So far, the new National Unity Government is saying the right things as it works to dissuade the United Kingdom from implementing direct rule. For instance, it has rightly accepted the need for the reforms recommended by the Commission of Inquiry and promised to implement them as a matter of top priority.
But talk is cheap, and previous governments have pledged many of the same reforms for decades without even getting started.
Elected leaders, then, must now ensure that their words are backed up with rapid action in the coming days and weeks. They must also convince the public that they are prepared to go where no VI government has gone before — and explain how exactly they propose to do it.
Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley has summarised the broad strokes of the proposal his administration sent the UK about two weeks ago — in essence, the government would work closely with the governor to implement the COI reforms — but he has not yet published the proposal itself. He should do so straightaway.
Then his government should bring the public a more detailed strategy and timeline for accomplishing each of the recommendations in the COI report. This document should include a full explanation of any mechanisms designed to ensure that the new cross-party government can actually implement difficult reforms that its predecessors have failed to carry out for decades.
The strategy should also explain what will happen after the general elections early next year, when a new government may come to power that could be less interested in the COI reforms.
Simultaneously, Dr. Wheatley’s government should move ahead with enacting the promised reforms as quickly as possible. To that end, we are pleased by the steps announced as priorities so far.
For instance, the premier said leaders have already started the process of replacing members of statutory boards including the BVI Ports Authority, the BVI Airports Authority, and the Social Security Board. Given the allegations included in the COI report and the recent criminal complaint against former premier Andrew Fahie — which cast serious doubt on these boards’ ability to function properly — these are steps in the right direction.
On Tuesday, Dr. Wheatley also announced other well-conceived priorities, most of which were recommended by the COI:
• implementing a protocol for appointing and dismissing members of statutory boards;
• implementing reforms that appear to include scrapping the appalling Assistance Grants Programme under which elected officials annually distribute millions of taxpayer dollars with no accountability whatsoever;
• opening the legislators’ Register of Interests to the public and enacting penalties for legislators who fail to declare their interests on time; and
• implementing long needed campaign finance reforms, among others.
Such measures would be a great start. But the COI recommendations include many, many more. If Dr. Wheatley’s government can get them done as efficiently as he claims, kudos are surely in order.
But he and his colleagues must prove it, starting in today’s sitting of the House of Assembly.