The efforts to get a Freedom of Information Act to become law of the land in the Territory are gaining unprecedented and determined momentum now that the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) has jumped into the fight. The announcement was made by newly appointed Chairman of the VIP Hon. Andrew Fahie in his first territorial address which was aired last week. In that address, Hon. Fahie also indicated the Opposition’s plan to hold the Government’s feet to the fire in relations to the Protocol For Effective Financial Management.
While the Party Chairman listed a number of things that will be looked at, he announced that lobbying for key transparency legislation such as the Freedom of Information Bill that has had mounting calls with no response is top of the list.
The promise to push for such legislation comes after calls from the media, editorials, talk show hosts, and even His Excellency Governor John Duncan have had no luck influencing the progress of the bill. In fact, many members of the public have also called for the Freedom of Information Bill which was already drafted.
Nonetheless, Hon. Fahie mentioned that the VIP intends to push for the legislation: “From this moment, the newly refueled VIP will be championing the cause for the passing of a few pieces of Legislation and policies: Whistle blowing Legislation for Public Officers; Campaign Financing Legislation; Ethics Legislation; Freedom of Information Act; Consumer Protection; and an Economic Plan to boost local businesses,” he said. All of these have been promised ages and ages ago by an administration that drags her feet endlessly.
However, it appears that the Party is even very concerned about the Protocols for Effective Management agreement that was signed by the Government some four years ago. In fact, Hon. Fahie promised to seek out the United Kingdom Government on the matter.
“We intend to work with the UK Government to ensure that ALL the Tenants of the Protocol for Effective Financial Management signed in 2012 by this present government are followed and adhered to in a manner that does not compromise our local economy.”
The Virgin Islands’ Protocol for effective Management was signed at a joint press conference on 23 April, 2012 by Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith, then BVI Governor Boyd McCleary, and then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham, MP. In his statement at the press conference Premier Smith had announced that the protocols call for the adherence to five important principles of: Fiscal and economic planning, Transparency, Decision making based on quantitative data and analysis, Value for money, and Proactive Risk management.
However, Hon. Fahie said: “The lack of accountability, public trust, transparency and good governance is more evident now in government than it has ever been in the history of these Virgin Islands. We cannot continue to sit idly by and see our Government squander our resources by the tens of millions and then blame everyone except themselves. In addition, we cannot continue to sit back and watch Government violate every tenant of the Protocols for Effective Financial Management signed by them through giving we the people what they think we need so that they can take what they want.”
In his speech Hon. Fahie further hinted at the VIP’s case to the mother country. He said: “It is only from a position of strength that a Virgin Islands Government can negotiate with the UK Government as it relates to altering any of the terms of the Protocol that are overly stringent and not in the best interest of our people.”
The Party Chairman urged that attention should be given to the fate of other Overseas Territories in similar regard: “The lessons learnt from other overseas territories must be carefully analyzed for clearly, in the words of our founding Chairman, “there are more than one way of learning”.”
The 2008-2009 saga of the Turks and Caicos Islands is often referenced by commentarists who fear a similar debacle for the BVI: on 14 August 2009 after Misick’s last appeals failed, the Turks & Caicos Governor, on the instructions of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands by authority of the 18 March 2009 Order in Council issued by the Queen. The islands’ administration was suspended for up to two years, with possible extensions, and power was transferred to the Governor.
Hon. Fahie also stressed that the VIP if elected will adhere to the Protocols:
“Under the VIP Government the Protocol document will be used to ensure that ALL the resources targeted for Development projects for the Territory will hit its target in a transparent and accountable manner.”
“If we are to become better, and if we seek to negotiate from a position of strength we will not only highlight the many infractions of this unapologetic administration but we will also continue to offer solutions.”
As it relates to transparency Hon. Fahie also made claims of conflict of interest on the part of elected officials. He stated: “Under the leadership of the VIP I can assure you that the days of elected officials unfairly competing with the people of the V.I. for Government projects and services will be a thing of the past. This practice is now rampant in this government to the point where persons have been lured to believe that this is the norm and hence acceptable. This course of action must be called out for what it is — CONFLICT OF INTEREST, and it must be brought to an abrupt end.”