Left, Current Governor of the British Virgin Islands Daniel Pruce. Right, former governor John Rankin.

Governor Daniel Pruce has stopped short of backing his predecessor’s controversial request for extra powers from London to force through reforms recommended by the Commission of Inquiry.

Mr. Pruce, who replaced John Rankin in January, said Friday that he is reviewing whether the Virgin Islands government is doing enough to bring in COI reforms aimed at improving governance safeguards in the territory. His first quarterly review on the topic, he added, will be released later this month. Asked if he backed Mr. Rankin’s call for extra powers, the governor declined to take a position.

“I think from my perspective, the comments of my predecessor, … who I know very well and have enormous respect for, [were] made in the context of his quarterly review in relation to the recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry,” he said. “I haven’t yet conducted my first quarterly review. That will be coming later this month.”

Pressed on whether he was minded to repeat the calls for increased powers, the governor said he didn’t want to “pre-empt” his coming review.

“In keeping with the spirit of transparency and accountability that I will try to bring to this role, once we have compiled that review we will, of course, make that publicly available as has been the tradition here, and I will ensure that I am available to take questions on it,” he said.

Shortly before leaving the territory, Mr. Rankin said in a scathing quarterly review of the COI reforms that extra powers were needed because the government was moving too slowly with the framework agreed by the VI and United Kingdom in June 2022.

“Progress in implementing the recommendations of the COI has significantly stalled,” Mr. Rankin wrote in January. “Only one additional recommendation is reported as completed over the past six months — the total stands at 25 of 48.”

He added that “key recommendations” were “far behind schedule,” and he questioned the VI government’s determination to move them forward.

Because of such issues, he recommended that the UK extend the scheduled May deadline for the COI reforms by six months until the end of November. Mr. Rankin also stated at the time he was asking London for extra powers to be given to him and his successor at Government House.

Since then, he, Mr. Pruce and the UK have not provided an update on that request.

Mr. Rankin’s January remarks, however, drew a stinging response from Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, who accused the outgoing governor of attempting a “power grab.” The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and other British overseas territories also strongly criticised the call for extra powers. The OECS expressed “alarm” and warned the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that any such move would be “undemocratic” and represent a “colonial act.”

“In response to the current situation in the British Virgin Islands, heads of government of the OECS noted with alarming concern the evolving situation in the British Virgin Islands regarding the request by the governor for additional powers, which will allow him to bypass the territorial government and implement unilaterally the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry for governance reforms in the BVI,” the group stated in January.

Asked this week about London’s attitude towards more powers for the governor, an FCDO spokeswoman told the Beacon: “We continue to raise the importance of reform with Premier Wheatley, who has reiterated his commitment to delivering progress by agreed deadlines. The UK remains committed to ensuring that the people of the BVI get the good governance they deserve, and will study the detail of the governor’s next review carefully.”

UK review of OTs

Also on Friday, Mr. Pruce declined to say if he was disappointed that a top-level probe by a House of Commons committee on the UK’s future relationship with its overseas territories had made fact-finding visits only to Gibraltar and Bermuda and not the Caribbean.

“I think questions about the programme of the committee are best directed towards them,” he said. “The programme that they have chosen to pursue is a matter for them. It’s a fair question, but I think the answer lies with them rather than with myself.”

The all-party Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs is planning to release its findings in July, members have told the Beacon.