PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE DR. HON. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
ON BEHALF OF THE GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY
2nd JUNE 2022
Fellow Virgin Islanders,
A pleasant good morning. I speak to you today on behalf of the Government of National Unity to share our plans to hold a series of public meetings on government reform, as well as begin dialogue on other matters of public interest. I am aware that the United Kingdom Government has not made a final decision on their course of action regarding the Commission of Inquiry Report, but I remain optimistic and continue to have constructive discussions with His Excellency the Governor John J. Rankin, CMG on reform.
Beginning on the 20th June, the Government of National Unity will be coming to each district and each sister island to discuss the final proposal submitted to the United Kingdom regarding implementation of the COI Report recommendations. I previously outlined our proposed approach, but there is the fine detail that must be discussed.
These townhall meetings will provide you with a direct forum to share your perspective and ideas on how we reform government and improve the Virgin Islands. We want to engage you on changes to the way Government handles the public’s business. Not only do we want to hear your feedback, we also want to know how you think the public should be involved in the reform process. Your feedback will be key to our work as a Government going forward.
In addition to reform, we also want to hear your views on schools, healthcare, environment and the business climate. These are issues that affect you and your family’s daily lives and livelihoods. We want to know how we can best help to improve things.
We are also conscious that a lot has happened and changed in our society in just a few short weeks. You are entitled to the opportunity to express your concerns, share your reflections and to ask questions about things that are important to you, especially now that the situation has stabilized somewhat.
One of the big changes is of course that we have a Government of National Unity. This is a stark departure from the composition of previous Government Administrations over the past 36 years. We have received many questions about what this means, and how it affects the political landscape of the Virgin Islands. I will provide as much clarity as possible.
Ladies and gentleman, the Government of National Unity is a coalition government comprised of the elected representatives of three of the political parties in the House of Assembly. Represented are the Virgin Islands Party (VIP), National Democratic Party (NDP) and Progressive Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM). We are partners in Government, which is also reflected in the makeup of the Cabinet.
To be clear, this does not mean our respective political organisations have been amalgamated into one. They remain individual political bodies. However, at Governmental level, the members of the Government of National Unity comprise one unit. While this is the case, we want to reassure the public that political parties in the Virgin Islands will continue to be an integral part of representative democracy here in the islands. They will not be disappearing from the political landscape.
In forming the Government of National Unity, we have placed country above party and above self. We are working together in the national interest, as opposed to engaging in partisan divisions that serves no ones’ interest. We are demonstrating our maturity and determination to make the fundamental changes needed for a new era of democratic governance that will place the Territory on a new development trajectory. A coalition Government puts the Virgin Islands in the strongest possible position to reform and renew our precious democracy.
The recent dramatic events and developments in the United States and here in the Territory were a test of our national character and whether we as a people could rise to the occasion to meet our challenges. I believe we have taken the right initial steps, but there is much further to go. As a Government, we have already made some very hard, but necessary decisions. We have been tough on statutory boards. It was in the public interest to dissolve those that are no longer in place. We are also in the process of shifting social assistance away from elected officials directly to the Social Development Department. These were the right things to do. Reform is not simply about what Sir Gary Hickinbottom has recommended or what the United Kingdom and Governor want to see; it is about us wanting better for ourselves.
There are more difficult decisions ahead, but we are prepared to make them. And that is why we are coming to your communities to discuss reform and to get your feedback.
As I have said repeatedly, change will be hard. It will be painful in some instances. People we know and care about will be affected. However, in the end it will be for the betterment of these Virgin Islands we hold so dear.
My colleagues and I are looking forward to seeing you in person at the upcoming townhall meetings and hearing your view and perspectives. The schedule will be published next week on the government’s website.
To the people of District one, I want to again reassure you that the interests of your communities will be looked after and that your voices will be heard. The Government of National Unity is committed to this.
Finally, I want to mention that the public meetings announced today are just the beginning of our wider public engagement plans. We will be scheduling stakeholder meetings with the tourism industry, financial services industry, construction industry, retailers, wholesalers, small businesses, farmers and fisherman on what changes are needed to make our economy more dynamic and vibrant so that there is economic opportunity for all. We look forward to updating you further on these plans in due course.
I will close by saying that these are challenging times. We have been thrust into crisis on multiple occasions since the hurricanes of 2017. In every crisis there is an opportunity. We now have another opportunity before us to build these Virgin Islands into the thriving democracy that we all want. It will take all of our talent and skill and the support of our partners. Most importantly, it will require unity and a common sense of purpose. As a Government, we stand together in unity. We call on the people of the Virgin Islands to join us in the spirit of unity.
Let us encourage each other, support each other, and be prepared as a community during this hurricane season.
God bless you all and God bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.