The preamble to the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007 highlights the importance of cultural identity in the territory. Legislators recently took the initial steps toward constitutional review. (Photo: PROVIDED)

After about three years of delays caused in part by the 2017 hurricanes, the government is soon to launch a constitutional review, Premier Andrew Fahie announced last Thursday in the House of Assembly.

Given the projected long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, last year’s $30 million dip in revenue from financial services, the United Kingdom’s pending exit from the European Union and ongoing recovery from the 2017 hurricanes, Mr. Fahie said it’s time to re-evaluate the territory’s 2007 Constitution.

“The factors identified above have already had a significant impact on the Virgin Islands economy and are likely to continue doing so into the foreseeable future,” he said. “This has implications for Virgin Islanders and belongers in the pursuit of their aspirations for economic empowerment and becoming a self-governing people who are able to exercise the highest degree of control over the affairs of their country at this stage of its development.”

The last time the Constitution was altered was 13 years ago, resulting in the fifth iteration of the document, which typically is reviewed every decade or so.

Mr. Fahie said Cabinet took action on June 10 to pursue the review, deciding to establish a Constitutional Review Commission charged with conducting a full assessment of the document to ensure it still aligns with the “desires and aspirations of Virgin Islanders and belongers.” He did not name the commission members.

Public forums

This review process will include public forums — either in person or online — about what the citizenry wants in the Constitution, according to the premier.

“Such a review exercise should allow for debates and discussions among the Virgin Islands population across the territory, so that they can express concerns and make recommendations for constitutional change,” Mr. Fahie said. “This process will identify recommendations that can be presented to the government of the UK for realignment of the constitutional framework governing the Virgin Islands with the desires and aspirations of Virgin Islanders and belongers.”

The commission will submit a report within six months from when it starts its review, with a potential one-month extension, according to the premier.

UK relations

While considering a recent HOA motion to reprimand the governor for allegedly causing the BVI Airways report to be laid late in the HOA, the premier said the VI is in a complicated position when it comes to interpreting and following the Constitution.

“These dilemmas are a product of our constitutional relationship between the territorial government and the UK government, and by extension the governor,” Mr. Fahie said. “It is a relationship that does not really give guarantees built in to protect us Virgin Islanders in times like these.”

He said a review is necessary to clear up any “grey areas” in the Constitution, especially when it comes to accountability “across the board” in government.

“How many times in my 15 months as premier have I felt infringed upon but have been bound to silence because of constitutional provisions and the issue of confidentiality in the interactions between the governor and the premier?” he asked. “Under our present framework, I cannot tell a soul. We need a solution.”

Fellow members of the House, including Transportation, Works and Utilities Minister Kye Rymer, bolstered Mr. Fahie’s call for review during the June 5 HOA session.

“We are maturing, we are growing as a people that we can be here debating such a matter,” Mr. Rymer said as the House deliberated its relationship with the Governor’s Office. “The preamble in the Constitution speaks to us as a people, our identity. I am excited to see this constitutional review exercise … and to hear the views of the people, because we represent the people.”