Former Governor John Rankin waves goodbye to members of his staff and the media before taking a car to the airport last Thursday. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)

In January 2021, Governor John Rankin arrived in the Virgin Islands days after his predecessor dropped a political bombshell by announcing a Commission of Inquiry into possible corruption in the territory.

Last week, Mr. Rankin departed amid similar turmoil.

In a small ceremony last Thursday morning at Government House, Mr. Rankin reflected on his time in the VI and defended his decision-making during a tenure that has included the COI, related governance reforms, the arrest of then-Premier Andrew Fahie in Miami, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I have had to make some difficult and sometimes tough calls, but I’ve always done so with best intentions and a desire to help and support the lives of people here,” Mr. Rankin said on the patio of his former residence.

This month, such decisions drew the ire of the VI’s elected leaders when Mr. Rankin announced on Jan. 5 that he had requested additional powers from the United Kingdom to help his successor push through reforms recommended in the 2022 COI report.

And his going-away ceremony itself was marred by a minor controversy that shone a spotlight on the VI government’s fraught relationship with London.

Mr. Rankin delivers his final speech as governor. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
No elected leaders

By the time the ceremony was scheduled to start on Thursday morning, no elected leaders had arrived.

“The honourable premier, I know, will be with us shortly,” Mr. Rankin said. “He’s a busy man and I understand BVI time.”

But Dr. Wheatley didn’t show up. No other elected leaders did either, and the ceremony proceeded without them.

Following public speculation about their absence, the Governor’s Office issued a statement after the ceremony explaining that the premier, opposition leader and attorney general were invited “as is customary.”

“The leader of the opposition sent his apologies in advance,” the statement added.

Karia Christopher, the government communications director, told the Beacon this week that the premier’s absence was unintentional.

“The premier was actually on his way to the departure ceremony, but unfortunately missed it; there was something pressing,” Ms. Christopher said. “I can also say that the premier absolutely reached out to Governor Rankin, and they exchanged commentaries, wonderful words, and he wished him well.”

Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton told the Beacon he declined the invitation in advance due to a previous engagement on Jost Van Dyke.

Other members

Hours after the governor’s ceremony, the House of Assembly also weighed in, releasing a four-sentence statement critical of the decision not to invite all HOA members to the event.

“Regrettably, apart from the premier, leader of the opposition and attorney general, no other member received an invitation to the governor’s departure ceremony,” the statement noted. “Consequently, the speaker and other members were not in attendance at the event. We acknowledge the importance of fostering unity and inclusivity in such occasions, and while the invitation was not extended, the speaker wishes the governor well in his future endeavors.”

Governor ’s tenure

During the ceremony, Mr. Rankin didn’t dwell on the absences but instead used his speech to review his time in the VI.

He spent his first days here in quarantine as the territory struggled to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic — which was just one in a series of blows beginning with hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

“During these three years, I have seen the resilience of the people of the BVI,” Mr. Rankin said. “I also found a community ready for change and better governance. I know that the [COI] was unsettling for many, but it showed what needs to be done to give the people of the BVI the better governance they deserve.”

Following the release of the COI report the day after Mr. Fahie’s April 2022 arrest in Miami, Mr. Rankin also presided over the hasty formation of the National Unity Government and its June 2022 agreement to carry out dozens of reforms recommended by the COI over a two-year period.

Governor John Rankin and his partner, Tara Curtis, approach the podium to initiate the farewell ceremony at Government House. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
COI reforms

Since then, he has pushed hard for those reforms to be completed as promised. In that regard, the governor was upbeat when he released his fourth quarterly report on the reforms in late September, though he warned about “bottle-necks” in the government.

“This quarterly review in effect represents the midway point of the delivery of the COI reforms,” Mr. Rankin wrote at the time. “Since the previous quarterly review, no additional recommendations have been reported by the COI Implementation Unit as completed. The total remains 24 of the 48. That said, there have been some advances in the previous few months.”

Three months later, Mr. Rankin changed his tune.

“Progress in implementing the recommendations of the COI has significantly stalled,” he wrote in his next review on Jan. 5. “Only one additional recommendation is reported as completed over the past six months. The total stands at 25 of 48, with only a few months left until May.”

He then announced his decision to seek additional powers from the UK, touching off a firestorm of criticism from elected leaders who decried the move as colonial overreach.

But Mr. Rankin stood by his decision, arguing that it was necessary in order to push through reforms that the government has not completed by the agreed deadlines.

Final words

From his farewell podium last week, Mr. Rankin also said he has prioritised security issues, including working to eliminate the transshipment of illicit drugs.

“While this remains one of the safest places in the region, drug trafficking remains a huge challenge,” he said. “The drug trade goes hand in hand with guns and violence, and it is deeply corrosive to those who get caught up in its web.”

In response to such issues, his office has invested in the police force and its marine capabilities, he said.

“I care deeply about the Virgin Islands and will continue to watch its progress from afar,” he added. “Thank you to the people of the Virgin Islands. It has been an honour to represent you and to be with you this short while.”

Then he shook attendees’ hands and walked down the steps of Government House one last time before climbing into the back seat of his government Range Rover en route to the airport.

Mr. Rankin’s successor, Daniel Pruce, is due to take up his appointment this month.