Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley introduced five motions to appoint members to committees, one of which he withdrew. (Photo: SCREENSHOT)

Legislators approved appointments to four House of Assembly committees last week, but after a heated debate they failed to appoint a fifth as planned.

Scheduled appointments to the Services Committee, the Committee of Privileges, and the Register of Interests Committee passed without much fanfare during the Sept. 19 HOA meeting. The Standing Orders Committee proved more contentious, but it was eventually approved as well — though not with the originally intended members.

The appointment of the opposition-led Public Accounts Committee was delayed pending advice from the attorney general about the body’s composition.
Standing orders

The debate on the Standing Orders Committee stemmed from the absence of a National Democratic Party nominee on the original member list.

Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley initially moved to appoint Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer as chair with himself, Junior Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Dr. Karl Dawson, Junior Minister of Culture and Tourism Luce Hodge-Smith, Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton, opposition member Julian Fraser, and opposition member Stacy Mather as members.

But opposition member and NDP representative Myron Walwyn quickly challenged the proposed appointments.

“In keeping with the proportional representation based on party affiliation, there’s nobody here representing the National Democratic Party,” he said. “We still very much exist, and perhaps if I could be considered as a member to join the Standing Orders Committee.”

Dr. Wheatley responded by suggesting that one of two proposed Progressive Virgin Islands Movement representatives — Mr. Skelton and Mr. Mather — give their seat to Mr. Walwyn.

“As they are very caring and they work together as an opposition, I think that they should consider giving one of those members of the PVIM to the National Democratic Party,” he said. “I don’t think it should be a challenge.”

But Mr. Skelton didn’t agree.

“There are seven members on the committee. You have four government members, you have two PVIM, but there is no member from the NDP,” he said. “To be proportionate, one of the government members must come off.”

After hearing the debate, Speaker of the House Corine George-Massicote said that ultimately, it was up to her discretion to nominate the committee.

“I think I’ll take some time, go through, and then I will nominate members,” she said. “And then it will be for you the members to make a decision based on my nominations.”

Following a brief recess, the HOA passed a new motion to appoint Mr. Rymer, Dr. Wheatley, Mr. Dawson, Mr. Skelton, Mr. Fraser, and Mr. Walwyn.

Mr. Walwyn had been added to the list, and Ms. Hodge-Smith and Mr. Mather had been removed, cutting the originally proposed seven members down to six.

Public Accounts Committee

The HOA was also scheduled to appoint the opposition-led Public Accounts Committee the same day.

However, the premier moved to withdraw his own motion to appoint that committee, citing a need to reflect “all the parties of the House” among its membership.

The original motion would have appointed all six opposition members under the chairmanship of Mr. Skelton — and no members from the Virgin Islands Party on the government side of the aisle.

“The Virgin Islands Party is missing,” Dr. Wheatley said. “It is not of the interest of good governance to have a committee with all opposition members and not even one member who can provide a dissenting vote if need be. The Standing Orders speaks very clearly about the fact that these committees must reflect all the parties of the House, and there’s a reason for that: to have a balance within the house.”

Dr. Wheatley said he was waiting for a legal opinion from the attorney general on the matter of junior ministers being appointed to the committee.

Ms. George-Massicote acknowledged that she had requested this opinion and hoped to receive a response soon.


Mr. Skelton, however, opposed the premier’s motion to delay the appointments.

He argued instead that appointing the committee is an urgent matter and that another member can be added in the future if needed.

“This is one of the most important committees of this House. It’s the only committee that scrutinises plans and procedures in expenditures,” he said. “So government has been running the last five months without any scrutiny. We can’t allow this to happen.”

Opposition member Marlon Penn supported Mr. Skelton, saying that the premier’s move was “wrong.” Mr. Walwyn and opposition member Mitch Turnbull also expressed dissent.

Deputy Premier Lorna Smith, however, supported the premier’s motion and accused the opposition of “deliberately grandstanding” on the issue.

Though Mr. Skelton moved to recess until the legal opinion is received, Ms. George-Massicote denied the motion.

Dr. Wheatley’s motion passed with a 5-4 vote, delaying the appointment of the Public Accounts Committee.

Successful appointments

Though those appointments stalled, the HOA did decide on appointments for the Services Committee, the Committee of Privileges, and the Register of Interests Committee. Dr. Wheatley was appointed chairman of the Services Committee, with Health and Social Development Minister Vincent Wheatley, Ms. Hodge-Smith, Mr. Skelton, and Mr. Turnbull as members.

Ms. George-Massicote was appointed to chair the Committee of Privileges, with Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie de Castro, Ms. Smith, Mr. Fraser, Mr. Penn, and Mr. Turnbull as members.

Register of interests

The HOA also appointed the Register of Interests Committee. Dr. Wheatley will serve as chairman, while Ms. Smith, Mr. Mather, Mr. Skelton and Mr. Fraser will serve as committee members.

“The Register of Interests Committee is a very important committee,” the premier said. “During the Commission of Inquiry, it was topical because in the past members had not registered their interests as they were supposed to, and it was a prevailing problem. This committee is responsible for regulating and sanctioning based on what’s written in the Constitution that members should register their interests.”

‘Vast improvements’

He promised that the Register of Interests will see “vast improvements,” which he described as “serious business” for HOA members.