The National Unity Government has made steady progress on the reforms promised following the Commission of Inquiry, but amid various challenges it is now asking the United Kingdom to extend the scheduled deadlines for certain remaining tasks, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said last week in the House of Assembly after receiving the COI Implementation Unit’s December report.
As of Dec. 31, Dr. Wheatley said, 15 reform measures had been completed, with 33 more in progress and two yet to begin.
“It is important to note that those that have not yet started are not time-lapsed: That is to say, the timeframe for commencement of those recommendations has not yet arrived,” he added.
Providing a further breakdown, he said the measures have been split into 132 “actions,” of which 39 percent — or 52 — are completed.
Thirty-one other “actions” are in progress and on track, 26 are in progress but experiencing challenges, and 22 haven’t been started yet, the premier said.
“Again, in the case of actions not yet started, these are tasks that are dependent on the completion of other actions before they can commence,” he said. “Ministries are now working on their January report submissions, so we can expect that with the submission of some additional reports by the end of this month, the percentage of those completed will increase.”
As part of the ongoing progress, seven reviews have been completed and submitted, according to the premier.
Four, he said, came from independent reviewers appointed for the purpose:
• Jamal Smith reviewed the establishment and maintenance of statutory boards;
• Sheila Brathwaite reviewed the membership of statutory boards;
• Fikile Dlamini reviewed the Commission of Inquiry Act; and
• David Abednego reviewed the processes for the disposal of Crown land.
Additionally, Auditor General Sonia Webster completed reports on HOA Assistance Grants; contracts between consultant Claude Skelton-Cline and the government since 2019; and contracts between the government and EZ Shipping for radar barges since 2019.
“These reports are now being reviewed, and I would like to inform the public of the process that will be followed,” Dr. Wheatley said. “The reports will be submitted to Cabinet and then laid on the table at the House of Assembly. The public will have an opportunity to review the reports, some of which will require input so that an action plan can be developed on implementing aspects of the reports as determined.”
Reviewers were recently appointed to complete two more reports as well, according to the premier. One of them, Antoinette Skelton, has already begun reviewing various governance structures and reporting obligations, he said.
And on Jan. 25, he added, Cabinet agreed on the appointment of Kedrick Malone to review residence and belonger status.
The premier also provided an update on plans to reform statutory bodies.
“While the [reform] framework has provided additional opportunities to monitor the work of statutory bodies and to ensure that they are fulfilling their legal mandates, it must be noted that the Ministry of Finance already had a monitoring mechanism in place with statutory bodies where they were submitting quarterly reports,” he said. “As there were some concerns expressed about the monitoring of statutory boards, a new reporting mechanism has been implemented that would now see them reporting on a quarterly basis through their parent ministries on a broader number of areas.”
Dr. Wheatley also elaborated on challenges facing the reform process.
“The Government of National Unity and I have always been forthwith in admitting that the timelines proposed in the [implementation] framework were ambitious,” he said.
As an example of the challenges, he said the chair of the Constitutional Review Commission has requested 18 months to complete its review rather than the initial 12 months.
“Another factor that we must take a closer look at is the timeframe required for drafting new policies and legislation, now that through the ongoing work the scope of the legislative component of the reforms is becoming clearer,” he said. “With the limited number of drafters in the Attorney General’s Chambers, it will be difficult to address all of the requirements for new policies and legislation within the timeframes we initially set. This is something the government will seek to address so that we can get the work done in an acceptable timeframe.”
Other challenges include the coming dissolution of the HOA by mid-March and elections, which must take place by mid-May, according to the premier. But he assured the public that the incoming fifth HOA will be in a position to “carry forward the baton when it is handed over and to proceed with ample pace.”
Reviewer appointments have also posed difficulties, according to the premier.
“The governor and I have had a few challenges in selecting the right reviewers for certain important recommendations,” he said. “The delayed appointments in some instances have prevented the reviews being completed before the agreed deadlines, and therefore the actions dependent on the completion of these reviews will now also be delayed.”
Some reviewers, he added, have requested more time to complete the job.
Additionally, he said, “a few” recommendations will require an extended period of public consultation.
“As agreed at our November tripartite meeting, I have written to the governor with the request that he seeks the United Kingdom government’s approval of the requested extensions,” the premier said, adding that he expects to have further discussions on the matter with Lord Zac Goldsmith, the UK overseas territories minister expected to visit the Virgin Islands this week.
“The Government of National Unity holds an unwavering commitment to COI implementation and the reform process in general,” he added. “We will continue to maintain our momentum to complete the reform resulting from the recommendations from the [COI] report.”
As work progresses on the reforms, Dr. Wheatley said, the COI Unit will continue submitting monthly reports to him and Governor John Rankin.
“It is important to point out that this is not just a box-ticking exercise,” he said. “[People] should not think that this is a meaningless exercise and that reports submitted will be shelved. Beyond the reports, reform will be required in a number of areas. New policies and processes are likely to emerge. Our governance structures will be strengthened.”