The new government has taken a step backward by implementing an explicit “policy” of revoking and replacing the boards of all statutory bodies and government committees.
Though previous administrations often have replaced boards, to our recollection this is the first time that a government has codified this unfortunate practice as a “policy.”
Premier Andrew Fahie told the Beacon that he wishes to align membership with the term of his administration. But this quixotic plan largely defeats the purpose of such boards, which typically are supposed to be apolitical.
It is also impractical: Many board members, of course, aren’t appointed to serve four-year terms like most governments. Additionally, their appointments are often staggered in order to help preserve institutional memory and ensure continuity over time.
As an example of the problems with Mr. Fahie’s approach, consider the Climate Change Trust Fund, which is a well-conceived initiative that is among the first of its kind in the region.
The body’s board is charged with raising money from here and abroad and deciding how to spend it to help the territory prepare for one of the biggest threats facing the region.
The board was deliberately designed to be independent and apolitical in large part to assure potential donors that their money wouldn’t be spent on questionable projects designed to curry favour with the electorate.
In 2017 the fund’s unpaid board members were selected based on their extensive expertise in various fields. They have since drafted a manual and spent many hours at work even though the previous government apparently failed to keep its promise to direct money into the fund.
Now the members, who were appointed for one- to three-year terms, have been unceremoniously dumped.
This move sends an unfortunate message to potential contributors that their donations might not be safe from political interference after all. In fact, it endangers the fund’s very existence.
The legality of the decision is also questionable. The Climate Change Trust Fund Act states that with Cabinet approval the minister overseeing the fund — who in this case is Mr. Fahie — may revoke a board member’s appointment for specific reasons: misconduct, absenteeism, conflict of interest, failure to fulfil the conditions of appointment, or acting in a way that is “detrimental to the trust.”
But Mr. Fahie told the Beacon that the appointments were revoked because of the government’s new “policy.”
Similar issues doubtlessly arise with the shake-up of the boards of entities including the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, which has suffered greatly from political interference in the past; the BVI Ports Authority; the BVI Electricity Corporation, and many others.
Ultimately, then, the government’s new “policy” smacks of an attempt to politicise boards that should be free to operate independently.
Moving forward, the government should reverse its decision and leave boards alone to do their job. And when leaders appoint future board members, they should steer away from political considerations and choose based on expertise and demonstrated experience.
The new government came to power promising better governance. Its new “policy” is the opposite.