As we’ve said before, the current government’s 2019 decision to revoke all six appointed members of the Climate Change Trust Fund board was a huge mistake.
The failure to replace the board since then is even worse.
On Sept. 6, testimony in the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the ramifications of these bad decisions at a time when the territory is facing grave perils from the effects of climate change.
The trust fund, which was established by a 2015 law passed under the previous government, was ground-breaking. A regional first, it was designed in large part to help attract international climate funding by setting up a mechanism to apolitically allocate money to projects that help the VI prepare for the worst.
To that end, a well-qualified board was appointed in 2017, and members promptly got to work as best they could.
Unfortunately, however, they had to make do with no funding.
This wasn’t supposed to be the case. In September 2017 the government began collecting a $10 environmental levy from tourists, and leaders later decided that 40 percent of that money should go into the trust fund.
But the House of Assembly never acted on that decision, and in February 2019 the current government came to office.
Shortly thereafter, responsibility for the trust fund inexplicably was moved from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration — where it seemed to belong — to the Premier’s Office.
Then Cabinet decided to revoke the membership of all six appointed board members even though the law that established the body does not grant authority for their removal in this manner.
The decision was widely reported at the time — and roundly denounced on this page — but more details emerged on Monday when the board’s former chairman testified before the COI.
A particularly disappointing disclosure involved the unceremonious manner through which board members were dismissed, even though by all accounts they had been working hard without pay to succeed — and had even contributed their personal funds to the cause.
In response to the commission’s questions, the former chairman explained that he and the other board members received a letter from the premier in early April 2019 asking them to voluntarily resign in keeping with a new policy attaching board memberships to the term of the sitting government.
Largely for two reasons, the members did not comply, Mr. Childs testified: They felt the premier’s request to be out of keeping with the law under which they were appointed, and they feared that their institutional knowledge would be lost if the entire board were replaced at once.
Instead, they requested a meeting with the premier to explain their progress so far.
They were right to hold their ground, and they should be applauded for their courage.
Unfortunately, however, they never received a response from the premier, the former chairman testified.
To date, the government has not announced a new board or provided a substantive explanation for its failure to do so.
The premier did, however, announce shortly after disbanding the board that government was hiring Claude Skelton-Cline’s firm Grace Consultants for $98,000 over a six-month period to provide advice on projects including the development of a “climate resilience and renewable energy unit.”
Government hasn’t explained how this “unit” would fit in with the trust fund, and no substantive update has been provided about it even though Mr. Skelton-Cline has continued to receive consultancy contracts.
This situation is unacceptable.
Moving forward, Mr. Fahie should immediately apologise to the former board members and ask them to return.
Then his government should ensure that the requisite 40 percent of the environmental levy money collected since 2017 goes into the fund — and continues to go into the fund regularly as envisioned — so that the board can resume its important work.
Otherwise, the public should cry out.
Climate change is an existential threat to these islands, and the government has taken a great leap backward by allowing the trust fund to fall into inactivity.