Last week, residents from around the territory attended public meetings to discuss the relationship between the Virgin Islands and the United Kingdom.
Opposition Leader Andrew Fahie (R-D1) organised the meetings in response to a broader inquiry by UK lawmakers into the country’s future relationship with its overseas territories.
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which didn’t launch any public effort to gather feedback here, is carrying out the examination and welcomes input to be submitted by Sept. 3.
The meetings focused on five topics that were highlighted by the UK inquiry: governance of the OTs (including their adherence to human rights frameworks); benefits of the UK-OT relationship; financing of the OTs; representation of the OTs in the UK and in the Commonwealth; and assets and liabilities (like the effects of extreme weather and natural resources).
Vincent Wheatley, government’s sister islands coordinator, led a discussion on the fourth topic at one of the meetings on Virgin Gorda and said the group of about 30 residents were eager to give their thoughts.
“I would say it was attended but not well-attended. But the people that came were very engaged,” said Mr. Wheatley, who has announced his plan to seek the Ninth District seat in the next election under Mr. Fahie’s Virgin Islands Party.
The meeting, he added, lasted about four hours.
“The topics that were chosen — most people don’t really have a good understanding of what they are and why they’re important to us,” he said. “High school persons to adults should be able to articulate their opinion on the relationship between the United Kingdom and the overseas territories.”
After various presentations, residents could ask questions and give their own comments, Mr. Wheatley said.
“In my opinion, I felt that folks would like a little better representation in terms of information sharing and various opportunities,” he said.
Once compiled, all views from last week’s meetings will be catalogued and presented to the Foreign Affairs Committee before the Monday deadline, Mr. Fahie has said.
“I am so proud of my people,” Mr. Fahie wrote in a statement in mid-August. “Once again this initiative proves that once we involve our people on every level and give our people the forum and opportunities to excel, then together as one people we can fix and improve the entire Virgin Islands and keep it on the cutting edge.”
For those who may have missed the meetings, there’s still time to give an opinion.
Premier Dr. Orlando Smith announced earlier this month that government is preparing its own submission to the UK inquiry, and invited residents to weigh in. Any individual or organisation in the VI can make a written submission directly to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee or to the Premier’s Office, Dr. Smith said.
The premier added that the committee stipulates that written evidence be no longer than 3,000 words, and that the committee could call for witnesses to appear in person.
Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn also issued a press release this week calling for residents’ submissions, while criticising the fact that there was no public effort from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee to gather feedback in the VI.
“I am of the view that something of this magnitude and importance should have been sent by official correspondence to the leader of our country for onward transmission to its residents. This was, however, not the case,” he said, adding, “Our government firmly believes that the importance of a new relationship with the United Kingdom requires much more than the guidelines laid out in the Foreign Affairs Committee’s statement and I do hope that we will be given the opportunity to have more of these discussions in a reasonable time period.”