By Michael L Jarvis, London UK
Relations between the Premier of the British Virgin Islands and the territory’s outgoing UK-appointed Governor have hit another note of discord, this time over maritime border security.
BVI Premier Andrew Fahie has written to the UK Minister for Overseas Territories, Baroness Liz Sugg, accusing Governor Gus Jaspert of “imperialistic, rough-shod behaviour.”
Governor Gus Jaspert has taken steps to have the Royal Navy patrol the waters of the BVI to deter what he has described as “the challenge at hand, which is to protect and secure our wide sea borders from illegal entries, the smuggling of narcotics and money, and the ongoing threat of COVID-19.”
IMMEDIATE THREAT OR EXAGERRATED MISREPRESENTATION?
But Premier Fahie disagrees calling the rationale of the Governor “grossly inaccurate and an “exaggerated misrepresentation” of the issue and the ability of the BVI to safeguard its own borders.
The Governor had argued that he made the request to the UK government “to tackle the immediate threats to our border security, I am pleased to announce that HMS Medway will shortly return to our waters to offer additional support with surveillance and act as a deterrent.”
He said under the operation which is “fully-funded by the UK government”, the ship will “stay in our vicinity until the end of October and work alongside the RVI Police Force and other members of the Joint Task Force to support patrols and temporary radar arrangements in place.”
The crew will remain on board to avoid any risks of transmitting the coronavirus.
Mr Jaspert, who demits office in the BVI in December, said “We need to send a clear message to those involved in illegal activities and smuggling across our borders that it will not be tolerated. For every illegal landing on our shore, the risk of COVID-19 re-infecting our community returns…Only those who benefit from illegal entries and illegal activities stand to gain from porous borders.”
He also said that he believes that “the return of HMS Medway and offers of further security support from the UK sends a clear message of the UK’s unwavering commitment to the people of BVI and to building capability of these islands for the future.”
But in his letter to Baroness Sugg, Premier Fahie chided the Governor for proceeding with the plan despite his objections.
He spoke of his “dissatisfaction and outrage” with what he referred to as “the hijacking of the Territory’s sea border protection by your Governor on the basis of a grossly inaccurate and exaggerated misrepresentation of the true state and extent of the capabilities of the BVI’s resources and the threat that the Territory faces during COVID-19.”
Mr Fahie further stated: “Governor Jaspert’s intention to deliberately bulldoze the elected Government is pellucidly clear as he has issued a public statement informing the public that the UK Government would be providing various things which my Government and I have not asked for and which we advised him of our objection to in the format in which he is proceeding to act.”
He accused Governor Jaspert of making statements which he felt were “aimed at injuring the relationship between the people of the Virgin Islands and their democratically elected Government, and conducted himself in a manner that jeopardises the relationship between the BVI Government and the UK Government.”
“IMPERIALISTIC, ROUGHSHOD BEHAVIOUR”
“Your Governor’s imperialistic, rough-shod behaviour in this matter is offensive and insulting to my Government and I, as well as to the aspirations of the people of the Virgin Islands who are struggling to realize the centuries-old dream of their enslaved ancestors to one day be fully free of the grip of the British, as encapsulated in Article 73 of the United Nations Charter,” Mr Fahie added.
Premier Fahie said there have only been a few recent incidents of illegal migrants attempting to enter illegally by sea and few cases of trafficking in contraband which he said were intercepted in joint operations between the territory’s police and the United States Virgin Islands counterparts.
“Our objective in this regard is that the BVI must be able to effectively manage its own affairs into the future with minimum assistance from the UK, especially where the UK’s ability to provide assistance is constrained, as is the present case.”
He argued that rather than having the Royal Navy deployed, the request from his government to the UK (made through the Governor), was for maritime surveillance for three months while a permanent border surveillance system is being procured and installed by the BVI.
He claims that no request was made for the UK to co-fund or to donate any funds to the procurement of the permanent border surveillance system.
“It was made very clear to the Governor that the BVI being able to purchase a border protection system on its own would be a tremendous accomplishment for Virgin Islanders and would inspire them to recognize their ability and to have confidence in themselves,” Premier Fahie declared.
Governor Jaspert who departs the BVI at the end of December has had several run-ins with Premier Fahie over a range of issues.
He will be replaced by the outgoing Governor of Bermuda, John Rankin.