Deputy Premier Kye Rymer introduced new legislation in the House of Assembly on Monday to correct an error made in the 2019 fast-track belongership programme. Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, along with two other legislators, recused themselves for conflict of interest because their significant other benefitted from the programme. The HOA passed the bill. (Screenshot: HOA)

Days before voters are scheduled to head to the polls to choose a new House of Assembly, five post-Commission of Inquiry reports were tabled on Monday during a special emergency session of the current HOA.

They include two reports on statutory boards and three others covering land ownership, belongership, and discretionary powers held by elected officials.

Statutory boards

In his “2022 Statutory Boards Review,” which was presented to the premier and governor on Dec. 31, attorney Jamal Smith made 40 recommendations “with the hope that the Virgin Islands will be all the better for them.”

Mr. Smith found that most statutory boards in the Virgin Islands don’t meet the minimum corporate governance standards for state-owned enterprises set out by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development.

“They are all established for some public purpose, but the very public for whom they are established has no information about their membership, how they are selected, and how they are to operate,” Mr. Smith wrote. “The standards of openness and transparency on statutory boards is grossly below standard, and a tectonic shift among statutory boards are required across the Virgin Islands to bring them into compliance with international best practice.”

Other recommendations included appointing a statutory boards desk officer in the Premier’s Office; maintaining independent websites to provide easy access to information; using gender-neutral pronouns; and disqualifying close family members of elected officials and senior public officers from board appointments.

Appointments report

A related report by former Complaints Commissioner Sheila Brathwaite assessed whether it is necessary to revoke any statutory board appointments made since 2019.

“Apart from the fact that a handful of [people] were appointed to several committees, 89 percent of the [people] appointed were qualified to be on the respective boards/committees,” Ms. Brathwaite wrote.
About two percent were not qualified, six percent were “minimally qualified,” and “no information” was received for three percent, she added.

In light of her findings, Ms. Brathwaite recommended that the re-composition of boards should be carried out under strict guidelines and that private sector representatives shouldn’t be appointed to more than one board each.

Also laid on the table of the House on Monday was a protocol for statutory bodies and appointments to them.

Government announced Tuesday that the protocol is now in effect and that the Premier’s Office is developing an “action plan for the full implementation of the protocol, which includes conducting training sessions with the relevant stakeholders.”


Another tabled report reviewed the fast-track belongership programme initially launched by then-Premier Andrew Fahie in May 2019. The March 9 report — carried out by the government’s auditor general and internal auditor — found that the programme lacked sufficient public participation, a clearly documented policy position, and transparency, among other issues.

This resulted in problematical outcomes including the award of belongership to 249 people who submitted incomplete applications, the report stated.

“In conclusion, the [fast-track programme] lacked essential governance principles of transparency, participation, accountability and equity,” the report added. “The statutory requirements were not applied to all the applications and there is evidence that some decisions were influenced by the policymakers who directly benefited in some instances.”

The report also advised that immigration be managed in a more holistic manner.

“Laws and policies should only be changed after the issues have been thoroughly understood, input gained from stakeholders, and the evidence yielded dictates the appropriate legislative and policy changes that would address the underlying issues in a long-term and permanent manner,” the report stated. “The manner in which legislative changes were made to facilitate this programme were shortsighted.”

Discretionary powers

Another tabled report, by attorney Anthea Smith, reviewed the discretionary powers held by elected officials.

After reviewing more than 100 laws, Ms. Smith found that such powers granted to VI officials are generally necessary, appropriate and not overly broad or excessive.

But she did find a few possible exceptions.

For instance, she warned that a legislative provision allowing the minister of health and social development to remove the chair or any other member of the Medical Appeals Tribunal “potentially compromises the independence of the tribunal.”

She also expressed concerns about a subsection of the Public Finance Management Regulations 2005 that allows Cabinet to exercise discretion to accept or reject recommendations of the Central Tenders Board, and a section of the Virgin Islands Investment Act 2020 which empowers the presiding minister to delay or prevent a foreign investor from transferring funds outside the territory.

What is more concerning, she wrote, is that some government statutes and regulations don’t clearly delineate rules that would limit officials’ ability to act without “sufficient regard” for good governance.

Crown lands

In another report filed on Jan. 16, attorney David Abednego reviewed the processes for disposal of Crown land.

In a brief conclusion section, Mr. Abednego provided succinct recommendations for improvements.

“The overall objective of Crown land disposal and management is that the disposal and management should be carried out in a manner that is free from political influence and implements long-term sustainable policies that benefit the people of the Virgin Islands,” he wrote. “Strengthening the disposal and management process, by means of an arm’s length approach from politics and by providing codified written guidelines and criteria that are publicly available, will ensure fairness, efficiency, transparency and public confidence.”

The report also recommended establishing a Crown Land Allocation Register and Crown land inventory maps designed to allow the public to access information easily. Crown land, he added, should be categorised as commercial or residential.

Mr. Abednego also advised that his report be followed by consultations and internal meetings with government authorities.

Additionally, he recommended that a National Estate Committee be established to vet applications for the use of Crown lands rather than the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour.