By Mellica McPherson
Over the last few days residents have been scratching their heads as they pondered and openly questioned why Lord D Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon and Minister of State for The Overseas Territories did not visit the Virgin Islands during his tour of the region. Especially since the main purpose of the visit was disaster preparedness and financial services.
It was opined that the purpose for the visit was a clear reason why the Territory was expected to be front and center – considering the Virgin Islands was hit the worst during the last hurricane season and the fact that the main economic pillar – Financial Services – will be hardest hit by the proposed public registry.
The confusion about the exclusion of the Territory from the tour was noted on 25 May following a statement posted on the UK Government’s website. The statement said: “the Prime Minister and Lord Ahmad, Minister for the Overseas Territories, held a conference call with leaders of the Overseas Territories with financial centres to discuss company ownership transparency and, in particular, the issue of public registers of beneficial ownership… The leaders looked forward to Lord Ahmad’s visit to the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Anguilla next [last]week, and to the June Joint Ministerial Council in London.”
Premier Downplays Missed VI Stop on Tour Schedule
The explanation by Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith regarding the BVI exclusion from the visit of the Minister of State for The Overseas Territories was not accepted by residents who boldly stated via Facebook that they were not satisfied with the Premier’s explanation.
In a brief statement on 4 June on Facebook, Premier Smith noted the reason the Virgin Islands was not included in the UK Minister’s tour: “British Minister for Overseas Territories Lord Ahmad intended to visit the BVI and Anguilla. However the timing was wrong for the BVI, which he understood perfectly and he decided to visit Cayman Islands instead.”
This response was however publicly questioned by persons who commented under the post. At least three residents stated that the Territory was not mentioned in the press release issued by the British Government on 25 May to announce the trip. It was also noted that the UK Minister planned the trip following a conference call he and Prime Minister Theresa May had with the Leaders of the Overseas Territories and Gibraltar on 24 May, coincidentally the same day Virgin Islands residents were marching in protest.
Nonetheless residents did not appear sold by the explanation the BVI Leader provided about the skipped visit and made this known under the post. One resident asked: “Why was the timing wrong for the BVI? Please expand upon your statement so we can all understand.”
Was The Visit a Missed Opportunity?
During a press briefing in the Cayman Islands on 31 May, Lord Ahmad stressed that the visit was to strengthen the United Kingdom’s relationship with the Overseas Territories and reaffirm its support. He mentioned the pestering amendment 22 and explained that this legislation is not an axe to the UK’s relationship with the territories: “I think we now move into the next phase, which is an important phase. This isn’t about Britain withdrawing itself from our relationship with the Overseas Territories, they are part of the United Kingdom family. We are richer as Britain having the Overseas Territories part and parcel with us,” he said.
Lord Ahmad told the Cayman media: “My being in Cayman so soon after that decision passed as you can see the backdrop is on focusing on disaster preparedness and preparedness for the hurricane season; and so is about continuing the strong relationship that we have with the Cayman government. I pay tribute to the Premier and his team with whom I worked very closely over the last year since my appointment.”
As concerns about the 2020 public registry threat looms here in the BVI and details emerge about the discussion Lord Ahmad had with the Cayman Islands – the sister Overseas Territories who are just as invested in financial services, persons are wondering if the BVI exclusion from the tour was a missed opportunity. Especially since Lord Ahmad said that during his visit to the Cayman Islands he met with the Cabinet, Leader of the Opposition, and sector leaders from the financial services sector there to ensure they could directly address their concerns, and mitigate some of the issues. “The relationship between the United Kingdom is a strong one and it is multi-faceted…we have to strengthen that legacy we have to build for the future on a partnership basis and collaborative approach,” UK Minister said.