Premier of the Virgin Islands
Hon. Natalio D. Wheatley
9 February, 2024
Update on Implementation of COI Recommendations
A pleasant good day to all the people of the Virgin Islands.
The Government of the Virgin Islands has noted the verdict which was reached today in the case before the Miami Federal Court involving former Premier, Andrew Fahie.
The Government and people of the Virgin Islands respect the role of the court in the administration of justice.
As a jurisdiction, the Virgin Islands is committed to good governance and upholding the highest standards of integrity in public life.
We will continue the ongoing process of strengthening the relevant systems and institutions of government to ensure that the integrity of the Territory is maintained and international reputation upheld.
We acknowledge the impact of the verdict on the family. Let us keep them in our prayers.
Today I will provide a further update on governance reform and my meetings earlier this week with UK Minister for the Overseas Territories, Honourable David Rutley MP. Those meetings, of course, took place on 4th and 5th February, 2024.
While on island, Minister Rutley also met with Cabinet and Junior Ministers, Members of the Opposition, Permanent Secretaries, and other officials.
These discussions were primarily about implementation of the remaining governance reforms.
In my specific meetings with Minister Rutley, we discussed each of these reforms in detail and my Administration's plans to implement them.
Minister Rutley gave very helpful input based on the UK experience with such exercises.
My colleagues and I reiterated our commitment to good governance and delivering all of the remaining governance reforms under the remit of the elected arm of government.
We also reiterated our desire for a modern partnership with the UK based on the new joint declaration that was agreed between the UK and the Overseas Territories Governments at the Joint Ministerial Council meeting just about three months ago.
I wish to again thank Minister Rutley for his visit and also Governor Pruce for the important role they played and with whom I will be working on governance reform matters.
As Premier of these Virgin Islands, I greatly appreciated the collaborative spirit in which our engagements took place.
In my statement on 6th February, 2024, I promised to provide some further details on what we have achieved in the reform programme and the work that lies ahead for us to complete.
Let me say that we are still working with May 2024 as our substantive deadline for full implementation. We have to keep the pace up and do our best to meet as many targets as possible. If there are still any outstanding deliverables by then, these must be very few.
As I mentioned on prior occasions, the framework for implementation included proposals that were not included in the COI recommendations but which the Government felt would be beneficial to the broader goals that we are trying to achieve and which would enhance the results to be achieved from the recommendations. The 50 recommendations and other initiatives have been broken down into 131 Actions. Some recommendations have more tasks than others. All Actions are not weighted equally, as some Actions require more work or are more complicated than others. This is a shared responsibility between the Elected Government, the Governor’s Group, and the House of Assembly. I will focus mainly on the areas under the Elected Government and the House of Assembly.
Following the visit of Minister Rutley, there are seven Actions that we are able to close off either because they are covered in other deliverables within the Framework, or because they are not in the Framework, although in the latter case, these Actions will be completed. These include, for example, the Amendment to the Jury Act (Action B43.02) which is dependent on an amendment to the Constitution. Declarations of Interests for Members of the House of Assembly and the policy for HOA Members contracting with the Government (Actions B05.04 and B05.05) are covered by Recommendation B4 as well as the Constitutional Review. Action B26.01, legislative amendments based on the Statutory Board Policy, has been closed pending approval of B25.02, Policy and Action Plan, which is on the Amber priority list.
Before I go further, may I remind everyone that the Government, under our Business at its Best initiative, and in the interest of being transparent and keeping the public informed, recently launched a website where persons can track the progress of the implementation programme. The website is www.vicoiimplementation.vg, and there persons will find in-depth information on the status of the work on the 50 Recommendations and 131 Actions. I urge persons to visit the website regularly so that you can get first-hand information on the status of the very important matter of the reform implementation.
The majority of the remaining work is well on the way to a timely completion. For instance, in the Green line:
- Recommendation B4 – Public Register of Interests; the legislation to extend the Register of Interests to a wider category of persons in public life is already with the House of Assembly, having undergone its First Reading. One of the Actions under this Recommendation is that of the establishment of the Integrity Commission. With the Integrity in Public Life Act having come into force on 7th February, 2024, the process of appointing the chairperson and members to establish the Integrity Commission will commence.
- Recommendations B10 – Assistance Grants Policy and B11 – Educational Assistance Grants – Both Policies have been submitted for Cabinet’s Agenda and will be addressed soon.
- Recommendation B30 – Crown Land Disposal Policy – The Policy has been submitted for Cabinet’s consideration and will be addressed soon.
- Recommendation B33 – Belonger and Residency Process – The Draft Immigration Policy was presented to me and will be uploaded for Cabinet’s consideration in the next few days. Once the policy is finalised and approved, the process for translating it into legislation and having that legislation enacted into law will take place.
- Recommendation B36 – Review of the Public Service Management Act – the Draft Bill is being reviewed by the Deputy Governor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Chambers. Once the Bill is finalised it will be taken to Cabinet for consideration and approval, and then to the House of Assembly for consideration and approval. Again, there is optimism that this can be completed in a fairly short time since a lot of work has already been covered.
- Other Reforms 01 - The reforms to our elections process and legislation is another area where a significant amount of work has already been done and it is at the stage of finalizing the instructions for the relevant legislation to be drafted by the Attorney General’s Chambers. The Supervisor of Elections report of the 2023 General Elections was recently tabled in the House of Assembly. The next step is for an informal meeting of the House of Assembly to review the recommendations and decide on which recommendations would be advanced and submitted for amendments to the Elections Act.
May I say that these seven Recommendations represent a significant portion of the Actions that have not yet been completed – many of which are underway. Completion of these Actions will take us into the region of at least 75 percent completion.
And again, I want to emphasise that the reforms are not a box-ticking exercise. The Government is serious in our commitment that the reforms must be done properly and implemented properly so that they will be effective, and so that they will truly benefit the Virgin Islands people.
The Amber line represents Actions that are not overdue, but which require critical attention to ensure that they remain on track. On the Amber line, we have:
- Recommendation B01 – Revision of the COI Act – The DGO is working on drafting instructions. Once this stage is finalised, instructions can be issued for the legislation to be drafted.
- Recommendation B25 – Statutory Board Reform – The Statutory Board Policy and Action Plan have been drafted, so the Cabinet Paper is being prepared.
There are a few items that are on the Red line. Red does not mean that the items are necessarily past due or failed. But it is a flag to pay particular attention to those Actions so that they can be brought in within time. In terms of Recommendations and Actions that are on the Red line:
- Recommendation A03 - HOA Discretionary Powers Policy – Two Actions have been completed and we are moving into the stage of getting the policy drafted. A drafter has to be appointed which will take place within the next few weeks.
- Recommendation A04 – Audits and Investigations – Most of the audits and investigations are completed. The Action related to Financial Recovery is the only remaining Action. This Action is being led by the Governor and the Attorney General’s Chambers. Cabinet has to be formally informed of what measures have been put in place for financial recovery.
- Recommendation B07 – Public Assistance Grants – This includes four policy documents, three of which have been completed. The Policy and Action Plan for the other is being finalised, following which instructions will have to be issued for the drafting of legislation and Regulations.
- Recommendation B30 - Crown Land Disposal Policy – There are a couple of Actions that are critical to meeting the target of having the amended legislation in place.
- Recommendation B42 – Reforms to the Criminal Procedure Rules – Drafting instructions have been issued and drafting complete. The revised draft is awaiting review by the Chief Justice/ECSS.
The Government, together with the Implementation Unit has updated our implementation strategy with the targeted completion date of May 2024. We are very confident that most, if not all the Actions, can be closed out on time.
Of course, again, I reiterate, this is not a box-checking exercise. We want the reforms to be done properly and for them to be effective.
One of the objectives of the reform programme, which was also one of the stated objectives of the COI, was good governance. Consistency and proper constitutional conduct requires that the principles of democracy and Good Governance must be followed in everything that we are doing in this reform exercise.
Hence, where it is required that the citizenry is involved, for example through consultations, then we, as the Government, must ensure that consultations are held and that the consultative process is genuine. In developing legislation, we have to ensure that the legislative process is followed. We also have to respect the independence of the independent offices and bodies that are involved in some of the Action items. Most importantly, persons deserve to be given reasonable and ample space to do their work, so that we do not find ourselves down the road pointing fingers at persons if something was not done properly because someone was rushed. In this regard, the Government will continue to provide the resources and support so that persons can effectively perform.
I want to once again urge persons to regularly visit the website, www.vicoiimplementation.vg, and get first-hand, updated information on the status of the reform implementation.
My Government and I remain confident and optimistic that the outcomes from our meetings with Minister Rutley, and the updated project plan we have charted, will have a positive bearing on the Virgin Islands People achieving their national goals, among which is that of more robust Governance systems and enhanced transparency, accountability and value for money in the operations of Government – and to do this in the context of the COI recommendations within the timeframes we have set for ourselves.
I thank you.