STATEMENT BY THE PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
AT THE SECOND SITTING OF THE FIFTH SESSION
OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
HELD ON THURSDAY 26TH JANUARY, 2023
UPDATE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE COI RECOMMENDATIONS
Madam Speaker, thank you for another opportunity to update this Honourable House on the progress being made with the implementation of the Recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry Report. As we are at the start of a new Session, it is important that I provide a general update.
Madam Speaker, over the past six months, much work has been undertaken in response to the Framework for the Implementation of the COI Recommendations, which is the timetable set forth by the Government of National Unity and agreed to with the United Kingdom (UK) Government for achieving the recommended reforms.
A number of key players have been engaged to ensure a successful implementation of the recommendations.
The COI Recommendations Implementation Unit (COI Unit) has been fulfilling its mandate of coordinating with other implementing actors to ensure a holistic approach and smooth implementation of the reforms.
A number of reviewers and auditors have been hard at work sifting through the voluminous body of documents with respect to their respective tasks.
The Steering Committee has provided oversight of the process, and monthly tripartite meetings, chaired by the Governor and myself, and attended by Ministers, the Attorney General, the Financial Secretary and Permanent Secretaries, have been on schedule.
In terms of reporting requirements, Madam Speaker, the COI Unit has been submitting monthly reports to the Governor and to myself on the progress being made in implementing the various recommendations.
Additionally, a summary of the monthly reports is published with a dashboard that gives a pictorial summary of the progress being made. This dashboard is available for everyone to view on the Government’s website: bvi.gov.vg. I do encourage everyone to check the dashboard regularly as it is continuously updated, so they can see our progress first hand.
It is important to point out that this is not just a box ticking exercise. Persons should not think that this is a meaningless exercise and that reports submitted will be shelved. Beyond the reports, reform will be required in a number of areas. New policies and processes are likely to emerge. Our governance structures will be strengthened.
Madam Speaker, in terms of our overall progress, work on 48 of the 50 Framework Recommendations has begun. It is important to note that those that have not yet started are NOT time-lapsed; that is to say, the timeframe for commencement of those Recommendations has not yet arrived.
As of 31 December, 2022, 15 of the Recommendations have been completed and 33 Recommendations are in progress.
The Recommendations are currently split into 132 Actions. Of these, 52 (39%) are completed, 31 (23%) are in progress and on track, 26 (20%) are in progress but experiencing challenges and 22 (17%) have not been started as yet.
Again, in the case of Actions not yet started, these are tasks that are dependent on the completion of other Actions before they can commence.
Ministries are now working on their January report submissions, so we can expect that with the submission of some additional reports by the end of this month, the percentage of those completed will increase.
Final Reviewer Appointments
Madam Speaker, I am pleased that we are now concluding the process of appointing reviewers to undertake the various reviews recommended by the COI Report.
Mrs. Antoinette Skelton was recently appointed as the Reviewer for Recommendation B24 which will examine various governance structures and reporting obligations. She has already commenced her work.
Yesterday Cabinet agreed on the appointment of Mr. Kedrick Malone as the reviewer for Recommendation B33 on Residence and Belonger Status. The necessary appointment will be made in the coming days so that he can commence his review on 1st February.
Enhanced Monitoring of Statutory Boards
While the Framework has provided additional opportunities to monitor the work of statutory bodies and to ensure that they are fulfilling their legal mandates, it must be noted that the Ministry of Finance already had a monitoring mechanism in place with statutory bodies where they were submitting quarterly reports.
As there were some concerns expressed about the monitoring of statutory boards, a new reporting mechanism has been implemented that would now see them reporting on a quarterly basis through their parent ministries on a broader number of areas.
Submission of Reports
I would like to thank all the public officers and private citizens who have undertaken the task of conducting reviews and audits over the past months. I know that it has been a daunting task of having to sift through so many documents while balancing other responsibilities, so I am grateful for the sacrifices made.
To date, we have received the following reports:
- Independent Reviewers’ Reports
- Mr. Jamal Smith (B25) – The Establishment and Maintenance of Statutory Boards;
- Mrs. Sheila Brathwaite (B29) – Review of the Membership of Statutory Boards
- Mrs. Fikile Dlamini (B1) – Review of the Commission of Inquiry Act
- Mr. David Abednego (B30) – Review of the Processes for the Disposal of Crown Land
- Auditor General’s Reports
- B12 – House of Assembly Assistance Grants
- B22 – Claude Skelton-Cline Government Contracts since 2019
- B23 – EZ Shipping – Government Contracts for Radar Barges since 2019
Madam Speaker, these reports are now being reviewed and I would like to inform the public of the process that will be followed.
The reports will be submitted to Cabinet and then laid on the table at the House of Assembly. The public will have an opportunity to review the reports, some of which will require input so that an action plan can be developed on implementing aspects of the reports as determined.
I have already noticed many meaningful recommendations aimed at strengthening good governance and democracy and look forward to the eventual feedback once the reports are made public.
Madam Speaker, while we have been making tremendous progress, I realise that there are some areas where we would have liked to have been further advanced in our progress.
Madam Speaker, the Government of National Unity and I have always been forthwith in admitting that the timelines proposed in the Framework were ambitious. We recognize, and I know the Virgin Islands community agrees, that for what is at stake and the benefits that will accrue from strengthening our governance systems and processes, it is necessary and it will be worth it for us to push ourselves a bit harder.
And, we also recognize that as the work rolls out and emergent issues and unforeseen circumstances arise, we would have to make adjustments.
With the delay in commencing the public information and consultation process for the Constitutional Review, as well as some administrative delays, the Chair of the Constitutional Review Commission has requested the full 18 months instead of the initial 12 months to complete the process.
Another factor that we must take a closer look at is the timeframe required for drafting new policies and legislation, now that through the ongoing work, the scope of the legislative component of the reforms is becoming clearer.
With the limited number of drafters in the Attorney General’s Chambers, it will be difficult to address all of the requirements for new policies and legislation within the timeframes we initially set. This is something the Government will seek to address so that we can get the work done in an acceptable timeframe.
Also, with the General Elections constitutionally due by May of this year, the House of Assembly will have to be dissolved by March of this year. While the Government of National Unity will attempt to tackle as much of the legislative work that is possible before elections, we recognise the challenges to see the full legislative programme through. What this means, however, is that the incoming 5th House of Assembly and the Government will be in a position to carry forward the baton when it is handed over, and to proceed with ample pace.
Madam Speaker, with respect to the appointment of reviewers, the Governor and I have had a few challenges in selecting the right reviewers for certain important Recommendations. The delayed appointments in some instances have prevented the reviews being completed before the agreed deadlines, and therefore the actions dependent on the completion of these reviews will now also be delayed. Additionally, a few reviewers have asked for more time in order to complete their remit in the most comprehensive manner.
As I said earlier, and I continue to say, this is not a box-ticking exercise. It is about getting quality work done and properly implemented.
Madam Speaker, the Government of National Unity has recognised that while reform must be done in a timely and expedited manner, the public must be informed and their views must be reflected in the reform for it to be sustainable and meaningful. As such, a few Recommendations will need to include an extended period of public consultation.
The Government of National Unity remains loyal to the undertaking we gave to the Virgin Islands people that they will be consulted on those matters where consultation is required and prudent.
Madam Speaker, as agreed at our November tripartite meeting, I have written to the Governor with the request that he seeks the United Kingdom Government’s approval of the requested extensions. I expect that we will have further discussions on this matter with Lord Goldsmith when he visits next week.
I wish to assure the public, Madam Speaker, that the Government of National Unity holds an unwavering commitment to COI implementation and the reform process in general. We will continue to maintain our momentum to complete the reform resulting from the Recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry Report.
I also wish to take this opportunity to thank all our pubic officers for their continuing support and dedication in this exercise. The implementation of the Framework and reforms is one of the most critical undertakings in our history and in the development and advancement of the Virgin Islands and our people. We may not be able to fully appreciate the magnitude, significance and benefits of this task today, but our future generations of Virgin Islanders will; and they will thank us for doing this work.
So, to those who have been burning the midnight oil, pushing themselves harder and making personal sacrifices to get this work done, I want you to know that your Territory appreciates your efforts, and as Premier I say thank you.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.