We were encouraged to hear Premier Andrew Fahie say last month that his government plans to turn its attention to governance reforms starting at this week’s House of Assembly meeting.
This time, he must keep his promise.
Such reforms have been badly needed for decades, but now the United Kingdom’s commission of inquiry has lent them a new urgency.
Regardless of what the inquiry finds, sound governance systems should make the UK much less likely to walk back any of the territory’s hard-won autonomy.
To understand the potential extent of such repercussions, one need only consider the UK’s 2009 implementation of direct rule in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The VI must do everything it can to lessen the likelihood of a similar situation here.
To that end, leaders should implement as many governance reforms as possible with the aim of completing several before the inquiry ends in five to eight months’ time.
In theory, this path should not be difficult for a government that came to power in 2019 campaigning on such reforms.
But in spite of Mr. Fahie’s promises — and a public fed up with poor governance — his administration has made precious little progress in that direction.
Instead, its egregious lack of transparency in many areas has left an increasing number of residents sorely disillusioned.
To be fair, Mr. Fahie’s administration has been swamped with Covid-19 for the past year.
But as the urgency of the pandemic subsides, governance reforms should be a top priority.
Cabinet has already taken at least one step in the right direction, reviewing a whistleblower bill last month and sending it to the Attorney General’s Chambers for review.
The attorney general should get the job done quickly and send it back straightaway if she hasn’t already, and then Cabinet should rush it to the House of Assembly. From there, it should be passed without further delay.
At the same time, the government should move ahead with other legislative reforms, many of which the premier has promised already: an integrity-in-public-life law; new procurement legislation; an amendment that enables unexplained wealth orders; freedom-of-information legislation; a human rights commission act; an amendment opening the register of legislators’ interests to the public; and new rules requiring that statutory bodies’ board meetings be public, among others.
We see no reason why Mr. Fahie’s administration can’t pass the majority of these measures before the end of its current term in about two years’ time.
The commission of inquiry has highlighted what the media, auditor general, complaints commissioner and other watchdogs have been saying for decades: It is high time for comprehensive governance reform in the territory.
The government must start today. If it doesn’t, the public must continue to insist, loud and clear.