Legislators across parties called for unity and collaboration on Tuesday as all 13 members of the House of Assembly and Speaker Julian Willock were sworn in at the first HOA sitting.
The new government saw a decisive upset in the Feb. 25 election as the two-term National Democratic Party majority was replaced by a sweeping Virgin Islands Party victory.
On Tuesday morning, residents filed into the Multi-purpose Sports Complex wearing brightly coloured hats and other formalwear to see the members take their oaths on a red-cloth draped platform.
The eight-member VIP government is balanced by a four-member opposition that currently includes two legislators from the NDP, one from Progressives United and one from the Progressive VI Movement.
Mark Vanterpool of the NDP last week vacated his Fourth District seat, which will be filled in
an upcoming by-election.
This legislature is the first in VI history to have three women serving simultaneously, a sign of progress that was noted by Junior Minister of Tourism Shereen Flax-Charles and Junior Minister of Trade and Economic Development Sharie de Castro, VIP at-large representatives who joined NDP opposition member Alvera Maduro-Caines (R-D6) as the only women in the HOA.
Ms. Flax-Charles, the first female legislator from Virgin Gorda, spoke emphatically about women’s issues during her speech.
“We need to continue to encourage and empower each other,” she said.
Ms. de Castro spoke similarly, pointing out that the legislature has a “fair share” of women and young people represented.
Ms. de Castro, who led the at-large candidates with the most votes, is also the youngest member of the HOA at 28 years old.
All of the members of the majority are first-time legislators apart from Premier Andrew Fahie, which he noted in his speech.
“Just because they have never before been elected does not mean they will not be effective,” he said.
Meanwhile, PU representative Julian Fraser (R-D3) used his speech to implore Mr. Fahie to improve water service and roads in District Three, and to warn of upcoming challenges for the territory.
“By far the Third District has the worst roads,” he said, a situation that he called “a death trap waiting to happen.”
Mr. Fahie responded to Mr. Fraser’s remarks in his speech, assuring him that the Third District would “never be forgotten.”
Mr. Fraser also brought up the recent report issued by the United Kingdom House of Commons recommending that the UK government phase out belongership in the British overseas territories and set a date for them to legalise same-sex marriage.
He described this report as an imposition on the VI.
Kye Rymer, minister for transportation, works and utilities, used his speech to call for more infrastructure, public transportation, and better waste management, commenting on the “stifling smell of sewage permeating the air.”
He also spoke of the need for “a capital that looks like a capital, that we can feel proud of.”
Ms. Maduro-Caines stressed the responsibilities of the opposition.
“I will not oppose just for opposing’s sake,” she pledged.
Mr. Fahie concluded his speech by noting that the European Union recognised the VI as compliant with its fair taxation principles.
“This is a significant outcome, but also in some ways it is not surprising,” he said. “Why? Because the BVI has always been a jurisdiction that keeps pace with international standards.”