Foreign Secretary who has overall responsibility for the UK Overseas Territories: “In January 2021, we set out significant concerns about the deteriorating state of governance in the British Virgin Islands, as well as the potential vulnerability of the islands to serious organised crime. The UK Government supported the then Governor’s decision to launch an independent Inquiry into governance of the Territory.”

She asserted that: “The Inquiry report published today by the Governor shows clearly that substantial legislative and constitutional change is required to restore the standards of governance that the people of the British Virgin Islands are entitled to.”

Minister Liz Truss said she has “instructed the Minister for Overseas Territories to travel to the Territory immediately to speak to the Governor and key stakeholders. We will then announce a clear path forward.”

BVI SEEKS LESS PUNITIVE MEASURES

With the suspension of the BVI constitution and parliament forming the core recommendations of the COI report, the Acting Premier of the BVI, Dr Natalio D. Wheatley has issued his perspective on the threat of UK direct rule facing the territory.

“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,” he stated.

Dr Wheatley acknowledged that “what this would mean in real terms is that there would be no more elected representatives...there also would be no Government Ministers...all of this authority would be vested in the Governor.”

The Acting Premier said he has written to the territory's British Governor, and also shared with UK Minister for the Overseas Territories, outlining what he said were his “initial thoughts on the recommendations as a whole from the standpoint of good governance and democracy.”

He argues that while the report makes several recommendations aimed at reforming and strengthening the systems of Government in the Virgin Islands, he feels “these can be achieved without the partial or full suspension of the Constitution in which direct rule would apply” and refers to “constitutional powers already exist under the constitution that can be exercised if necessary.”

According to Dr Wheatley, who is leading the affairs of the BVI government while Premier Fahie is incarcerated and awaiting trial in the United States: “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.”

He proposes that “these arrangements can be extended every 12 months until satisfactory progress is made”, adding that “we already have some very good examples of good cooperation of this kind."

Stating that progress is already being made in improving governance in the territory, the Acting BVI Premier underlines his plea for a fate less than direct rule, adding that the failures identified in the COI report are not limited to the current administration but spread across previous BVI governments.

“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.”

The immediate future governance of the BVI will be discussed in the coming days when the UK Minister for Overseas Territories Amanda Milling visits the territory for talks with Governor John Rankin and Acting Premier Wheatley.


 

Image credit: Composite image via Chanel 4 News UK

BVI Map via Wikipedia

Michael L. Jarvis London UK


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