10 AUG 2022
FROM GOVERNOR TO THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
MR JOHN RANKIN CMG
I’m pleased to join the Premier today to update you on the progress in implementing 48 of the 49 Commission of Inquiry recommendations and other reform commitments made by the Government of National Unity.
But first I would like to say congratulations to all of the athletes from the BVI who took part in the Commonwealth Games in the UK, and in particular Kyron McMaster for winning gold in the 400m hurdles. They are fantastic representatives of the BVI and I hope they all enjoyed the games.
As you will hear from myself and the Premier, some important progress has been made in a number of areas. I welcome that progress and the work that has gone into achieving it. At the same time there is much still to be done, more changes to be made, and difficult decisions to be taken.
That will require further steps in driving forward implementation of the Government of National Unity’s Framework document and I know that some of the changes being made aren’t comfortable for some people. But it’s important to remember why they are being carried out, namely to ensure good governance and improve transparency and accountability.
That is what the COI was all about – providing clear, effective recommendations to address the significant governance failings shown in the Report, fix areas of concern in the Territory, and deliver better services and governance for the people of the BVI.
As you already know from the statement I issued on 1 July, a number of criminal investigations are underway in response to the COI Report. One person has already been charged in relation to the School Wall project and the Auditor General continues her audits, including into the Covid-19 assistance programmes, government contracts, and disposals of Crown Land. Action has been taken to improve security at the ports and airports and the composition of the Constitutional Review Commission has been agreed.
I’m pleased today to report further progress in a number of areas.
The terms of reference for the Constitutional Review Commission have been agreed, and the Commission held its first meeting in July.
Individuals have been appointed to lead reviews into: Elected Officials’ discretionary powers; the process for the disposal of Crown Land; and the practice of House of Assembly members contracting with the Government, including statutory boards. I am pleased to say these reviews will be led respectively by Ms Anthea Smith, Mr David Abednego and Mr Denniston Fraser.
On the public service, we are close to finalising the Public Service Management Code. This will be followed by a period of consultation with the public service, and I hope shortly thereafter to be able to sign the new the Code into effect
On Law Enforcement and Justice, we are working on the appointment of an independent agency to vet staff at HM Customs, Immigration, the Royal Virgin Island Police Force and HM Prison. We are also working to establish a panel with external expertise to review law enforcement and justice systems to ensure that the law enforcement agencies have modern facilities and powers to help better prevent, monitor, and detect crime and prepare matters for prosecution. The UK is offering funding and expertise for implementation of these recommendations.
The House of Assembly has amended the Audit Act to make it a criminal offence to deliberately impede the work of the Auditor General. And the Service Commission Regulations have been amended to make failure to cooperate with the Office of the Auditor General or Internal Audit Department by any public officer an act of misconduct, with two such acts resulting in dismissal.
The new Jury Act has been approved by Cabinet and had its first reading in the House of Assembly yesterday, with the Act helping to increase the size of the jury pool to ensure that the jury system is effective.
I’m also pleased to note that my team at the Governor’s Office worked constructively with the Minister of Health and Social Development on another recommendation, namely the wholesale review of the welfare benefits and grants system. That is an important and complex task. I am pleased that UNICEF are supporting this process by providing an expert team and lead reviewer.
This is an ambitious programme and some changes may not be implemented bang on the deadline due to the complexities involved. The Premier and I regularly discuss implementation of the recommendations to understand why there have been delays. Neither of us have to date had major concerns on the delays in implementation of the recommendations as work on them is either well underway, or nearing completion. As long as the failure to meet a deadline is for genuine reasons, and not an unnecessary delay or frustration in implementation, then this is something we can manage.
I want however to say a few words about the Register of Interests legislation. The Bill which went to the House of Assembly was intended to increase transparency and accountability to ensure that Members of the House of Assembly complete their entries and that the register is fully accessible to you, the public. This is an important cornerstone for any elected body to ensure that those elected to represent the people do not financially or personally benefit through an unfair advantage. A public register also helps to ensure that those in elected roles are accountable to the people they serve.
The House of Assembly passed the Bill, but with some amendments. I only received the text of the amendments this morning and will need to study them and their impact in detail. But I am concerned that the effect of the amendments is to significantly restrict public access to the Register. If so, that would run counter to the new culture of transparency and accountability towards which we are working following the Commission of Inquiry, in line with the commitments made in the framework document. The Bill has not yet formally come to me for assent and I will need to consider its wording carefully.
In terms of next steps, as part of the Framework for COI implementation agreed with the BVI Government, I will complete my first quarterly review of implementation in September. I will include in this my overall assessment of progress against the implementation of the COI recommendations, other reforms enacted, and the political culture exhibited in the day to day running of government. My Report will be published here in the BVI as well as sent to Ministers in the UK.
Looking further ahead, in the latter part of this year we will start to see some of the findings from the various reviews, audits and investigations that are underway. These reviews may lead to further recommendations and the Premier and I will discuss the best way to implement these.
Finally, I would like to thank all of those who have volunteered to lead the reviews, those who have supported the implementation of the recommendations, and the public officials’ who have helped drive forward this ambitious programme of work to improve governance and accountability in the BVI. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.