Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley says the Register of Interests (Amendment) Bill 2024 passed with amendments during the April 9 House of Assembly sitting. (PHOTO: SCREENSHOT)

House of Assembly members voted this week to make changes to their Register of Interests, but the extent of those changes is not clear because a bill they passed Tuesday has not yet been made public.

The Register of Interests (Amendment) Bill 2024 passed with amendments on Tuesday after a closed-door committee session that spanned three HOA meetings.

As usual, however, the final version of the bill won’t be published until it receives the governor’s assent.

On Tuesday, legislators didn’t explain how they had amended the originally Gazetted draft bill, which proposed two major changes: lifting a $15 fee currently required to view each HOA member’s interests; and adding a private register for senior public officers including department heads, deputy secretaries and other employees in grades 19 through 21.

Legislators were revisiting the law at the request of then-Governor John Rankin, who strongly criticised a 2022 law that made the register public but added several viewing restrictions.

“Anyone wishing to view the register must make a written application and pay a fee for each member whose record is inspected,” Mr. Rankin complained in December 2022. “The registrar must verify the identity of the person inspecting the register and keep a record of every person inspecting it. In addition, a person who is inspecting the register must do so in the presence of the registrar and, most restrictively, cannot make any kind of copy or, it would seem, even notes of the content of the register.”

Such restrictions, he said, “run counter to the principle of transparency” and make the register public only “in a highly limited way.”

The draft bill did not propose lifting any restrictions beyond the viewing fee.

The HOA first went into the committee session at the end of its March 7 meeting after debating the bill publicly for more than two hours. Lawmakers continued to discuss the bill privately in the two following meetings on March 26 and March 28 before wrapping up on Tuesday.


The ongoing reforms got under way after the 2022 Commission of Inquiry report found that lawmakers had repeatedly failed to disclose their interests as required under the 2006 Register of Interests Act.

Despite frequent reminders to comply, they breached the 2006 law at least 90 times between 2011 and 2021, according to the commission.

To rectify such issues, the COI called for a public Register of Interests that “gives clear guidance as to what must be disclosed and when, and has effective provisions (involving sanctions where appropriate) to require compliance.”

Additionally, the COI advised that the register be adequately funded and resourced, and that “once the registration of interests system for members of the House of Assembly has been established, evaluated and its extension costed, then consideration should be given to its extension to other public officials on an incremental basis.”

The former National Unity Government — which formed hastily after the April 2022 arrest of then-premier Andrew Fahie — initially agreed to a June 30, 2022 deadline to make the register public “under the existing arrangements, while a new system is designed and developed to cover both elected and public officials,” according to the Framework for Implementation of the Recommendations of the COI Report and other Reforms.

As part of efforts to fulfil these obligations, the HOA subsequently amended the Register of Interests Act in July 2022, making the existing register public with the viewing restrictions.

Although public officers were originally included in an earlier version of the bill, they were removed after the VI Civil Service Association complained about a lack of consultations.

Initial bill

The initial draft of the bill passed Tuesday proposed adding public officers to a register that would be accessible only to the governor and deputy governor.

When lawmakers discussed the bill in the March 7 HOA sitting, they focused mostly on this topic.

Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley introduced the bill, saying he was doing so on behalf of the governor, who is “responsible for the terms and conditions of employment of public officers.”

Dr. Wheatley added that he had reached out to the VICSA to solicit input on the bill, and the VICSA in turn had responded with a letter. That letter, which he read to the HOA, acknowledged that consultations had occurred but called for further dialogue.

“‘While we recognise the importance of transparency and accountability within the civil service, we must emphasise the need for a clear understanding of the implications this act has on both the personal and professional lives of the affected individuals,’” the letter stated, according to the premier. “‘This extends to the spouses and children of those who fall under the newly included category.’”


Also during the public debate on March 7, Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton argued that the sections involving public officers should be removed from the bill for now. In the future, he suggested, a separate law could be passed to establish a separate register of interests for public officers.

“While I support the idea of having a register of interests for members and civil servants, the present state of affairs does not allow civil servants to be included,” Mr. Skelton said.

Other opposition members agreed, claiming that the inclusion of public officers was being rushed.

The premier acknowledged that the way public officers were being integrated was “problematic,” but he urged the HOA to move forward. “We can fix this bill,” he said.