By Mellica McPherson-Ganda
The development and implementation of clear Codes of Conduct for Ministers and civil servants was agreed to by Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith and other Overseas Territories leaders as an anti-corruption measure during the recently concluded Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) meetings.
According to the JMC communiqué topics such as BREXIT, and beneficial ownership were also canvassed at the JMC which was held at Lancaster House in London United Kingdom (UK) on 1 and 2 November.
During the two-day Council meeting the Minister for the Overseas Territories, Baroness Anelay, and elected leaders and representatives of the Overseas Territories discussed matters such as effective public financial management and public service transparency. At the meeting, the BVI, Cayman Islands, and Gibraltar were also acknowledged for their active participation in the current OECD peer-review of the UK’s adherence to the Anti-Bribery Convention
On the subject of governance and human rights both sides pledged to continue to promote respect for human rights and promised to ensure the highest standards of governance in the Territories. “We reiterated the political commitment of Territory leaders to maintain and continue to develop an effective, professional and transparent public service that acts in the interests of all the people of the Territories and welcomed new UK support for public sector reform and capacity building in the Territories,” the communiqué stated.
“Recognizing the capacity limitations of some Overseas Territories, we underlined our continued commitment to developing expertise and systems for effective public financial management. We welcomed the principles-based guidelines developed by the UK National Audit Office in consultation with the Territories and the proposed UK programme support for Territories to further develop capacity, according to local need, in line with these principles,” the document further stated.
Before departing the Territory for the JMC, Premier Smith noted that the BVI Government intended to broach the subject of constitutional advancement with the UK Government, with a view of reducing the powers of the Governor among other things.
While the communiqué did not address the subject as it relates to an individual Territory such as the BVI, and did not indicate to what extent the constitutional talks were explored; the document clearly states that following discussions it was agreed that things should remain as it is for now:
“We agreed that the fundamental structure of our constitutional relationships was the right one – powers are devolved to the elected governments of the Territories to the maximum extent possible consistent with the UK retaining those powers necessary to discharge its sovereign responsibilities. We agreed on the need to continue our engagement on these issues to ensure that constitutional arrangements work effectively to promote the best interests of the Territories and of the UK,” the communique said.
During his press briefing before the JMC meeting Premier Smith had stressed that the Overseas Territories were keen to have their voices heard as it relates to BREXIT and their relationship with the European Union (EU) and based on the communiqué, it appears that that discussion was favorably resolved. Pundits, however, are not sure that words will match actions.
It was stated that the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the EU attended the JMC to discuss the challenges and opportunities for the Overseas Territories of the UK’s decision to exit the EU.
“The UK Government is clear that the referendum result does not change the UK Government’s position on sovereignty over the Territories. The UK reaffirmed that while the UK remains a member of the EU, current EU funding arrangements continue unchanged and clarified that where Territories are eligible for EU funds that have been covered by assurances from Her Majesty’s Treasury, those guarantees will extend to the Territories,” the communiqué said.
Additionally the UK committed to fully involve Gibraltar and the Overseas Territories as it prepares for negotiations to leave the EU in accordance with their various constitutional relationships with the UK, to ensure that their priorities are taken into account. “UK Ministers and OT leaders committed to taking forward future engagement through the creation of the UK – Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council on European Negotiations (JMC – OT EN), to meet in the first quarter of 2017.”
Meanwhile the UK government’s appeal against the High Court ruling that MPs must vote on triggering Brexit will be heard in the Supreme Court from 5 December. Theresa May has said she is “clear” she expects to start talks on leaving the EU as planned by the end of March. Campaigners say MPs and peers have to scrutinise the government’s plans beforehand, but ministers say they can decide without this happening. “Time will tell,” pundits added.
Beneficial Ownership and Tax Transparency
The United Kingdom Government said that it welcomed the rating of the Territories by the OECD Global Forum as ‘largely compliant’ or higher under this international standard, and said that the rating underscored the Territories’ commitment to tax transparency.
During the JMC the UK and Overseas Territories reiterated their mutual determination to continue to tackle corruption, fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing and financing of weapons of mass destruction. They also pledged to further enhance transparency and law enforcement cooperation within the financial services sector.
“We welcomed the important commitments made by all of the Overseas Territories with financial services industries to hold adequate, accurate and current Beneficial Ownership information on companies incorporated in their jurisdictions in a secure central register or similarly effective system, and to grant UK and Overseas Territories law enforcement authorities the automatic right to the provision of Beneficial Ownership information for law enforcement purposes, on a reciprocal basis. These arrangements will put the Overseas Territories ahead of many foreign jurisdictions in Beneficial Ownership transparency. We reiterated our shared commitment to provide the leadership necessary to meet the June 2017 deadline for implementation of the new arrangements and to continue to provide the highest levels of law enforcement cooperation possible before this date,” the communiqué said.