Following harsh criticism from United Kingdom officials over delayed Commission of Inquiry reforms, the House of Assembly has renewed a committee tasked with overseeing legislative initiatives recommended by the COI.
“The committee ensures continuous follow-up by the [HOA] of reform legislation pursuant to the framework of the implementation of the recommendations of the [COI],” said Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, who introduced the motion to reconstitute the committee on Jan. 31 in the HOA.
Dr. Wheatley explained that the committee had previously been in place prior to the general election last April.
“With the dissolution of the House of Assembly, it needed to be reconstituted in this new House,” he said.
The move came in the wake of former Governor John Rankin requesting extra powers for his successor after he accused the Virgin Islands government of dragging its feet on implementing legislative reforms and other COI measures.
The premier, however, has branded any move to award the governor extra authority as a “power grab.”
The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has backed him, stating that additional powers for the governor would mark a “colonial era” move by London. Last week, Dr. Wheatley said the committee’s re-appointment demonstrated that the VI was pressing ahead with progressive measures.
He also called for more transparency on the pace of reform.
“The members of the House have indicated that they want to be better appraised as to what is happening as it pertains to the details of the implementations of the recommendations,” he said. “So we have a committee, which is an obligation we agreed to under the Framework Agreement for the Implementation of the COI Report Recommendations and Other Reforms.”
The premier added that elected representatives must play an active role in overseeing how the VI moves forward on anti-corruption matters.
“I do think it’s fitting that the House has a committee where it can be briefed on Commission of Inquiry matters, and we can have in-depth discussions about legislation which will be coming to the House of Assembly for debate,” he said.
The committee members are House Speaker Corine George-Massicote as chairwoman; Dr. Wheatley; Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie De Castro; Junior Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Dr. Karl Dawson; Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton; and Deputy Speaker Stacy Mather.
Last week, the premier also added to the meeting’s agenda and subsequently introduced a bill to amend the Register of Interests Act — another part of the COI reforms.
Previous delays in moving the bill forward had been a source of tension with Mr. Rankin in the past.
Also during the Jan. 31 meeting, Dr. Wheatley laid on the table documents including the VI Constitutional Review Commission Report, an International Tax Authority statutory instrument, the auditor general’s report on the accounts of the VI for 2017, the Compensation and Job Classification Review Final Report, the General Election Report 2023, and the Civil Registry and Passport Office annual report for 2021, among others.
Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer laid on the table documents including the Public Works Department annual reports for 2019 and 2020, the VI Fire and Rescue Service’s annual report for 2019, and the Facilities Management Unit’s annual reports for 2019 and 2020.
Mr. Connolly reported this story from London