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Today I have published my Third Quarterly Review of the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry (COI).
My Review welcomes the free and fair election that took place on 24 April and the continued commitment to reform made by the Hon. Dr. Natalio D. Wheatley in the opening days of his new Premiership.
It also recalls however, the concern of the UK Minister for the Overseas Territories, Lord Goldsmith, after my Second Quarterly Review, that progress in implementing the COI Recommendations lagged substantially behind in too many areas.
I remain concerned that progress is still too slow.
I recognise that there have been positive developments in the last quarter in some areas. For example, a Protocol for Statutory Board appointments was agreed and the Public Service Management Code was finalised. Four of the Reviews carried out in response to the COI Recommendations were finally made public. This was after they were laid in the recalled House of Assembly in advance of the General Election, following the findings of the audit on the Fast Track scheme for Residency and Belonger status applications.
But publication of a Review is not itself reform. The urgent need now is to take action on the findings and recommendations in the reviews, consulting where necessary, to address the governance failings identified in the COI Report. In my report, I have summarised each of the reviews which have been published so far, and I have included links to the full documents so that people can see for themselves what is proposed.
We also need to address the findings in the audit reports that have been published. A number of the audits expose systems which were open to abuse and a culture within which individuals within the orbit of the political arena may have received preferential treatment, for example in the awarding of assistance.
So we need now to speed things up. I recognise that some of the initial deadlines in the Framework Agreement proved unrealistic and have had to be revised, but the deadlines need to remain ambitious and we cannot leave delivery to the last minute. Lord Goldsmith set out in his letter that reforms must have “taken root” no later than May 2024. That means, for example, that it is not simply a matter of passing a piece a legislation by that date. Rather the need is for the legislation to be fully in force and applied in practice with, for example, the Integrity Commission, the Whistleblower legislation and a revised Register of Interests Act being fully established and fully operational.
One of the commitments made in the Framework Agreement was for the Government to provide the necessary resources for reforms. In this Quarterly Review, I have identified two particular areas which require urgent investment. First, it is vital that the police investigations carried out in line with the COI report and audits are thorough and completed swiftly so that those who may have broken the law are held to account. The Royal Virgin Islands Police Force must have sufficient resources to do this and of course more generally to tackle crime in the Territory. I am accordingly pleased that the Premier had committed to providing the necessary additional resources by July 2023.
Secondly, as I previously made clear, we need to deal with the continued backlog of applications for Residency and Belonger status which as at 1st June was reported to stand at 2,226 applications. I recognise that this is a sensitive area, but we need to resolve the applications of those who have been lawfully living and contributing in the BVI for many years and who are entitled under the law to receive status. I am pleased to report in my Review that the Premier has committed to an early action plan to clear the backlog.
I very much hope that the next Quarter will see real and substantive progress in these and other areas of COI Implementation and I will work constructively towards that end. In his letter, following my last quarterly review Lord Goldsmith asked me to consider whether I need additional resources, a grant of additional powers or technical expertise to support and/or accelerate reform. I don not see any immediate such need, but should we not see significant progress in the next few months then additional action will be necessary.
I look forward in the period ahead to continuing to work closely with and supporting the Premier on the reform programme. We must make further progress and I believe we both want the same thing – the best for all the people in the Virgin Islands. By addressing the failings identified in the COI Report and by delivering the necessary reforms, we can achieve the good governance that the People of the Virgin Islands deserve.