Since His Excellency Governor John Duncan announced his intent to use his reserved power to beef up the budget of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) members of the community have engaged in a debate in support of or against the Governor’s historical move.
On 16 March Governor Duncan surprised many when he announced his intent to invoke his powers under section 103 of the Constitution in order to have $800,000 allocated to meet the Police Force needs.
In announcing the decision Governor Duncan told the media: “I just came from the National Security Council (NSC) meeting where I met with the members to discuss the shortfall in the budget for the police force…After a long discussion, I informed the Premier [and Minister for Finance, Dr. the Hon. Dr. Orlando Smith]that I am not prepared to allow the situation to continue… Invoking section 103 of the Constitution, which allows the Governor to authorise that expenditure and (the Governor) shall also be monitoring the expenditure closely.”
In explaining why he made the move to invoke his power Governor Duncan said: “It’s a great regret to me that I had to do this, because I have supported the Territory in many of the debates against things the United Kingdom (UK) wanted to do. I have supported the Territory in getting things changed in the Constitution, such as the Junior Ministers, the overdraft facility.”
“We have some major court cases going on in the Territory, these need to be funded. We cannot allow a system where engagements are made and not followed through…If I’m responsible for internal security, money must be there to support the RVIPF and the judiciary for carrying out their jobs on behalf of the community. It’s for specific equipment needs of the force and training,” His Excellency further stated.
The Queen’s Representative added: “This request is outstanding for over 4 months. The new budget does not uplift the RVIPF funds adequately, as it should be. It does not address the shortfall of over $800,000. I am not prepared to allow this to happen in the field of internal security, which is my direct responsibility as Governor.”
Premier Smith was swift in responding to the Governor’s announcement and issued a statement a few hours after the Governor made his declaration. In his address on the matter the BVI Leader stated that the Police’ funding was increased as opposed to what was implied:
“I am not sure what the motive of the Governor was in calling this press conference, but the people of this Territory will recall that we have just concluded our budgetary process where the Honourable House has allocated $16.1 million dollars to the Police Force, an increase over 2016 of $770,000 or approximately 5%. There is no short-fall in budget, to the contrary there is an increase,” Hon. Smith announced.
“Moreover, as you will see from the information which I shall provide in detail, there are several initiatives that are currently being processed for the benefit of the Royal Virgin Islands Police. In short the RVIPF has or are about to receive not only their increase budgetary sums, but also other payments at the Treasury that are needed to carry out its duties of safety and security. Let me assure the people of the Virgin Islands that special budgetary attention is always given to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force,” the Premier further explained.
Government Back-Bencher Questions Governor’s Move
The other member of Government that commented about the Governor’s decision was Second District Representative, Hon. Mitch Turnbull. During the Private Members business segment of the House of Assembly on 21 March, Hon. Turnbull said: “Everybody wants to be seen like they are involved in running this country, but I stand here not recollecting anytime the people of the Virgin Islands elected the Governor to represent us.”
He further added: “I would not take it lightly for anyone using what was done for political points, because it is far more reaching than local politics. It is far reaching to the point that it is seeming to pave the way for a host of things that we cannot afford…”
Leader of the Opposition, and First District Representative, Hon. Andrew Fahie described the Governor’s decision as a great start. He also alluded to the Premier’s response and noted that the situation became a war of words between the BVI Premier and the Queen’s Representative.
Hon. Fahie said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this war of words between the Governor and the Premier comes at a time when families are mourning the loss of their loved ones to senseless murders. These words come at a time when gun crimes have escalated to untenable heights. They come at a time when my colleague from District Two, our citizens and the wider population are demanding increased monitoring, together with swift and decisive actions by the RVIPF.”
“You will excuse me if I am not distracted by these war of words. I have stood on the floor of the House of Assembly on numerous occasions and have advocated for increased funding for the defense of our people. It has been publicly stated that the failure to prioritise our National expenditure is alarming and unsustainable. The economy is not robust. There is no transparency. Accountability does not exist. Conflict of interest is at an all-time high,” the Leader of the Opposition further stated.
In noting that the decision to give additional funding to the police, Hon. Fahie said: “The Governor has announced that it is not proper to vacate his office in August of 2017 without resolving some of the ills developed during his tenancy. Funding of the RVIPF is a great start.”
However, Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser was not pleased to hear of the Governor’s decision, and described the move as a takeover of the Treasury: “I didn’t think the day would come when I would see a Governor exercise a monarchical takeover of our Treasury. This is what I call a soft takeover of the democratically elected Smith Government. The Governor was wrong and he has to be stopped,” Hon. Fraser said.
The Third District further referred to Governor’s actions as undemocratic: “I still believe this, because it is the democratic thing to do. What the Governor did was an act of desperation and undemocratic. Some might disagree with me, but I think the Governor ought stay out of our local politics, he has the Protocols for Effective Financial Management to hold the government accountable with. That is an Administrative arrangement between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government of the Virgin Islands to keep the Government frugal in its financial affairs. What happened today, has set this Territory back at least a decade in our constitutional advancement, and has shaken the core of our democracy,” he added.
Residents For and Against
However, it appears that the members of the community are divided on the matter. Various radio talk show callers have made calls both in support and against the Governor’s decision to invoke his constitutional powers.
One caller who is against the decision told host of the Speak Out BVI ZBVI radio program on 21 March: “Crimes will still happen but all I am saying is that the police needs to be properly supported, and the Premier pointed out that every year the police is given more and more money. I think if it was a case where they needed some more that could have been discussed, but for the Governor to take that position…”
The caller added: “You know what pains me most about it is we have leaders of our country who we vote for in an election, and the Governor is no such person. This money that the Governor take up is taxpayer’s money. For the Governor to take a position to take our money to do what he wants, yes he is doing it for the good of the country , I recognise that but it is just the way you go about doing things. Sometimes it’s not what you do but how you do it. Maybe that’s why we need to go back to the drawing board, we need a new Constitution – take that kind of power from the Governor.”
Another caller to the same show announced his support for the Governor’s actions: “The Commissioner has been saying that the Force is short-staffed, since he came here; and we never had a superintendent (Commissioner) of police that communicate with the people like that one. He go Long Look keep meeting he go Huntums Ghut tries to meet with the people; reach out to the people. He say he needs it, it needs it.”
The caller further stated: “I see three cruise ships here in the BVI, and you don’t even see one police officer on the road that they can ask the police well where is this where is that …You don’t see a police. The people getting upset because he [Governor] do that [invoke powers]! You let these boys run this country into too much debt that they can’t pay. We are a colony of Great Britain regardless of what they kick up and kanks up. He was sent by the Queen here. He is in charge of security…the people of this country needs the police them – he had a right to do what he do.”
“He had a right because it aint now it is more than a year they talking about the short staff. 30 police officers you aint know that’s a shame and disgrace… Not two or three 30 you short of; and now they have 31 sworn in going to do training. He do the right thing he step up to the plate and do what he had to do the country need this the British Virgin Islands people have to have security; and he do the right thing. If they don’t want to do that there go independent we are a colony of Great Britain,” the caller added.
An observer privately commented that when it comes to frugality it would be interesting to hear what London thinks about the Pier Park extra expenditure; he added that the present administration does not listen to people, “you speak to them, you write to them, no answer”: “Well if they treat the Governor that way it is a good thing that the Queen’s Representative has responded the way he did, and we wholeheartedly look forward to more of that. He is not usurping anybody’s powers, he is doing what is right.”