From left to right: Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, Communication Director Karia Christopher, Permanent Secretary Carolyn Stoutt Igwe. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)

Nearly half an hour late to the press conference he called on Friday morning, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley stepped into the multimedia room on the first floor of his office building with Communications Director Karia Christopher on his heels.

He made it three steps before JTV reporter Cathy Richards held out her phone from her chair, asking if he had seen the latest news about a robbery in Road Town.

The premier’s face was stony, painted with mild confusion.

“Robbery?” he said.

Ms. Christopher stepped in, saying the premier had been briefed and asking Ms. Richards not take his mind off the task at hand.

When Dr. Wheatley called the press conference two days earlier, he didn’t know former premier Andrew Fahie would be convicted with four felony counts last Thursday. Nor did he know an armed robbery less than a mile away would pre-empt his media briefing regarding his conversations with United Kingdom Overseas Territories Minister David Rutley.

But as minutes ticked past 10 a.m., phones lit up with notifications about the crime in progress as residents speculated on the reality of what was happening so near.

When the premier eventually made it to his place in front of the cameras, his head was bowed slightly, and his bottle of Fiji water was half-drunk after ten seconds in his chair.


After acknowledging the Miami court’s decision regarding Mr. Fahie — which is now in question after revelations that two jurors expressed concerns about the verdict — the premier shifted to his prepared notes on the OT minister’s visit on Feb. 4-5.

The visit came at a tense time following then-Governor John Rankin’s January announcement that he had asked the United Kingdom for additional gubernatorial powers to help his successor Daniel Pruce push through reforms recommended in the 2022 Commission of Inquiry report.

Dr. Wheatley responded angrily at the time, calling Mr. Rankin’s request a “power grab” and saying he would write Mr. Rutley to oppose it.

Mr. Rutley, who did not meet with the media during his visit, has not yet said if the UK will grant Mr. Pruce additional powers, but before his arrival he issued a statement that stood by Mr. Rankin.

“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,” he said. “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.”

He added, “The UK will provide further technical assistance if required. 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.”

Conciliatory tone

In describing the minister’s visit on Friday, the premier took a more conciliatory tone than he used last month in his response to Mr. Rankin’s request for additional powers.

Dr. Wheatley said Mr. Rutley met with Cabinet and junior ministers, opposition members, permanent secretaries, and other community members.

“These discussions were primarily about implementation of the remaining governance reforms,” the premier said. “In my specific meetings with Minister Rutley, we discussed each of these reforms in detail and my administration’s plans to implement them. Minister Rutley gave very helpful input based on the UK experience with such exercises.”

Dr. Wheatley said he also stressed his commitment to the COI reforms the VI government agreed to in June 2022.

“My colleagues and I reiterated our commitment to good governance and delivering all of the remaining governance reforms under the remit of the elected arm of government,” the premier said.

The UK has extended the initial deadline for completion of all COI reforms by six months — moving the target to November — but Dr. Wheatley said his government is still “working with May 2024 as our substantive deadline” for full implementation of 50 reforms, which he further broke down into 131 actions.

“Following the visit of Minister Rutley, there are seven actions that we are able to close off either because they are covered by other deliverables within the framework [for implementation of the reforms], or because they are not in the framework — although in the latter case, these actions will be completed,” he said.

These seven actions include the plan to amend the Jury Act, which he said requires a constitutional amendment; the plan to revise rules for House of Assembly members’ contracts and declarations of interest, which he said are now covered by another recommendation and the ongoing constitutional review; and legislative amendments based on the Statutory Board Policy, which he said have been “closed pending approval” of another recommendation.

Work to do

The premier also directed members of the public to a new online dashboard at the website

As of this week, the colour-coded dashboard showed that 81 of 131 actions had been completed. Of the 81 complete, fewer than 10 are from 2024. Twenty-five percent of the actions are currently in the works, with seven percent not yet started, according to the dashboard.

“The majority of the remaining work is well on the way to a timely completion,” the premier said Friday.

The dashboard depicts actions in three colours, the premier explained. Actions depicted on the “green line” are on the way to “timely completion;” actions on the “amber line” are not overdue, but “require critical attention to ensure that they remain on track;” and actions on the “red line” are “not necessarily past due or failed” but require “particular attention” so that they “can be brought in within time,” he said.

‘Green line’ actions

On Friday, he provided an update on seven of the “green line” actions.

One was related to COI Recommendation B4 and the plan to extend the Register of Interests to certain public officers, an action that he noted is included in an amendment currently before the HOA.

Other “green line” actions relate to policies that he said have been submitted to be included on Cabinet’s agenda: the Assistance Grants Policy (B11); the Educational Assistance Grants Policy (B30); and the Crown Land Disposal Policy (B30).

Under Recommendation B33, on reforming the belonger and residency process, the premier said he has reviewed a draft immigration policy, and it will be considered by Cabinet soon.

And as part of a review of the Public Service Management Act (B36), a draft bill is being reviewed by the Deputy Governor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Chambers before being submitted to Cabinet for approval, he said.

Other actions on the “green line” include election reforms that he said will be included in new legislation for which legislators are currently finalising instructions for the Attorney General’s Chambers.

“May I say that these seven recommendations represent a significant portion of the actions that have not yet been completed — many of which are under way,” he said. “Completion of these actions will take us into the region of at least 75 percent completion.”

‘Amber line’

He also gave updates on two actions on the “amber line.
The Deputy Governor’s Office, for instance, is working on drafting instructions for the revision of the COI Act (B01), he said.

“Once this stage is finalised, instructions can be issued for the legislation to be drafted,” the premier said.
For statutory board reform (B25), the Statutory Board Policy and Action Plan have been drafted, and a Cabinet Paper is being prepared, he added.

‘Red line’

The premier also provided updates on the ongoing reforms on the “red line.”

Two actions have been completed toward the HOA Discretionary Powers Policy (A03), and a drafter is expected to be appointed within the “next few weeks,” he said.

Under Recommendation A04, most audits and investigations are completed, and “financial recovery” is the only remaining action, according to the premier.

“This action is being led by the governor and the Attorney General’s Chambers,” he said. “Cabinet has to be formally informed of what measures have been put in place for financial recovery.”

Additionally, three of four policy documents have been completed for Recommendation B07 on Public Assistance Grants, and the fourth is being finalised. After that, instructions will be issued for drafting legislation and regulations, the premier said.

Returning to Recommendation B30 — regarding the Crown Land Disposal Policy he had previously mentioned in the “green line” updates — the premier said there are “a couple” of red-line actions that are “critical to meeting the target of having the amended legislation in place.”

For Recommendation B42, on reforming the Criminal Procedure Rules, drafting is complete and a revised draft is awaiting review by the chief justice and the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, according to the premier.


Despite the work that still needs to be done, the premier said he is optimistic.

“The government, together with the [COI] Implementation Unit, has updated our implementation strategy with the targeted completion date of May 2024,” he said. “We are very confident that most, if not all, the actions can be closed out on time. Of course, again, I reiterate, this is not a box-checking exercise. We want the reforms to be done properly and for them to be effective.”