During a Friday ceremony held to swear in the new government ministers, Premier Andrew Fahie announced an extensive reshuffling of the previous ministerial portfolios.
“I’m an unconventional leader for an unconventional time,” Mr. Fahie said of the changes during the Government House event, adding,“There’s a method to the madness.”
As an example, he went on to explain one of the changes: The Department of Agriculture and the Conservation and Fisheries Department will be moved from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour to the newly renamed Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture.
“The culture of the Virgin Islands is fishing and agriculture,” he said. “So we can fit it in there.”
Under the new appointments, Mr. Fahie (R-D1) is premier and minister of finance; Carvin Malone (R-at large) is minister of health and social development; Kye Rymer (R-D5) is minister of transportation, works and utilities; Vincent Wheatley (R-D9) is minister of natural resources, labour and immigration; Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley (R-D7) is minister of education, culture, youth affairs, fisheries and agriculture; Sharie de Castro (R-at large) is junior minister of trade and economic development; and Shereen Flax-Charles (R-at large) is junior minister of tourism.
Mr. Fahie also announced that Neville Smith (R-at large) — the only member of the eight-person government not to receive a ministership — will serve as deputy speaker of the House of Assembly, and occasionally will be called to fill in as a junior minister or minister.
Government announced yesterday that Dr. Wheatley was sworn in as deputy premier — for a period of three months.
Taking advantage of an “unconventional area of the Constitution,” Mr. Fahie will appoint a different minister to the position every three months for the first year to give the leaders experience, according to a government press release.
It added that after the first year someone will be named permanently to the post.
A diagram circulating on WhatsApp, which Chief Information Officer Desiree Smith confirmed is accurate, shows that the portfolio changes also include the following:
• the Premier’s Office will now be responsible for telecommunications and ports, portfolios previously held by the former Ministry of Communications and Works, as well as airports, which was previously held by the NRL Ministry;
• the prison will move from the MEC to the Ministry of Health and Social Development;
• the former MCW will be rechristened the Ministry of Transportation, Works and Utilities, losing responsibility for telecommunications; and
• immigration will move from the Premier’s Office to the newly rechristened Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, among other changes.
Dr. Wheatley told the Beacon on Tuesday that past administrations have switched up ministries for various reasons, and that the key to making such changes work is having the right structure and personnel in place to provide support.
While incorporating fishing and agriculture into the education system is the “logical reason” for that particular switch, he said, he also feels passionate about those subjects and personally wanted them in his portfolio.
“Persons shouldn’t get caught up too much in terms of whether portfolios fit well together,” he said. “If you look just beyond the names of the ministries you will find lots of subjects under ministries and all of them don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other.”
Also during the Friday ceremony, Mr. Fahie addressed concerns that his new administration was slow and disorganised in appointing ministers.
He did not announce the appointment of the Cabinet and junior ministers until the ceremony, four days after his party won the majority in the election on Feb. 25.
The two previous administrations swore in the Cabinet three days after the election.
“I want to assure the public that while we were slow in communications while forming the government, that will not happen again,” he said.
Mr. Fahie denied allegations of party infighting over Cabinet positions.
“That never was the case,” he said. “It did not happen.”
He concluded by addressing the media, responding to reporters who had raised concerns about comments he made in a speech criticising the press by claiming that he “couldn’t get an interview.”
“I want them to know that that was not for you, and I start my premiership off by showing you that I’m not too big to apologise publicly,” he said. “But with that said, I want to thank the media and … I want to assure the media that your democratic rights will not be infringed upon, nor will anyone else’s.”
The event did not include a segment for media questions.