Community members who opposed the potential takeover by the United Kingdom shared their view that such action would set back the territory’s constitutional progress over more than 70 years. About 50 people gathered in front of the Governor’s Office on May 11. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

The territory waited in limbo after the newly formed National Unity Government privately sent the United Kingdom a proposal last week to make reforms locally without the two-year dissolution of the House of Assembly recommended in the Commission of Inquiry report. Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said during a press conference on May 13 that he hoped the territory would hear “very soon” whether the UK will impose direct rule here.

“I’m hopeful that we would receive a decision within a few days,” Dr. Wheatley said.

But as of the Beacon’s press time on May 18, the UK had not announced a decision.

Dr. Wheatley also said during the press conference that UK officials had confirmed receipt of the VI government’s proposal, which he said affirms his government’s commitment to implementing the reforms recommended in the COI report.

“They actually asked a few questions about the proposal,” he said. “So we know they are currently considering it, and we’re hopeful that they’ll come forward with a positive response very soon.”

The proposal — which he submitted to Amanda Milling, the UK minister for the overseas territories — “sets out our approach to reform and presents a framework for implementation under continued democratic governance,” Dr. Wheatley said.

“It represents our commitment to good governance and strengthening our institutions and systems of government,” he added. “We want to engender a new culture in the handling of the people’s business.”

The government has not released the proposal to the public, but Dr. Wheatley said “firm plans to improve governance” would be made public soon.

The new administration, he added, is willing to work with the UK on enacting the reforms suggested in the COI report.

Dr. Wheatley also expressed optimism that the cross-party government sworn in on May 5 will be able to collaborate effectively in bringing change.

“As we work together, cutting across party lines, we will be holding each other accountable based on the commitments we made in order to forge the government of national unity,” he said.

Public input

Prompted by a reporter, the premier explained that time constraints precluded the government from holding public consultations before sending the proposal to the UK.

“We had to gather ourselves very quickly and devise a strategy,” he said.

He added that his new administration has heard widespread support for enacting governance reforms to address shortcomings that have plagued the territory for years.

The government’s plans for the way forward include reforming election laws, bringing transparency to how assistance grants are awarded, and undertaking other measures, the premier explained.

“[The people of the VI] want good governance,” he said. “They want the reforms. … We will be going in detail into the changes we have to make to show our commitment to good governance.”

Immediate measures

The VI government, he added, is already implementing changes at the BVI Ports Authority, whose managing director, Oleanvine Maynard, is facing drug and money-laundering conspiracy charges in Miami alongside former premier Andrew Fahie.

BVIPA board chairman Kelvin Hodge, for instance, has agreed to tender his resignation, Dr. Wheatley said, adding that the remaining board members, whose terms were set to expire this week, will be replaced with “suitably qualified persons.”

“This decision was not taken lightly,” the premier said. “However, given the remaining concerns about security at the ports after the arrest of Ms. Maynard and the details of her activities described in the affidavit filed in the US courts, we must refresh the board so its integrity is beyond reproach.”

He added that leaders are also examining the “legal and practical issues” of terminating Ms. Maynard’s appointment.

“In terms of the security of the ports, I have scheduled an urgent meeting with the governor and commissioner of police to discuss some of the security concerns and what measures can be taken to address them,” he added.

Dr. Wheatley also promised further updates on “urgently needed” changes to other statutory board appointments.

“It is not good practice to have the same persons sitting on multiple statutory boards, and we will make the necessary changes in accordance with best practice,” he said. “I will make an announcement shortly on a date and time when we present our comprehensive approach and invite your views.”

New HOA speaker

If the House isn’t dissolved, it is scheduled to meet this morning, when Dr. Wheatley said a new speaker will likely be sworn in.

Former Speaker Julian Willock resigned earlier this month at the request of Dr. Wheatley, despite his protests that he did nothing wrong.

“The majority of members thought that we should go in a new direction as it pertained to a speaker,” Dr. Wheatley explained on May 13 when asked why he requested Mr. Willock’s resignation. “There are a number of incidents in the past that persons would have felt basically that it’s time with this new, fresh start that we’ve taken in the territory, that we start in the House of Assembly as well, and put a speaker in place that we have confidence in conducting the sessions of the House in a particular way. But we want to thank the speaker for his service.”

Questions remain about the $120,000 in legal fees Mr. Willock incurred from a request for an injunction he filed during the COI. Protesters decried a proposed resolution last November that would have excused him from paying the fees despite a ruling by Commercial Court Justice Adrian Jack that Mr. Willock should personally pay the fees.

The issue was sent to a special committee, but that committee has yet to make a report in the House even though it was due in early January.

Dr. Wheatley said on May 13 he would have to get an update on the situation and promised to provide more information soon.

District One seat

Dr. Wheatley also confirmed on May 13 that Mr. Fahie still retains his seat as District One representative even though his appointments as premier and minister of finance were revoked following a May 5 no-confidence resolution in the HOA.

Asked if plans were in place to remove Mr. Fahie from office, Dr. Wheatley said the matter would be up to the governor.

According to the Constitution, an elected member can be removed for a variety of reasons, including resignation; being absent from more sittings than allowed in the Standing Orders — which is three consecutive sittings without written leave from the speaker; ceasing to be qualified for election; or becoming party to a government contract without HOA permission.

“If circumstances such as are referred to in subsection (3)(d) arise because a member is declared bankrupt, adjudged to be of unsound mind, under sentence of death or imprisonment or convicted of an offence relating to elections and if it is open to the member to appeal against the decision (either with the leave of the court or other authority or without such leave) he or she shall forthwith cease to perform his or her functions as a member,” the Constitution states.

When the Beacon contacted the Governor’s Office for clarification on Mr. Fahie’s seat, staff declined to comment and recommended contacting the VI government press office.

Fahie collecting salary?

Dr. Wheatley said during the May 13 press conference that he did not know if Mr. Fahie continues to collect his salary as a representative.

He also sought to reassure District One residents that they would still be represented by at-large members of the House, especially Carvin Malone.

Deputy Premier Kye Rymer, who also spoke at the press conference, said the government would work to continue benefits to elders and other community members in District One during the transition to the new government.

“We are going to work out a system to ensure that they don’t suffer based on the fact that he’s not here to represent them right now,” Mr. Rymer said.