The United Kingdom Government’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs Hon. Elizabeth Truss on 8 June discussed the situation in the BVI with the UK House of Commons and noted that the Privy Council order for the partial temporary suspension of the Territory’s Constitution has already been made. However, Hon. Truss noted that the said order is currently on the back burner as the Government works with the Government of National Unity to implement necessary reforms.
Nonetheless, the UK Secretary of State mentioned that should the Unity Government fail to meet expectations; all His Excellency Governor John Rankin will have to do is “make a proclamation in the BVI Gazette appointing a day that the Order will come into force.”
While addressing the contentious issue of the temporary partial suspension of the British Virgin Islands’ Constitution the UK Secretary of State for the FCO pointed out that the call for this action was prominent in the Commission of Inquiry report.
She emphasized that Sir Gary Hickinbottom’s report detailed how accountability and good governance practices were ignored by previous governments. “The report is a thorough, evidence-based assessment of the state of governance in the BVI. The Commissioner has identified that serious impropriety and gross failures of governance by elected officials through several administrations is highly likely to have taken place. I have today placed copies of the report in the Library of both Houses
“The report makes 48 recommendations to address underlying issues, including urgent reforms, investigations and medium-term measures. These will help deliver the deep change that the people of the BVI deserve,” she added.
According to Hon. Truss: “The Commissioner made a further recommendation, assessing that elected officials in the BVI would not deliver the essential reforms required: he reluctantly concluded that the only way to ensure required change would be for a temporary suspension of those parts of the constitution by which areas of Government are assigned to elected representatives, and the assumption of related powers by the Governor.”
She also cited the arrest of former Premier Hon. Andrew Fahie, as a further cause for concern as it relates to governance and reform. Hon. Truss told the House of Commons: “Since the commissioner delivered his report, there have been a number of significant developments, not least with the removal of Andrew Fahie as Premier through a vote of no confidence and the creation of the new Government of National Unity, or GNU. The Governor has also ordered a number of criminal investigations, as recommended in the COI report.”
Nonetheless, the Secretary of State explained that the UK Government held back on the recommended suspension and opted instead to give the Unity Government a chance to make the necessary reforms. “The UK and the Governor have worked with the GNU since its formation to turn its public commitments to reform into a strong implementation plan with a strict and comprehensive set of milestones that need to be met. If they are, that will protect against corruption and ensure the return of good governance,” Hon. Truss noted.
“I believe, in the first instance, that the new Government should have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to reform through the implementation of the 48 COI recommendations and the further measures they have proposed,” she added.
The Secretary of State told the House of Commons that the BVI Governor and the UK Government will monitor the implementation of the reforms; and assess progress quarterly. “Each BVI Government Ministry and Department will also provide a monthly report. The detailed implementation plan will be published by the GNU in due course,” she noted.
Hon. Truss also mentioned that the decision was made to keep the temporary partial suspension of the Territory Constitution on the table. She told her colleagues, “If it becomes clear that this approach is not delivering the reform that the people of the BVI want and deserve, we will take action. This may require the swift implementation of the final report recommendation.”
She also mentioned the Order in Council that was alluded to by His Excellency Governor Rankin at his press conference last week. In her mention Hon. Truss stated, “In order to be able to do so quickly if required, the UK Government has submitted an Order in Council to the Privy Council that would allow this administration to be introduced. The Order will be laid in Parliament, but not brought into force. Should it prove necessary to do so, I will instruct the Governor to make a proclamation in the BVI Gazette appointing a day that the Order will come into force.”
Hon. Truss explained that the aim of the UK Government in this matter is to ensure that the people of the Territory receive the good governance and accountability they deserve. “The people of the BVI want and deserve change and have made their desire for better governance clear. Elected officials know this. We want to support the new Government in making this change and allow them the opportunity to reform. The Order in Council will provide the people of the BVI with complete reassurance that change will happen.”