Call For Independence Resonates With Virgin Islanders

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By Mellica McPherson

As the Decision March which attracted over a 1000 residents came to an end on 24 May speakers of the event intuitively answered the question that was baring on the minds of many in the Territory – “what next, and where do we go from here?” the response took two striking tones: One — the stern resolved declaration by BVI Leader, Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith for a Constitutional review and a stay on the implementation of the UK requested public registry; Two — the fiery call for a divorce from the United Kingdom by the Territory’s second in command Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering.

The Decision March was the Territory’s reaction to the Constitutional overreach that the UK’s promise to imperially institute public registry for the BVI and sister Overseas Territories by 2020. Residents in show of disagreement with the UK Parliament’s decision marched from the Sunday Morning Well to Government House where petitions were signed and handed to Acting Governor David Archer following speeches of disdain for the decision. 

 We Will Not Comply Until UK…USA Etc Will Comply

Prior to the March Premier Smith told members of the media at a press conference on 23 May that the Government will not implement a public register until it is a global standard to do so.

Hon. Smith said: “The reality is that the public registry of beneficial ownership of companies is not the legal standard anywhere – neither by the OECD…This is something the United Kingdom Government is pushing forward and it is not something that we accept because it is not the established standard, and we have maintained for many years that we are following what has been the standards established by the standards setting bodies. When it becomes an international standard then we will do so.”

As it relates to the fallout or ramifications from such a stance Premier Smith did not seem perturbed. In fact he told reporters: “According to the discussions the United Kingdom Government has the privilege if they want to impose by Order in Council certain things.”

“If all else fails and we are not able to demonstrate that we have the constitutional right to manage these affairs or the aspect of human rights are not respected and from a legal point of view we haven’t been able to see that that is a way to go then the British Government would have imposed an order in Council,” he added.

 Constitutional Review

On the day of the March the first call for Constitutional review was made by Leader of the Opposition Hon. Andrew Fahie who described the UK move as constitutional bullying: “We stand to be respected.  We stand for immediate Constitution review.  We stand shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, in one heart and in one voice to say that we are against bullying of all sorts and at all levels especially when it comes to constitutional bullying.  Our Constitutional rights must be respected.”

However, it was the Premier’s firm declaration that the BVI will be looking towards constitutional review that added teeth to the suggestion. In addressing the marchers the Premier assured that the financial services sector is not at an end. “My Government is committed to pursuing all available legal channels to ensure that publicly available beneficial ownership registers are introduced in the BVI only if and when they become a global standard, which would establish a level playing field for all. We will also do all in our power to ensure that the financial services sector remains an integral part of the BVI’s economic future. We will be reviewing the Constitution and will consider any necessary changes to reinforce the self-determination of the British Virgin Islands as an Overseas Territory,” Premier Smith announced.

 Divorce From the UK: Bye-Bye

However the Deputy Premier was not coy in stating that he believes the next move for the BVI should be a plan for its separation from the UK, albeit Hon. Pickering pointed out that a divorce does not mean independence. He told the gathering: “We are entering a divorce, we are filing a petition for divorce from the United Kingdom, that is what we have effectively done by filing this petition,” he said.

The Deputy Premier was not shy about using strong words to describe the current situation, as he stated that in essence the BVI’s decision to not establish a public registry until it is global standards and the march were essentially “declaring war” on the United Kingdom.

Hon. Pickering explained his “war” comment by pointing out that the residents have marched and the Government has decided not to comply at this time opens the Territory to push back from the UK: “We need to ensure that we understand the real issue and where we stand here today, that we have declared open war on the UK with respect to this Sanction and Anti-Money Laundering Amendment Bill; we have declared war because we do not agree. So, we have to be prepared to fight,” a passionate Hon. Pickering said.

Therefore, he admonished residents to be ready for the push back that may come as a result of these actions. “We have to be prepared to follow the strategy going forward…This is a fight that we are in, that we cannot afford to lose because dead is dead. So is either we stand up and fight until we dead or we going to lie down and let them kill us.”

 The Deputy Premier outlined his vision for a divorce from the Britain and explained that such a split does not need to be hostile. “We do not need to fight or divorce in any acrimonious or quarrelling way; let us just separate from each other in a nice and agreeable way. Let’s sit down and have a conversation…We want you to do some things for us to ensure that we are put on our feet and be able to choose our destiny,” he stated.

Nonetheless, Hon. Pickering stressed that divorcing the UK does not have to mean becoming independent. Instead he said the Virgin Islands can seek a balance between autonomy and UK partnership. “Now I am not telling you that independence is the only way forward, because that’s not true. This is a new world, new economic order; there are ways that we can find to separate from the UK and chart our way forward and we have the brain power to do it and we must do it,” he pointed out.

 Recommendations for Divorce

The Deputy Premier offered recommendations for how the Territory could amicably split from Britain. He suggested that before parting ways the Territory should carry out thorough research and approach the UK for a parting gift.

The Minister told the gathering that the BVI should also hire consultants to plot the course for its future growth and alliances. “We should ask the UK to pay for this, that we should employ three scholars from various parts of the world — from Asia-Pacific region, one from Europe, Caribbean/Latin American region; trained people who are brilliant academic scholars who understand what direction the world is going.”

 “Let them come up with suggestions to us as to exactly what our path should be, who we should associate ourselves with, how we should form unions going forward. We of course need to be part of the OECS, CARICOM, Economic Commission of Latin America. These are all things we need to do with our economic survival,” Dr. Pickering added.

In putting his point further into perspective Hon. Pickering said: “There are no independent nations in the world, everybody is associated with somebody. That is what the EU is all about…The UK is trying to withdraw from EU, that’s why they are having their Brexit and they want to make us a pond in their fight with Europe. We are complying with all you want us to do, what more they want us to do? These people are just down right unfair, it’s unjust and we must stand up and tell them that no way we are going to allow this to happen to us,” Hon. Pickering further stated.

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