PRESS STATEMENT BY HIS EXCELLENCY GOVERNOR JOHN RANKIN CMG
ON HIS ASSENT OF THE REGISTER OF INTERESTS (AMENDMENT) ACT.
In my first Quarterly Review of Implementation of the Commission of Inquiry Recommendations I noted that there had been good progress in a number of areas, which I continue to welcome.
I also set out some areas of concern, including in relation to the Register of Interests (Amendment) Act.
After much consideration, I have decided to assent to the Act as passed by the House of Assembly. I do so in the hope that members of the public will make such proper use of the information contained in the Register as they can, and with a clear expectation that the House of Assembly will return to this subject within 1 year to design a new system for registration of interests.
Under the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007 and the Register of Interests Act 2006, Members of the House of Assembly are required to register their interests. The Commission of Inquiry clearly established that despite the best efforts of the Registrar of Interests, supported by Governors, Members of the House of Assembly (across all political parties) had failed to meet that obligation. The Commissioner concluded that collectively, elected officials had “deliberately, persistently, undermined the system of controls imposed by the Constitution.”
The Government of National Unity of the Virgin Islands in the Framework for Implementation of the Commission of Inquiry Report recommendations undertook to make the Register of Interests public. The purpose of a public Register is clear: to produce greater transparency around the interests of Ministers and others who are making decisions on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands, including for example about the use of public money in awarding of Government contracts where Ministers are involved, or the declarations of interests which might be directly or indirectly related to the business of Government.
That in turn can help to promote good governance and reduce the risk that a person has failed to register their interests properly, as clearly happened in the past.
As noted in my first Quarterly Review of Implementation of Commission of Inquiry Recommendations, the Register of Interests (Amendment) Act passed by the House of Assembly in July set out penalties for any Member of the House who fails to declare his or her interests on time. I welcome that aspect of the Act.
In my Review I also noted, however, that when passing the Act the House of Assembly made several amendments which severely restrain the degree of public access to the Register of Interests. Anyone wishing to view the Register must make a written application and pay a fee for each member whose record is inspected. The Registrar must verify the identity of the person inspecting the Register and keep a record of every person inspecting it. In addition, a person who is inspecting the Register must do so in the presence of the Registrar and, most restrictively, cannot make any kind of copy or, it would seem, even notes of the content of the Register.
In my view, these amendments made by the House of Assembly run counter to the principle of transparency and the intent underlying the commitment made by the Government in the Framework for Implementation of the Commission of Inquiry Report, namely that the House of Assembly make the Register of Interests public. At best, the Register will only be made public in a highly limited way.
My assent to the Act is therefore being made together with my clear expectation that the House of Assembly will return to this subject within 1 year.
That is because of the commitment in Framework Document on the design and development of a new system for registration of interests to cover both elected and public officials. This system should be based on international best practices, accompanied by an implementation plan inclusive of costing for the introduction and maintenance of the new system.
It is vital that the commitments made under the Framework Document are adhered to. So, I look forward to being informed by the BVI Government of progress made in this area, and will report further on the matter in my next Quarterly Report in January 2023.