The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and several British overseas territories have strongly condemned Governor John Rankin’s request to the United Kingdom government for extra powers that he claimed are needed to push through Commission of Inquiry reform recommendations.

Expressing “alarm” at the escalating situation in the Virgin Islands, the OECS warned London that such a move would be “undemocratic” and amount to a “colonial act.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the OECS said that granting the requested additional powers would “destroy” trust between the government and people of the VI with the UK.

The stinging remarks came after Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley accused the governor of a “power grab.”

“In response to the current situation in the British Virgin Islands, heads of government of the OECS noted with alarming concern the evolving situation in the British Virgin Islands regarding the request by the governor for additional powers which will allow him to bypass the territorial government and implement unilaterally the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry for governance reforms in the BVI,” the OECS stated.

OTs weigh in

After a “virtual emergency meeting” regarding the situation, the Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories Caucus also urged London not to intervene.

The grouping, which includes the VI, Anguilla, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands, insisted that the governor’s request for extra powers should be refused.

“We acknowledge the progress of reforms made by the duly elected government of the British Virgin Islands and the governor, the remaining governance reforms to be completed, and the government’s opposition to the granting of additional powers to the governor in areas of governance devolved to the elected arm of government,” the caucus said in a statement issued yesterday. “We affirm that the governor’s request is unjustified and unnecessary based on the progress already made and the commitment of the government to completing governance reforms.”

The request

Mr. Rankin said in a scathing quarterly review released earlier this month that his approach is needed because of the government’s slow progress on the reform framework agreed by the VI and UK in June 2022.

“Progress in implementing the recommendations of the COI has significantly stalled,” the governor said when releasing the report. “Only one additional recommendation is reported as completed over the past six months. The total stands at 25 of 48, with only a few months left until May.”

But this week, OECS leaders echoed Dr. Wheatley in praising the VI government’s progress on the COI reforms, which they said “no doubt strengthened [VI] systems and institutions” following the April 2023 general election.

However, the OECS acknowledged that “much work remains to be done” on the reforms, and it called for the UK to provide the VI government with any needed technical support.

In a warning shot to London on the contentious issue, the OECS also expressed concern that “efforts to bypass the elected government of the BVI demonstrate a flagrant disrespect for fundamental principles of democracy, which aim essentially to preserve and promote the dignity and rights of the individual, respect the will of the majority, foster economic and social development, strengthen cohesion of society, and to maintain/enhance national tranquility.”


Agreeing with the VI government that granting additional powers to the governor would amount to a “colonial act,” the grouping insisted that such a move would have “no place in modern democratic governance in the OECS region.”

It added that the “historical responsibility” for strengthening governance in the VI should “rest on the shoulders of the elected representatives and the people” of the territory.

“That ultimately will be the guarantee of good governance and full and transparent accountability,” it stated, adding, “A decision to grant the governor this request would contravene the democratic principles and objectives of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights — declarations and conventions to which the United Kingdom is party.”

The OECS said Tuesday that it would continue to provide technical and other support to the VI, which is an associate member of the organisation, in its reform process.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Connolly reported this story from London.