Following his return from New York to address the United Nations General Assembly, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley joined fellow ministers to discuss Tropical Storm Philippe and national development matters. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

A week after Governor John Rankin released his most recent quarterly report on the Commission of Inquiry recommendations, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley defended his government’s progress on the reforms at a press conference on Oct. 6.

Mr. Rankin’s review was largely congratulatory of recent progress made on policy development for issues like social assistance, scholarships, crown land distribution, and statutory boards.

However, he was critical of the fact that no other reforms had been completed since his previous report, leaving 24 out of 48 COI recommendations incomplete to date.

In response to a question about the report during the Oct. 6 press conference, Dr. Wheatley said his government is on track to meet proposed extended deadlines for the reforms.

Previously, the governor said the decision on whether to grant the proposed extensions was not up to him, but that he believed United Kingdom officials would likely grant Dr. Wheatley’s request.

‘Very pleased’

In the meantime, the premier said his government has continued making progress toward completing the reforms.

“I’m very pleased with the amount of work that has taken place,” Dr. Wheatley said. “Our public officers are working diligently to ensure that we hit our targets. I’m quite confident that we’ll meet our extended deadlines.”

Regarding the unfinished reforms, the premier reiterated his belief that governance change should be done in a comprehensive manner, not just as a “box-ticking exercise.”

“We’re not seeking just to complete tasks,” he said. “We want to have real, transformative change.”

He encouraged community members to keep up with policy consultations and get involved when they have opportunities to be heard.

United Nations

Dr. Wheatley also provided an update about his appearance before the Special Committee on Decolonisation at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he spoke about the future of the Virgin Islands as a non-self-governing territory.

“A collaborative UK approach, combined with ongoing consultation with the territory government, is the best way to address capacity constraints and other challenges of small government administration,” he told the UN committee in his address.

He also spoke about his July meetings with newly appointed UK Overseas Territories Minister David Rutley and other UK leaders, which he said were constructive.

Dr. Wheatley, however, also told the UN committee that he continues to push UK leaders to lift the order in council that allows the governor to temporarily suspend the VI Constitution if the COI reforms are not completed as promised.

On Oct. 6, Dr. Wheatley explained the importance of attending the UN meeting, which he said is part of the process of creating an updated UN resolution on decolonisation.

“I called for the relevant UN agencies and departments to fulfil their obligations to the people of the Virgin Islands to help them understand the process of self-determination and what the options are for the Virgin Islands to achieve a full measure of self-government,” he said. “I also called for the UN to follow through on the request for a [Special Committee on Decolonisation] visiting mission to the Virgin Islands so the committee can hear directly from the people on the ground and give them an opportunity to engage the committee on the territory’s options.”

In response to a question about the territory’s political future, the premier said it will be up to the people of the VI to decide if they want to pursue independence or another relationship with the UK.

“My administration will remain positively engaged with the UN, and we look forward to additional support for our sustainable development and climate resilience that they will be providing going forward,” he said.