During a press conference last week, opposition members slammed Premier Andrew Fahie for writing the United Kingdom to excoriate Governor Gus Jaspert for his decision to call in help from the UK in fortifying the Virgin Islands’ borders.
Describing Mr. Fahie’s letter to UK Overseas Territory Minister Baroness Liz Sugg as unnecessarily divisive, the opposition members sought to distance themselves from the move but stopped short of clarifying their own position on how best to patrol the territorial waters.
“The tone and tenor, I find it to be uncalled for, because the facts are not there, the facts don’t hold up,” District Three Representative Julian Fraser said, adding, “The governor is responsible for internal and external security.”
According to Mr. Fraser, the governor should not have to ask the premier before making such moves to tighten the borders, and he said he was surprised Mr. Jaspert had waited so long before taking this action.
“You can’t be surprised the governor is about to take measures,” Mr. Fraser said, adding, “It’s his responsibility.”
Copied on letter
Although Mr. Fahie said he had copied his letter to “every elected legislator,” the three opposition members who attended the Sept. 30 press conference affirmed that they did not share his sentiment and were not consulted before Mr. Fahie penned the correspondence.
“We are now here … first and foremost [to] disassociate ourselves from the tenor, the tone in which he is speaking to Baroness Sugg, and the suggestiveness that he’s speaking on behalf of the people of the territory,” Opposition Leader Marlon Penn (R-D8) said, adding, “In fact he copied us as opposition members to suggest that somehow we were involved in discussion prior to this letter being sent.”
Mr. Penn added that opposition members will decide their next steps “amongst themselves,” though he did not provide further details.
Mr. Fraser also asked about the governor’s reasoning for enlisting the ship’s help and accused Mr. Fahie of publicly misrepresenting the challenges faced by border patrol officials.
“If you’ve had a few instances [of crimes such as illegal entry], that’s not a problem; that’s not a problem to warrant a ship coming over here,” Mr. Fraser said in response to a question during the press conference, adding, “Something is going on that you and I would never know about.”
The letter Mr. Fahie’s letter to Ms. Sugg followed the governor’s Sept. 25 announcement about the impending arrival of the HMS Medway, a Royal Navy patrol ship designed for counter-piracy, anti-smuggling and fishery protection, which will be stationed in the VI for a month at no cost to the territory.
But Mr. Fahie, who had rebuffed an offer from Mr. Jaspert to request border patrol assistance from the UK earlier in the pandemic, was incensed by the governor’s decision.
“Yet again, your governor has deliberately made public statements that serve to undermine the relationship between the BVI public and their democratically elected government through dangerously misleading misinformation,” Mr. Fahie wrote in his letter to Ms. Sugg, which was first published by 284 Media on Sept. 29.
While Mr. Fahie conceded that there is a role for the UK military in helping to protect the VI’s borders, he told Ms. Sugg that its assistance should be “limited to certain functions … because of the desire to develop our domestic capabilities.”
As such, Mr. Fahie had asked the governor to request that the UK advise the territory on what equipment should be procured for a permanent border surveillance system, and on how to install that technology, he wrote.
“No request was made for the UK to co-und or to donate any funds to the procurement of the permanent border surveillance system,” Mr. Fahie explained.
Nonetheless, Mr. Jaspert presented an offer to pay half the cost of the system to the tune of about $300,000, according to the premier, who bristled at this offer as well.
Instead, Mr. Fahie suggested that this payment go towards “other areas of need,” such as providing “equipment and vessels” for police and customs officers, he wrote.
“It was made very clear to the governor that the BVI being able to purchase a border system on its own would be a tremendous accomplishment for Virgin Islanders and would inspire them to recognise their ability and to have confidence in themselves,” he explained.