Last month, outgoing governor John Rankin wrote to United Kingdom Overseas Territories Minister David Rutley to request additional powers to help his successor push through delayed Commission of Inquiry reforms.
But Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley quickly responded to say he would write Mr. Rutley opposing the proposal, which he condemned as an “antidemocratic, colonial-era power grab.”
On Sunday, Mr. Rutley visited the Virgin Islands to meet with leaders, but he didn’t hold a press conference or say if the UK plans to grant Mr. Rankin’s request. He did, however, deliver a pointed warning in a statement issued the day he arrived.
“The Commission of Inquiry has identified serious governance and reputational issues, but progress on implementing its recommendations has been too slow, with agreed deadlines missed,” Mr. Rutley stated, echoing concerns Mr. Rankin expressed last month in his fifth quarterly review of the COI reforms. “That is why I am here: to listen and understand from those working directly on the reforms how they can be delivered quicker so that the people of BVI get the good governance they deserve.”
If needed, he added, the UK will provide further technical assistance to speed up the reform process.
“However, if there continues to be a lack of progress, we will not hesitate to take further action to help deliver the much-needed reforms,” the minister warned.
Other parts of his statement took a more conciliatory tone.
“The overseas territories are a core part of the UK family, and the UK government is committed to the security, prosperity and wellbeing of the people of the British Virgin Islands,” he said. “We want to see a successful, thriving, well governed BVI, and will continue to do our upmost to support the governor and the people of the BVI to achieve that goal.”
The new governor, Daniel Pruce, said the visit came at a “crucial time” for the territory and signalled the UK’s commitment to the VI’s success.
“Delivering the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry will help us achieve the positive changes we all want to see, including better access to services, a fairer society with opportunities for all, and a more accountable and transparent government,” Mr. Pruce said.
Mr. Rutley, who was first elected to the UK Parliament in the 2010 General Election as the Conservative member for Macclesfield, was appointed as a parliamentary under secretary of state at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Oct. 27, 2022.
He is currently the minister for the Americas, the Caribbean and the UK OTs.