Governor Gus Jaspert outlined the government’s legislative agenda under the theme “Going Green, Going Smart” during his annual Speech from the Throne last Thursday, repeating many unfulfilled promises laid out in previous Throne speeches but also adding others to the list.
Nearly 40 percent of the legislation he described — 20 of the 52 items promised by the government — had been promised in past speeches and never enacted, including a Consumer Protection Bill, a Disaster Management Bill and whistleblower legislation.
“Our government is aware that some of the pieces of legislation that will be mentioned today were previously highlighted in former speeches from the Throne,” Mr. Jaspert acknowledged in the address, which was his first since the Virgin Islands Party-led government took power in February. “Our government understands the issues the territory has been grappling with for decades, and our government intends to address them now.”
Others plans are new, such as a bill legalising medical marijuana, an amendment to the Climate Change Trust Fund Act 2015, and a raft of laws related to the European Union’s recent “economic substance” requirements.
The percentage of repeats is lower than in the last Throne speech under the previous government in September 2018, in which 26 out of 34, or 76 percent, of the items were recycled promises.
The new agenda also excludes several legislative priorities that have been mentioned in Throne speeches going back as far as 2014 and earlier, like environmental management legislation, a freedom-of-information act, and a child welfare law.
Among the plans for the new House of Assembly session are “a longstanding suite of electronic legislation” on data protection, electronic filing, electronic funds transfer and electronic transactions to digitalise public services and improve electronic payments for customers, the governor said.
He added that the Archives and Records Management Act 2010 will be amended to establish an Archives and Records Management Department, which will preserve documents electronically. This amendment, he said, would support the government’s “green agenda.”
The governor is also planning legislation designed to help the territory comply with the European Union’s economic substance requirements, such as an amendment to the Securities and Investment Business Act to establish requirements for private investment funds to be recognised by the Financial Services Commission.
Shipping is also prominent on the agenda, with bills and amendments designed to promote the registration of ships in the territory, to hold ship owners financially liable for removing wrecks, and to regulate vessels and inspections of marine accidents and international ships.
The governor also announced that the VI will soon be audited by the International Maritime Organisation and that the government would introduce legislation to ensure that the territory retains its Category One shipping status so that it can continue to register large ships under the International Maritime Conventions.
Other government priorities relate to health, including amending the Tobacco Products Control Act, 2006, to meet the basic provisions outlined in the World Health Organisation Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, and introducing the Medical, Dental and Allied Health Professionals Act to distinguish between licensing and registration, broaden the categories of registration, expand the range of practitioners registered under the act, and include a requirement for continuing education, according to the speech.
The governor also said the Public Health Ordinance (Cap. 194) will be amended to establish disease registries including a National Cancer Registry as part of a “comprehensive cancer control programme aimed at reducing the number of cancer cases and deaths, and improving the overall quality of life of cancer patients.”
Other planned laws
Additionally, the governor announced that the Youth Parliament now falls under the HOA, and that legislation will be explored to boost participation in the body.
He also expressed the government’s intention to have at least one HOA sitting a year on a sister island so that more VI residents can experience and monitor the legislative process.
The governor also mentioned the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime (Amendment) Act 2019, which was passed last month by the House of Assembly despite strenuous opposition from media rights organisations. He called the bill “important” but did not say whether or not he would assent to it.
Several promises from previous Throne speeches were omitted from this year’s address.
Among them is a freedom-of-information act, which originally was drafted by the Law Reform Commission in 2004 and subsequently has been promised in Throne speeches as far back as 2011, as well as the four most recent speeches.
The VI Party came to power in February promising the law, which — despite years of advocacy by media outlets and government opposition members — has never been published or brought to the HOA.
Mr. Jaspert also made no mention of the Environmental Management, Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Change Adaptation Bill, various iterations of which have been promised since 2008, including in 2014, in 2016 and in both 2018 speeches.
In the September 2018 speech, the governor said the bill would address a “myriad of concerns that could impact the environment, including dumping of waste at sea, as well as speaking directly to the issue of derelicts and removal of [the] same from the territory.”
Another topic left off the table was the reintroduction of the Human Rights Commission Act, which is provided for in the 2007 Constitution and has been promised in Throne speeches in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2018. The commission would be tasked with investigating and resolving complaints about human rights infringements.
In addition, last week’s speech did not mention the Children (Care and Adoption) Bill, which has been promised in the last four Throne speeches to “revise and consolidate legislation that provides for the care and protection of children in line with regional and international standards.” The new agenda also omits an amendment to the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College Act to help the institution maintain its accreditation status, as well as amendments to the VI Fisheries Act 1997 and Regulations; Registered Land Ordinances; and land surveyors legislation.
GOVERNMENT’S PLANNED LAWS
The governor’s Speech from the Throne last Thursday listed 20 promises repeated from recent years and 32 others that haven’t been promised recently.
1. Introduce the Data Protection Bill “to ensure that a high level of trust and confidence is established between businesses and their customers, and that customers’ information is kept secure, private and not put to any unauthorised use.” The bill was also promised in Throne speeches in 2016 and 2018.
2. Amend the Archives and Records Management Act 2010 “to establish the Archives and Records Management Department and to provide for the preservation of public archives and records from an electronic perspective.” The amendment was also promised in Throne speeches in 2016 and 2018.
3. Introduce the BVI Investment Bill to “mobilise and attract foreign and domestic investment to enhance economic development, reduce unemployment, grow entrepreneurship, accelerate growth, and diversify the economy.” The bill was also promised in the 2016 Throne speech.
4. Introduce the Consumer Protection Bill to “encourage fair and equitable business practices for consumers and businesses.” Government held a series of meetings with business owners and the wider community this year to gain input in preparation for the second and third readings of the Consumer Protection Act 2019, which was introduced again but not passed after more than a decade of promises by successive governments.
5. Amend the Merchant Shipping Act 2001 to “increase the registration of ships.” Similar promises were made in 2016 and 2018 but not legislated for.
6. Adopt the Nairobi Convention on Wreck Removal to “make ship owners accountable and financially liable for removing wrecks.” A similar promise was made in 2016.
7. Amend the Merchant Shipping (Fees and Charges) Regulation 2008 so that fees are “aligned with current market prices.” This amendment was also promised in the 2016 Throne speech.
8. Introduce Merchant Shipping (Ballast Water Management) Regulation to “control ballast water and sediments of ships and prevent the spread of harmful aquatic organisms from one region to another.” Similar legislation was also promised in the 2017 Throne speech.
9. Introduce the Architects, and Engineers Registration Bill to “ensure that all architects and engineers practising in the [VI] are registered, licensed, and regulated to strengthen the enforcement aspect of the Business and Constructions Regulations.” The bill was also promised in the 2014, 2016, March 2018 and September 2018 Throne speeches.
10. Amend the Physical Planning Act 2004 to “ensure that the application of green building technologies apply to all development, whether it is for public infrastructure, residential, or commercial buildings.” A similar amendment was promised in the March and September 2018 Throne speeches.
11. Amend the Wickhams Cay Development Authority Ordinance (Cap. 281) to “introduce a board and a secretariat to assist with the management of Road Town.” This amendment was promised in the 2016 Throne speech.
12. Amend the Water Supply Ordinance (Cap. 153) to develop and expand the water network across the territory and “ensure tertiary treatment of sewage.” A similar amendment was promised in the 2016 Throne speech.
13. Introduce the Disaster Management Bill to “provide for the more effective organisation of the efforts related to the mitigation of, preparedness for, and recovery from hazards affecting” the VI. Similar legislation was promised in the 2014, 2016 and March and September 2018 Throne speeches.
14. Introduce the Witness Anonymity Bill to “strengthen the capacity of our law enforcement agencies, through the courts, to make a witness anonymity order.” This bill was also promised in the March and September 2018 Throne speeches.
15. Amend the Police Act (CAP. 165) to create a modernised legislation. This was also promised in the 2014, 2016 and March and September 2018 Throne speeches.
16. Amend the Liquor Licence Act (CAP. 106) to “upgrade the legislation so that it is aligned with current practices.” This amendment was also promised in the 2016 and March 2018 Throne speeches.
17. Introduce a Public Service Management Bill to “replace the General Orders, 1982, to provide a legal framework for the overall management, organisational structure, administration and proper establishment of the public service.” This bill was also promised in the 2014, 2016 and March and September 2018 Throne speeches.
18. Introduce the Integrity in Public Life Act to “preserve and promote the integrity of public officials and public institutions.” This act was promised in the September 2018 Throne speech.
19. Introduce Whistleblower Legislation to “cover both the public and private sectors.” This was also promised in the September 2018 Throne speech.
20. Amend the Education Act (2004) to “bring this legislation in line with the current and future education trends.” This was also promised in the March and September 2018 Throne speeches.
1-3. Introduce the Electronic Filing Bill; the Electronic Funds Transfer Bill; and the Electronic Transactions Bill to “support the comprehensive digital transformation of the public service and improve e-payments for customers.”
4. Introduce the Incentive Legislation Bill to “ensure the empowerment of local investors and local businesses in all sectors of the economy, inclusive of all, but not limited to, tourism, health, entrepreneurship, agriculture and fisheries.”
5. Amend the Securities and Investment Business Act “to establish the requirements for private investment funds to be recognised by the Financial Services Commission, the criteria to be satisfied for the commission to grant recognition, and a requirement for these entities to act in accordance with the provisions established within their constitutional documents.”
6-10. Introduce the Private Investment Funds Regulations 2019; the Mutual Funds (Amendment) Regulations 2019; the Public Funds (Amendment) Code 2019; the Foreign Funds Regulations 2019; and the Incubator and Approved Funds Regulations 2019 to satisfy aspects of the European Union’s economic substance requirements.
11. Amend the Customs Management and Duties Act to “encourage investments in Green SMART products” and “increase and reposition the territory as the sailing capital of the world.”
12. Amend the Merchant Shipping (Small Ship Registration and Certification) Regulations 2017 to “have vessels properly identified, inspected and issued with a coastal craft licence.”
13. Introduce the Merchant Shipping Accident Investigation Regulations 2019 to “inform the set-up of an independent marine safety investigation authority to carry out safety investigations on marine accidents.”
14. Introduce Merchant Shipping Port State Control Regulations to “ensure inspection on international ships and also inspection of the master and crew on board.”
15. Introduce Merchant Shipping (International Safety Management Code) Regulations to “ensure safety at sea, prevention of human injury or loss of life, and avoidance of damage to the marine environment.”
16. Amend the Climate Change Trust Fund Act to “allow for greater access to funding that may become available to the Virgin Islands.”
17. Introduce the Beach Use Policy to “ensure environmental management and maintenance of beaches.”
18. Introduce AirBnB tax legislation to “ensure the development of the local tourism product.”
19. Introduce Yachting Aid legislation to “ensure the development of the local tourism product.”
20. Introduce Tourism Act regulations including the Anti Visitor Harassment and Solicitation legislation to “bring more legislative and regulatory structure to the territory” and establish “stronger linkages and involvement of all sectors within the territory to ensure ‘one tourism’ mandate.”
21. Introduce the Waste Management Act to “strengthen the legal framework for sustainable management of household waste, industrial waste, construction waste, demolition waste, and hazardous waste to protect health and the environment while improving the aesthetics of the territory.”
22. Amend the Road Traffic Act (Cap. 218) to “incorporate green SMART development.”
23. Amend the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 to “meet the basic provisions outlined in the World Health Organisation Framework Convention for Tobacco Control to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.”
24. Introduce the Medical, Dental, and Allied Health Professionals Act to “distinguish between licensing and registration” and “broaden the categories of registration, expand the range of practitioners registered under the act, and include a requirement for continuing education, among other provisions.”
25. Amend the Public Health Ordinance (Cap. 194) to “provide for the establishment of disease registries, including a National Cancer Registry, as part of a comprehensive Cancer Control Programme aimed at reducing the number of cancer cases and deaths and improving the overall quality of life of cancer patients.”
26. Introduce medical marijuana legislation to “allow for the production and sale of medical marijuana” and increase “the economic resilience of the territory, among many other positive medicinal benefits.”
27. Revise the Education (Student Code of Conduct) Rules 2006 to “ensure that guiding principles are in place for building students’ character.”
28. Revise the 2013 Culture Policy of the VI to preserve the territory’s “unique culture, traditional values, and pride of its people” and “lay the foundation for future generations.”
29. Amend the VI National Youth Policy and Strategic Plan 2014-2019 to “bring this policy up to date so that it addresses the challenges and opportunities to achieve positive youth development.”
30. Introduce the VI National Sports Council Act to “provide for the establishment of a National Sports Council” and “provide for a comprehensive management mechanism to support all sports and recreation in the territory.”
31. Introduce the Horse Racing Act 2001 to “provide for the establishment of a horseracing commission” and “better regulate the sport, which is one of this territory’s greatest past times.”
32. Introduce gaming and betting legislation to “introduce and regulate the gaming and betting industry to provide for the establishment of the Gambling (Gaming and Betting) Control Commission,” which will cover horse racing, the cruise industry and other potential revenue makers.