8TH JUNE 2022
STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DR. HON. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
UNITED KINGDOM AGREEMENT TO THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY
His Excellency the Governor Mr. John J. Rankin, CMG
Fellow Virgin Islanders,
Ladies and gentleman,
Today marks another important step in our efforts to reform and renew our democracy and to build a better Virgin Islands.
Following the visit to the Territory in early May by UK Minister for the Overseas Territories (OTs) Rt. Hon. Amanda Milling, MP, my Administration has had very constructive discussions with Governor Rankin and UK Government officials on the Commission of Inquiry Report (COI Report) recommendations and other reforms, with a view to what is in the best interest of the people of the Territory.
The people of the Virgin Islands have a legitimate expectation that those persons who they elect to represent them and to govern the Territory will do so with honesty and integrity. They also have a legitimate expectation that their elected representatives will make any needed reforms to improve governance and uphold the legacy of our foreparents who have sacrificed so much over the past 70 years to achieve the constitutional progress we have attained. The Government of National Unity remains fully committed to meeting these expectations as we usher in a new era of democratic governance to pass on to future generations.
We welcome UK Ministers’ agreement with our final proposal for the implementation of the COI Report recommendations and other reforms. As a Government, we will work closely with Governor Rankin, and in the spirit of partnership with the United Kingdom, to deliver for the people of the Virgin Islands. Our success will be the result of doing the hard work of reforming our institutions and systems of Government and engendering a new culture in the handling of the peoples’ business. We are confident and believe it is in the best interest of the people of the Territory that all concerned do their part to make reform a success.
I want to restate what I have previously said. Reform is not simply about the recommendations made by Rt. Hon. Sir Gary Hickinbottom. This is why the Government has gone further in some instances than his recommendations. Reform is about us as a people wanting better for ourselves and making changes accordingly. It is about building these Virgin Islands into the society that we all want to see. It is this very spirit of the people of the Virgin Islands that saw us rise to the challenge of having the Legislative Council restored in 1950, attaining Ministerial Government in 1967, taking control of the public finances in 1977, getting off of grant-in-aid in 1978, and adopting the International Business Act in 1984.
I want to be clear. 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.
This is our opportunity as a society to transform these Virgin Islands into a model democracy where we have better institutions, better systems, better processes, better public services, better infrastructure and an economy that delivers for all.
The Government of National Unity’s final proposal will serve as the government’s plan for undertaking the important work of delivering the COI Report recommendations and other reforms in a timely fashion. The proposal will be published on the government’s website today.
As you will see, the document contains a balance of responsibilities that are either shared or divided between the Governor, Premier, Cabinet, Ministries and House of Assembly. Several of these were inaccurately reported by one media outlet in recent days which will be readily apparent once the final proposal is read. The roles and responsibilities for implementation actually reflect collaboration and partnership by the primary actors under continued democratic governance.
We must also remember that there are mutual obligations by the Territory Government, the Governor and UK to ensure that the institutions and systems of Government that support good governance in the islands are fit for purpose and functioning effectively.
Today’s announcement provides a greater political certainty that will lend itself to a more stable economic environment. This will in turn benefit the financial services industry, tourism industry, construction industry and other sectors of the economy. As daily life resumes, I want to assure the public that the Government of National Unity will continue to work in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands and that reform will remain our top priority.
We look forward to engaging the public further when we hold a series of townhall meetings later this month in each district on Tortola and the Sister Islands. We thank everyone for their patience.
As I close, I want to thank Minister Milling, Governor Rankin and their respective teams for their constructive approach to our discussions on reform over the past weeks. I also want to thank UK Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon. Liz Truss, MP for the UK Government’s support for the Territory Government’s implementation of the COI Report recommendations.
To my Government of National Unity colleagues and Cabinet Ministers, thank you for your staunch commitment to reform and the new culture we are embedding in Government.
Special thanks go out to my Special Envoy Mr. Benito Wheatley who has served as our main interlocutor in BVI-UK discussions since early May. His wealth of diplomatic experience gained across four Government Administrations was instrumental in today’s outcome.
Finally, ladies and gentleman, we thank the public for their patience and calm during this difficult period. We must face the challenges ahead together as a community. I call on everyone to be a part of the positive changes that are taking place to strengthen us as a people and to not be bystanders as we transform our Territory.
Let us go forward in the spirit of unity and partnership to reform Government for the better.
God bless you and God bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.