Opposition Leader Renews Calls For Serious Amendments To The Constitution

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By Mellica McPherson

Despite previous refusal from the United Kingdom, Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal has made another call for the Constitution to be amended. Hon. O’Neal’s renewed call was made at the swearing-in ceremony of newly appointed Governor of the British Virgin Islands, His Excellency John Duncan on 14 August.

During his remarks at the ceremony, the Leader of the Opposition suggested certain constitutional reviews. He said: “The present Constitution is new, but already we have found some loopholes in it and there will be a need for another examination.”

Hon. O’Neal explained that one of the areas for amendment is the interpretation of the phrases, ‘consulting the Premier and consulting the Leader of the Opposition’. In explaining his concern with those phrases, Hon. O’Neal added: “Does it mean that I tell you what I am doing or I take your advice under advisement. This is a matter that will have to be looked into.”

He further stated: “I would not like to see what happened in Bermuda to happen here, what the Premier just said and others – an unelected man is not listening to the elected men. I do believe in peace, order and good government. I feel that matters about the Constitution will be attended to and that your time in these islands called Nature’s Little Secret will be a happy, peaceful and worthwhile time in your career.”

This is not the first time that the Opposition Leader has called for the Constitution to be amended; in fact, he did so during his tenure as the first BVI Premier. However, at that time it was reported that the United Kingdom Government did not agree to the amendment.

In 2011, then Premier O’Neal at a press conference on Wednesday October 5, announced that the UK did not agree to the changes. He also read a letter that was sent by then UK MP with responsibilities for Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham in which the MP explained that certain initiatives were suggested in consideration of the UK interest and that of the Territory.

However, Hon. O’Neal said that he had found himself in a little difficulty because from experience he has learned that the quality of life and other things improve with constitutional changes.

The then Premier read an excerpt of the letter which said: “We believe that at this point in the history of our relations with the Territory; at a time when a decade of constitution revision is coming to a close; the time is not right to embark on further changes. Rather our strategy is to make sure the Constitution arrangement works effectively to promote the best interest of the Territory and the United Kingdom Government.” However, Hon. O’Neal told the media that he did not agree with that statement.

According to the worldly-wise BVI statesman, the letter referred to the Constitution as a modern one: “I say the present Constitution may be modern compared to the one from 1976; with some power for Ministers; but as far as I am concerned, my own view is that a lot of changes are needed. After working it for four years you find out there is still a lot of power concentrated in the Governor and that some of the provisions are outdated.”

One of the areas for constitutional amendment that was suggested by Hon. O’Neal at that time related to the appointment of the Deputy Governor, where the Cabinet should have a say in the matter: “The Governor has all the authority to appoint the Deputy Governor and that is wrong. It is insulting! It must be with some type of agreement with Premier, the Cabinet whatever…,” Hon. O’Neal said.

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