After announcing that they are concerned about what was described as a deterioration of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the BVI and the concern that there might not be sufficient time for a referendum as was suggested as a possibility five members of the Opposition decided to host a series of public meetings.
The consultation meetings commenced on 10 September at the East End/Long Look Community Center, and included Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn, Second District Representative Hon. Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull, Third District Representative Hon. Julian Fraser, Fourth District Representative Hon. Mark Vanterpool, and Sixth District Representative Hon. Alvera Maduro-Caines.
The central focus of the meeting was the “BVI and UK relationship, the Recovery and Development Agency (RDA) and other pertinent issues facing the Territory.”
During an interview on Tuesday on ZBVI radio the Leader of the Opposition said that he is most concerned about the fact that there seems to be a break down in the relationship between the United Kingdom the government and the BVI.
In explaining his worry about the situation Hon. Penn said: “We became concerned when we heard the level of discourse between the Premier concerning the UK and there seems to be a degradation in the relationship between BVI and the United Kingdom.”
Last week following disclosure by Premier Hon. Andrew Fahie about communications with Director of the Overseas Territories, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) the Governor’s Office in an unprecedented move released the said communication stating that the FCO Director requested that the letter be made public. This occurrence is one the mentioned matters of concern for Hon. Penn.
In referencing the letter from the FCO Director the Leader of the Opposition said Merrick noted that the BVI and UK communications dwindled recently: “That was even expressed as much in the letter that was written by Ben Merrick who is the Governor’s superior at the FCO. That is concerning for us as we move forward to a place of recovery and development and we need to ensure that the public is well aware of the facts surrounding the RDA,” Hon. Penn pointed out.
In further relating his worries about the relationship with the United Kingdom the Leader of the Opposition said: “We are concerned about moving forward the relationship. It is unprecedented that the head of the FCO would write to the Premier of our country and say to make the document public. It’s a breakdown, a serious breakdown in the relationship and it is something that we have to be concerned about as a Territory.”
The matter of concern about the BVI UK relationship stems from the fact that the Premier after announcing his perplexities about various aspects of the loan agreement held a series of public meetings. Following these meetings Hon. Fahie said that he received correspondence from both His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert and the FCO Director. Further the Premier read the correspondence during the 2 September continuation of the House of Assembly.
The Leader of the Opposition questioned whether some of the Premier’s disclosure should have been made public. He explained that such revealing might prejudice the negotiations with the UK: “This is not about the VIP government administration. This is about the Territory of the Virgin Islands and the decisions that we make going forward that should be in the best interest of the people of this Territory. When you see this level of discourse and it is happening in open air; when you negotiate, you negotiate in good faith. You sit around the table as men and women and you negotiate on the issues and the specific thing that you have concerns with. You don’t do that open public – you break down trust. The minute that you lose trust in the negotiations you almost waffle in the wind and I am concerned that we are at that point I hope that we are not. I hope if there are some specified concerns that we have … we can have proper discourse and proper discussion with the United Kingdom.”
The Premier traveled to the United Kingdom this week to have discussions with the UK regarding the perplexities about the loan guarantee. Prior to his departure, during the 2 September sitting of the House of Assembly Hon. Fahie had stated that if there was no agreement he would put the matter to a referendum so that the people of the BVI can decide.
However, Hon. Penn announced that he has reservations about the practicality of arranging a referendum in such a short time. He announced: “You are hearing the Premier talk about doing referendums, when you’re asking persons to vote on referendums, you have to make sure that they are properly informed. That they properly receive the facts, and all the issues surrounding the particular subject that they are about to vote on. We have to ensure that as the opposition we have a responsibility to ensure that misinformation doesn’t continue to spread to ensure that the people that we represent are properly informed and to ensure that the country gets the best possible outcome,” Hon. Penn said.
He further added: “I don’t know if it is practical to have a referendum in two weeks on this issue. When the public themselves are still confused about all the details and the specifics of what is being asked and what is being.”