The British Virgin Islands is caught up in a deepening crisis over its constitutional future at least in the short term.
Debate is rife throughout the territory over who's to blame and what's the best way forward as it faces the prospect of direct British rule following the devastating conclusions of a Commission of Inquiry into government maladministration and corruption.
The situation is further compounded by the BVI struggling to come to terms with the fact that its now-former premier Andrew Fahie is languishing in a US jail awaiting trial on cocaine trafficking and money-laundering charges.
The highly-publicised arrest and pre-trial detention in the United States of the deposed premier Fahie - caught in a sting by agents of the US Drug Enforcement Agency(DEA) - is being widely seen as a vindication of the subsequently published findings and recommendations in the UK-government initiated inquiry.
Since his arrest in April, Mr Fahie who continues to plead his innocence, has been kicked out of his own government in a no-confidence motion initiated by his former cabinet colleagues and supported by the Opposition.
FAHIE OUT, ‘UNITY’ GOVERNMENT IN…FOR THE TIME BEING
Coming out of the ensuing political upheaval in the wake of the rest of the former premier, his ouster via a no-confidence motion led by his own government, and the publication of the inquiry's report, has been the formation of a cross-party 'unity coalition' government.
That is comprised mainly of Mr Fahie's then-ruling Virgin Islands Party(VIP) government led by his former deputy - and now Premier - Dr Natalio Wheatley, the main Opposition National Development Party(NDP) and other parliamentarians.
One MP chose to remain on the Opposition benches objecting to the ‘Unity’ government and instead expressing a preference for an ‘All-party’ alternative.
It’s unclear how much the new BVI government will be able to achieve in the interim while the UK government, the administering authority, contemplates the territory’s immediate constitutional future.
“Our top priority is the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry report within a framework of democratic governance, and in close cooperation with the governor and United Kingdom, our partners,” new Premier Dr Wheatley had stated as he was sworn-in by the BVI’s UK-appointed Governor John Rankin.
The new 'unity' government is also not in favour of direct UK rule.
The next general election in the BVI is due in 2023.
DIRECT RULE LOOMS
The main recommendation of the Commission is for the dissolution of the locally elected House of Assembly and suspension of ministerial government for at least two years.
It proposes that the UK-appointed Governor, potentially with a local advisory council, would instead oversee reform.
“Almost everywhere the principles of good governance such as openness, transparency, and the rule of law are ignored,” the inquiry concluded, adding that “it is highly likely that serious dishonesty may have taken place across a broad range of government.”
On the ultimate recommendation of suspending the elected government, the BVI Governor John Rankin said the judge who headed the inquiry had “concluded with a particularly heavy heart that unless the most drastic and urgent steps are taken, the current situation with elected officials deliberately ignoring the tenets of good governance will go on indefinitely.”
The British Government has yet not decided on whether to impose direct rule but has said significant changes are necessary.
Should the UK go ahead with the taking over the full day-to-day running of the BVI, it is expected to meet with an outcry of rejection by large segments of the territory - although some residents maintain that to some degree the BVI would have brought this on itself due to lax government.
The UK Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories, Amanda Milling, had paid an emergency visit to the BVI following the arrest of former premier Andrew Fahie and the publication of the Common of Inquiry’s report.
She said, "It isn't a question of whether something should be done, it is a question of what should be done, action is needed now to strengthen the foundations of the territory."
With a UK decision pending on whether the BVI will be subjected to direct UK rule, since her visit to the territory, the UK minister whose portfolio also covers Asia and the Middle East, has had the BVI crisis pinned to the top of her Twitter page, seen as further underlining the gravity and prominence of the matter as determined by the British government.
The extent of the predicament gripping the British Overseas Territory has led to several demonstrations - the most recent a few days with others reportedly planned.
Principally, public discontent appears to be in line with the Commission’s conclusions about the extent of poor governance and corruption but vehemently against a UK takeover, with many branding such as neocolonialism.
Already several local protests have been held and t's understood that more are planned.
The issues - directly unconnected but nonetheless topically related - have been given prominent global press coverage and have been dominating local press and social media forums.
Meanwhile, a growing crescendo of objections to the likelihood of direct UK rule continues from both inside and outside the BVI.
Statements from the Caricom and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States(OECS) - of which the BVI is an associate member - as well as leading regional rights campaigners appealed to the British government against that course of action, in some instances denouncing it as neocolonialism.
However, similar outcries against the imposition of direct rule in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009, had failed to sway the British government.
The UK imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009 for two years after an inquiry found evidence of government corruption and incompetence.
The British government had said then the move was essential to restore "good governance and sound financial management".
The Turks and Caicos has since returned to local parliamentary government.
Under the constitutions of the individual British Overseas Territories, negotiated with the UK, the British government has the ultimate power to impose direct rule.