The British government has decided against imposing direct rule on the British Virgin Islands, despite the strong recommendations of a Commission of Inquiry it had set up to investigate allegations of corruption and poor governance in the UK overseas territory.
The imposition of direct rule was one of the main recommendations of the inquiry led by British judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom which concluded that there were widespread governance failings and abuses in the territory’s administration.
The report’s main recommendation of the 48 it presented, was for a two-year suspension of the BVI constitution, suspending ministerial government and having the territory come under direct rule from the UK, the administering power.
In a statement to the British parliament on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, responsible for the Overseas Territories, warned that if the BVI failed to implement a series of far-reaching reforms detailed in the Commission’s report, it will still face the prospect of direct rule from London.
"If it becomes clear that this approach is not delivering the reform the people of the BVI want and deserve we will take action. This may require the swift implementation of the final report recommendation,” she said in the statement.
The new administration in the BVI, recently formed of a cross-party national unity government, has committed to enacting the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.
The UK Foreign Secretary also stated that the new BVI government “should have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment” but that the British government reserved the right to step in and take decisive action under direct rule if it felt the government was reneging on its pledge.
The territory's new Government of National Unity(GNU), took power in May following a vote of no-confidence in former premier Andrew Fahie who was arrested in the United States in April on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He is still in prison in Miami awaiting trial.
The BVI government now led by Dr Natalio Wheatley, formerly Deputy Premier under Mr Fahie, has distanced itself from the former leader.
The arrest of Mr Fahie happened after the Commission has completed its report but which up to then had not been published. The two issues are not linked although Mr Fahie was heavily implicated as the leader of government for many of the governance failings under his stewardship.
In her statement on the anxiously-awaited UK decision, the UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss wrote: “Since the Commissioner delivered his report there have been a number of significant developments, not least with the removal of Andrew Fahie as Premier through a vote of no confidence and the creation of the new Government of National Unity (GNU). The Governor has also ordered a number of criminal investigations, as recommended in the COI Report.”
She also stated that the UK and the BVI Governor John Rankin have worked with the new unity government since its formation “to turn its public commitments to reform into a strong implementation plan with a strict and comprehensive set of milestones that need to be met. If they are, it will protect against corruption and ensure the return of good governance.”