Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley presents the Register of Interests (Amendment) Bill 2024 during the March 7 House of Assembly sitting. (Photo: Screenshot)

When lawmakers voted in July 2022 to make the Register of Interests public as advised by the Commission of Inquiry, they also added several viewing restrictions that drew strong criticism from then-Governor John Rankin.

“Anyone wishing to view the register must make a written application and pay a fee for each member whose record is inspected,” Mr. Rankin complained in December 2022. “The registrar must verify the identity of the person inspecting the register and keep a record of every person inspecting it. In addition, a person who is inspecting the register must do so in the presence of the registrar and, most restrictively, cannot make any kind of copy or, it would seem, even notes of the content of the register.”

Such restrictions, he said, “run counter to the principle of transparency” and make the register of legislators’ interests public only “in a highly limited way.”

Though Mr. Rankin ultimately assented to the bill in question — the Register of Interests (Amendment) Act 2022 — he asked the House of Assembly to revisit it within a year to lift the restrictions and to require senior public officers to register their interests too.

Now, lawmakers are revisiting the law as requested, but the amendment they are considering would leave in place all the viewing restrictions except the $15 fee currently required to view each HOA member’s interests.

Those restrictions, however, went mostly unmentioned during the March 7 HOA debate on the draft amendment. Instead, HOA members focused on the planned addition of a private register for senior public officers including department heads, deputy secretaries and other employees in grades 19 through 21.

After their public debate, members went into a closed-door committee session in the evening to discuss the bill privately. They are scheduled to resume when the HOA returns on Tuesday.


The ongoing reforms got under way after the COI report found that lawmakers had repeatedly failed to disclose their interests as required under the 2006 Register of Interests Act.

Despite frequent reminders to comply, they breached the 2006 law at least 90 times between 2011 and 2021, according to the commission.

To rectify such issues, the COI called for a public Register of Interests that “gives clear guidance as to what must be disclosed and when, and has effective provisions (involving sanctions where appropriate) to require compliance.”

Additionally, the COI advised that the register be adequately funded and resourced, and that “once the registration of interests system for members of the House of Assembly has been established, evaluated and its extension costed, then consideration should be given to its extension to other public officials on an incremental basis.”

The former National Unity Government — which formed hastily after the April 2022 arrest of former premier Andrew Fahie — initially agreed to a June 30, 2022 deadline to make the register public “under the existing arrangements, while a new system is designed and developed to cover both elected and public officials,” according to the Framework for Implementation of the Recommendations of the COI Report and other Reforms.

As part of efforts to fulfil these obligations, the HOA subsequently amended the Register of Interests Act in July 2022, making the existing register public with the viewing restrictions.

Although public officers were originally included in an earlier version of the bill, they were removed after the VI Civil Service Association complained about a lack of consultations.

New bill

Now, the new bill before the HOA proposes adding public officers to a register that would be accessible only to the governor and deputy governor.

When lawmakers discussed the bill in the March 7 HOA sitting, they focused mostly on this topic.

Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley introduced the bill, saying he was doing so on behalf of the governor, who is “responsible for the terms and conditions of employment of public officers.”

Dr. Wheatley added that he had reached out to the VI Civil Service Association to solicit input on the bill, and the VICSA in turn had responded with a letter. That letter, which he read to the HOA, acknowledged that consultations had occurred but called for further dialogue.

“‘While we recognise the importance of transparency and accountability within the civil service, we must emphasise the need for a clear understanding of the implications this act has on both the personal and professional lives of the affected individuals,’” the letter stated, according to the premier. “‘This extends to the spouses and children of those who fall under the newly included category.’”


Also during the debate, Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton argued that the sections involving public officers should be removed from the bill for now. In the future, he suggested, a separate law could be passed to establish a separate register of interests for public officers.

“While I support the idea of having a register of interests for members and civil servants, the present state of affairs does not allow civil servants to be included,” Mr. Skelton said.

Other opposition members agreed, claiming that the inclusion of public officers was being rushed.

The premier acknowledged that the way public officers were being integrated was “problematic,” but he urged the HOA to move forward.

“We can fix this bill,” he said. “We will fix it. The public officers who will be captured in this bill, they will have to register their interests. It will be private.”

After approximately two hours of public debate, lawmakers went into the closed-door committee session to discuss the law privately.

The session was ongoing when the HOA adjourned until next Tuesday.

DG’s response

After the HOA meeting, Deputy Governor David Archer Jr., who at the time was acting as governor, released a statement clarifying that the Office of the Deputy Governor had sought consultations with the public officers who would be affected by the proposed law.

“Contrary to what has been recently purported, extensive work was done to ensure that all impacted public officers remained informed about the contents of the proposed amendments and that their opinions were addressed adequately,” Mr. Archer said in the Friday statement.

He also outlined the progression of the current bill, which he noted had been shared with public officers since Jan. 16.

“Following consensus on the contents of the bill, an additional opportunity for feedback was presented to public officers via email. Only one officer provided feedback,” he stated, adding, “All public officers have the right to submit their opinions on the Register of Interests Amendment Bill, 2024 and should share feedback by Friday, [March 29].”