Lettsome makes his comments at the Mass Meeting on Constitutional Review
[photo GIS/Rick Evans]
Issues discussed at Mass Meeting on Constitution
eight-member Constitutional Review Commission met with residents of the
Territory for the final time to discuss amendments and improvements to the BVI
constitution last week. This mass meeting was held on 20 January at the Sir
Rupert Briercliffe Hall. The Commission is scheduled to prepare a report to be
presented to the Executive Council on 15 April.
The panellists were chosen to represent a cross section of BV Islanders, since
the constitutional review process is taking into consideration the hopes and
aspirations of the people, while at the same time reflecting the level of
development of the Territory.
Minister Mr. Cyril Romney did not make his presentation as a panelist because he
was indisposed following the accident reported last week.
Minister Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith told people of the Territory that Her
Majesty’s Government advised the BVI to review its constitution because the
Territory cannot go into independence unless it is prepared for it and that
this review be done with the aid of the people of the BVI.
The BVI Leader
said that the economy has gone from depending on grants from Her Majesty’s
Government to being financially independent. Dr. Smith explained that
constitutional review is the best way to seek constitutional advancements .
Leader of the
Opposition Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal asserted that any fundamental change to the
constitution of a country should be a partnered effort — it is not only a
government initiative — therefore every one concerned should be present. He went
on to say that the 1967 constitution is almost 40 years old and is not in
keeping up with the strides of the last 20 years.
suggested that a cabinet system consisting of six ministers, with the Chief
Minister presiding and a qualified civil servant as the secretary should replace
the Executive Council.
The Leader of
the Opposition said that once the cabinet system has been put in place there
will be no argument about the position of the Governor.
announced that he believed that the new constitution should make provisions for
the Chief Minister to have a say in the selection of the Governor.
He also called
for a new constitution that provides for 15 members - the extra two for the
outer islands of Anegada and Jost Van Dyke. These two islands, Mr. O’Neal
explained, have great potentials and should be represented in Parliament by
their own elected members. Mr. O’Neal said that he is not satisfied that the at
large candidates can do as much as a direct elected representative would to
look after the necessary areas of concern on those islands.
politician said that it is time for the public sector to expand to include all
government corporations, trusts and statutory boards.
Mr. O’Neal pointed out, should be made for someone to take the Chief Minister’s
place in case he died or disappeared. The ninth district representative cited an
example of when the Turks and Caicos Chief Minister mysteriously disappeared and
the problems that country faced to replace him.
out that the time has come for a public service commission to deal with the
transfer and disciplinary actions of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force
because he does not believe that one person (the Governor) should have the say
of what the Force does and does not do.
Mr. Gerard StC
Farara QC, Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, said that the
Commission, since its inception in April 2004, went out on campaigns to
educate the public about the constitution because most people have not read the
document and are not familiar with it.
member Mr. Elihu Rhymer gave his views on the issue of the duties of the
Attorney General. He said that the Attorney General has to have sweeping powers,
therefore there is a fear that if he becomes a member of the cabinet he will
consider the other members to be his colleagues and therefore he will not
function well if he is faced with the decision of having to bring judgment
Attorney General, Deputy Governor Mrs. Dancia Penn QC, said that the Attorney
General is totally independent and works under his own guidance, but must weigh
every decision before he makes his judgment.
Governor Elton Georges focused on the issue of a clear definition of belonger
status. At present citizenship and belonger status are often mistakenly
believed to be the same thing, especially with regard to the right to a
passport. The local government does not issue passports, this is done through
the Governor's Office because British citizenship is regulated under the
British Nationality Act.
islanders are British Overseas Territory Citizens (BOTC) and they have the right
to a BOTC passport as well as to a British Passport. Applications for
Naturalization are filed at the Governor's Office, while applications for
belonger status and residenceship are filed at the Immigration Department which
is under the Chief Minister's portfolio.
constitution clearly defines a person who is deemed to belong to the territory,
but the subject has become controversial because, among other things, a child
born in the BVI does not automatically become a belonger unless the parent is a
said that these and other complex issues need to be looked at carefully.
Head of the
Office of Gender Affairs Ms. Eugenia O’Neal said that “our constitution should
reflect who we are as Virgin Islanders". She convincingly argued that the
present constitution reads like a handbook without reference to who we are as
questions and answers section Dr. Quincy Lettsome suggested that the word "belonger"
be used less and the word Virgin Islander be used more.
In reality the
term belonger was first used in the British Nationality Act 1981 and was
thereafter used locally. "In the twenty-first-century we should no longer be
guessing....who we are", Dr. Lettsome said
Members of the
Commission are Chairman Mr. Gerard Stc. Farara QC, Mr. Edison O’Neal, Mr. Vance
Lewis, Mr. Audley Maduro, Mr. Carvin Malone, Mr. Stuart Donovan, Ms. Persia
Stoutt and Mrs. Joanne Williams Roberts.
constitutional review process began in April last year.
The report of
the Constitutional Commissioners 1993 was presented to the British Parliament in
April 1994. The document ended with a lengthy summary of recommendations: 22 for
action by Her Majesty's Government and nine for action by the BVI Government.
Only a small number of the 1993 recommendations were acted upon, and in February
1995 a constitutional amendment added four Territorial (at-large) seats to the
House' nine district representatives. Later amendments to the constitution were
approved in the year 2000, and included revisions to the definition of a person
who belongs to the Virgin Islands. Further amendments dealt with the functions
of the Deputy Governor, disqualifications for elected membership, and the Public
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