STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
DURING THE ELEVENTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION
OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Thursday 12th August 2021
MINISTERIAL POLITICAL ADVISER
Mister Speaker, in Cabinet Decision - No. 281/2021 of 8 July, 2021, a decision was made to create the post of Ministerial Political Adviser to provide specialist support to Ministers and Junior Ministers to assist them in delivering the mandate for which they were elected and sworn in as Government to perform.
This matter has been tossed around by successive Governments for the last 20 years.
The history in the Virgin Islands shows that Ministers and Ministries have always needed expertise that are outside of the resource capabilities of the Public Service, and for work, the nature of which is outside the limitations of the Public Service Regulations – but necessary to get the job done.
And this expertise is most often sourced through the engagement of consultants – for which each Ministry has long been allocated a budget annually.
Successive Governments have long utilised to contract qualified consultants who could provide technical expertise necessary in providing direct support to Ministries.
Your Government saw the need to properly and appropriately regularise the consultancy vote as we continue to strengthen the transparent and accountable processes within ministries.
If I could go back into our history, the first steps to Ministerial Government in the Virgin Islands took place in 1956 when Constitutional changes allowed for two Members of the legislature who were elected by other elected members to the Executive Council to be given oversight for “trade and production” and “works and communication”.
Ministerial Government was further expanded following the Proudfoot Report of 1965, which concluded that constitutional advancement to ensure elected members more initiative in the direction of the colony’s affairs was justified.
This led to, in 1970, the introduction of a ministerial system that provided for three Ministers including a Chief Minister.
The Ministers became administratively responsible for the various subjects of the Government, save for defence, and internal security, external affairs, the public service, the courts and for a time finance, which were retained under the purview of the Governor.
In the more than five decades since, the economy of the Virgin Islands has grown substantially, increasing the demands on the local Government to provide services to the public.
Major advancements in technology have also contributed to this increased growth and increased demands and pressures on the Government.
This has been reflected in the various Constitutional Reviews over that period. For instance, the current Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007 provides for a team of Ministers consisting of the Premier and four other Ministers – one being appointed the Deputy Premier, who sit in the Cabinet.
Through the Virgin Islands Constitution (Amendment) Order, 2015, provision was made for the appointment of two Junior Ministers from among the elected members of the House of Assembly to assist in the performance of Ministerial functions relating to economic development. And Mister Speaker all Government to date are trying to find the best mould to find how to operate the Junior Minister giving the ambiguity of how it was stated in the constitution. But, this Government will continue until it finds the right fit.
The Government of the Virgin Islands has set the national vision of transforming the Virgin Islands into a leading regional economy by 2025 through innovation, entrepreneurship and local and foreign investment. This is deemed key to bolstering the economic and human security and resilience of the Virgin Islands.
To achieve this ambitious target in the aggressive deadline, it is necessary to boost the human resource capacity and capabilities in the various Ministries and to provide appropriate support to the Ministers so that they can optimally drive the Government’s work and agenda, and generate and sustain momentum.
Our people want progress, and we will make it happen. Even in the midst of the challenges of COVID-19, the worst pandemic in the last 100 years.
Mister Speaker, as a Government, we have previously cited the need for strengthening the policy capabilities of the Government.
At a thanksgiving service at the Cyril B Romney Tortola Pier Park on 6 March, 2019, shortly after taking office, he stated: “Proper development will not be guaranteed by ad hoc policies and arrangements nor attempting quick-fix legislation. It is important that we get a functioning policy unit in place with some urgency. It is an important mechanism to ensure that the renewal that the people voted for and expect shall take place.”
Establishment of a policy unit in the Premier’s Office is a consideration in the ongoing Public Service Transformation exercise.
Introduction of the role of Ministerial Political Adviser through the already established and funded consultancy vote will lend to strengthening the policy capabilities of the Ministries while the establishment of a policy unit is considered in the reformed Public Service.
Political here does not mean relating to party politics. Political here means relating to strengthening the work of the Government. The word “political” in the job title simply reflects that the adviser is selected by the Minister and is not a public officer engaged by the Public Service Commission. It does not matter whose party was supported. This role is not about hiring friends and family. It is about hiring persons who can help strengthen the Virgin Islands for future generation to enjoy, build and grow.
Mister Speaker, Cabinet considered and approved the consultancy of Ministerial Political Adviser where the Premier would be assigned no more than three (3) Ministerial Political Advisers and each other Cabinet Minister and Junior Minister would be assigned no more than one (1) Ministerial Political Adviser.
Ministerial Advisers or Ministerial Aides are not uncommon in Government systems around the world - and that also includes the United Kingdom, from where we have sourced a model for the role and adapted it to the needs of the Virgin Islands.
We know that what may be good for the UK, may not be good, appropriate, workable and best for the structure of the processes and procedures of Government of the Virgin Islands.
For example, Advisers will not work with political parties as done in the UK. Advisers cannot instructor override public officers. The adviser will not duplicate the job of any public officer.
Under the Public Service Regulations, public officers are prevented from considering certain factors when analysing research and designing policy. But those factors are part of the real-world operating environment.
And that is why we sometimes have a disconnect between what the public officer is able to do, and what the Minister and the Government is trying to achieve for the people based on the mandate given by the people. This is where the Ministerial Adviser role comes in, to incorporate those dimensions that the public officers are not allowed to go into.
The Terms of Reference for the Ministerial Political Adviser include research and analysis and assisting in speech writing for the Minister. Additionally, the adviser will serve as a conduit between Ministers’ political agenda and his/her public service agenda. In doing so, he/she will work with the Permanent Secretary to ensure that there is a clear distinction between the two roles.
The areas that the Adviser will provide support to the Minister include, but are not limited to:
- coordinating materials for briefings and submissions by reviewing, analysing and coordinating briefing materials, notes, background material, speeches, Ministerial correspondence, submissions, and other information submitted to the Minister and provide feedback to the Minister;
- reviewing papers, proposals and other subject matter going to the Minister, drawing attention to any political considerations that the Minister should take into account in his/her decision making, and,
- liaising and consulting with relevant stakeholders, to obtain information, to seek advice and to assist the Minister.
Mister Speaker, the tenure of each Ministerial Political Adviser, who will be hired as an independent contractor, to be the same as the tenure of the Minister to whom they are assigned.
Each Ministerial adviser is subject to all Public Service Laws, Regulations and Policies during their tenure, save and except where research, advice and other support to the Minister may incorporate political considerations into their analysis, advice, speech writing etc. in a manner that would not be permissible for a permanent public officer;
Also, advisers would be required to adhere to the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Political Advisers.
In the conduct of his or her duties, the Ministerial Political Adviser should adhere to the following rules of conduct.
- The Ministerial Political Adviser shall sign and adhere to the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Political Advisers, and make themselves available to the Integrity Committee for Ministerial Political Advisers when requested by the Committee.
- Ministerial Political Adviser should not act adversely to any Public Service Laws, Regulations and Policies during their tenure.
- The Ministerial Political Adviser shall declare any private interests that they may hold in any matter that may be deemed relevant to their work, upon assumption of duties and periodically as circumstances may require. This disclosure shall be made by letter to the appointing Minister and copied to the Permanent Secretary in the Premier’s Office and the Premier.
- The Ministerial Political Adviser should NOT:
- deceive or knowingly mislead the House of Assembly or the public;
- misuse their official position or information acquired in the course of their official duties to further their private interests or the private interests of others;
- receive benefits of any kind which others might reasonably see as compromising their personal judgement or integrity;
- disclose without authority official information which has been communicated in confidence in Government or received in confidence from others;
- they cannot use official resources for party political activity;
- and do anything which might reasonably lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.
- The Ministerial Political Adviser may, on behalf of their Ministers:
- convey to officials, through the Authorised Officer, their Minister’s views and work priorities, including on issues of presentation. In doing so, they must take account of public officers' workloads and any priorities Ministers have set;
- request, through the Authorised Officer, officials to prepare and provide information and data, including internal analyses and papers; and,
- hold meetings with the Authorised Officer to discuss the advice being put to Ministers.
- But Political advisers must not:
- ask public officers to do anything which is inconsistent with their obligations under the Public Service Code;
- behave towards permanent public officers in a way which would be inconsistent with the standards set by the employing department for conduct generally;
- have responsibility for budgets or involvement in the award of external contracts;
- suppress or supplant the advice being prepared for Ministers by permanent public officers although they may comment on such advice.
Mister Speaker, an Integrity Committee for Ministerial Political Advisers has been set up comprising the Permanent Secretary, Premier’s Office as Chair; Permanent Secretary, Deputy Governor’s Office; and one of the four other Permanent Secretaries in rotation each year.
The Integrity Committee for Ministerial Political Advisers would have the authority to call and question Ministerial Political Advisers on their adherence to the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Political Advisers or matters of conflicts of interests, and that the Committee may submit a report to the Premier for his or her consideration. Mister Speaker, this initiative is not geared towards benefiting present Government only, but is now fully intact for any successive Governments that will come forward.
The contract issued to Ministerial Political Advisers will not exceed one hundred and twenty thousand dollars ($120,000.00) per annum in accordance with the following pay bands.
- each contract for each Ministerial Political Adviser does not cover gratuity payments, annual leave and sick leave;
- Each Ministry will allocate payment of remuneration for Ministerial Political Adviser under their existing Consultancy vote, and payments for the Ministerial Political Adviser to Junior Ministers will be borne from the Consultancy vote of the Premier's Office;
Cabinet approved the waiver of the tender process to allow Ministerial Political Adviser to be contracted for any tenure that allows the cumulative compensation to be no more than one hundred and twenty thousand dollars ($120,000.00) per annum.
There is nothing arbitrary in terms of what these advisers will be paid to do, or what they will be doing. There are approved job descriptions and there are salary caps.
In the first instance, in order for an Adviser to be engaged they must have either a Master's level degree with five years of experience, or a Bachelor degree and ten years of progressive experience in relevant planning, management and/or analytical positions, among other professional areas.
Mister Speaker, there is a deliberate attempt by persons to skew the facts to get the public riled up unnecessarily, getting them to think that this is about new posts and new monies.
Consultants have long existed in Ministries and successive Governments have brought in persons to work under this umbrella, but there were no stipulations, guidance or policy created for how the consultancy vote would work.
All we have done is to give the consultancy role a title in the name of Ministerial Political Adviser. The DGO agreed with the need for the role of the Ministerial Political Adviser.
The Government of the Virgin Islands thanks the Deputy Governor’s Office for the recommendations received, reinforced by correspondence from the Governor, as to what they recommend the job title should be and what should be the terms and conditions for the role.
All the recommendations of the Deputy Governor’s Office and the Governor were accepted by the Premier’s Office and it was only after the satisfaction of the DGO and the Governor were achieved that the matter was carried to Cabinet.
So essentially, we have been able to strike a balance, streamline the terms and conditions of engagement, and in the interest of Good Governance, we have created some checks and balances so that neither the Ministers nor the advisers can abuse the post.
That is all that we have done.
It is clear that this initiative was not one that was just pulled out of a hat.
This is not a new expense being created, but rather we are doing what is right to get things right.
The public wants us to be transparent and accountable and this means tackling long standing structures to make them current, even if you take blows in the process for in the end I believe that it will all work together for the good of the Virgin Islands.
We are not a Government that thinks about the next elections.
But rather, we are a Government with guts that thinks about the future of the Virgin Islands and blows or not, we will continue to put structure and controls on an age-old practice. For doing what is right is not about favoritism, it is about making things happen.
We are doing what is right and responsible.
This initiative and policy will benefit all successive Governments to become more efficient and effective in the delivery of the mandate that the people have given them.
It will indeed provide a clearly framework for the consultant-public service engagement in a coordinated and harmonious way as we deliver the pledges and the quality of Government that citizens expect and deserve; rapidly position the Virgin Islands to become a leading regional economy; and ensure that we create the opportunities for the people of the Virgin Islands and generations to come.
Mister Speaker, in closing, let me reiterate that no new monies were sought for the services of the advisors. Funding is allocated in the yearly budget to Ministries under the consultancy vote.
Yes, some will try to mislead the public intentionally, and others will try to make the public think that in these difficult times due to COVID-19, millions of taxpayers money have been recently approved for consultants while families and businesses suffer. This malicious misleading on the public is unacceptable, for we should not be playing on the vulnerability and emotions of our people to incite reactions.
All budgets, when passed by this Honourable House each year for decades, approve monies for each Ministry to allow for the hiring of consultants. I repeat, Mister Speaker, all budgets, when passed by this Honourable House each year for decades, approve monies for each Ministry to allow for the hiring of consultants.
The facts are there in the financial books of history to show that consultancy vote in Ministries long existed, which become more heavily used by successive Government from 2011.
All this Government has done is to target only some of the already approved funding for consultancy to facilitate the new initiative of Ministerial Political Advisor.
We want to make sure that what this Government and any future Government is placed in a position where there is a transparent and accountable process in hiring consultants and informing the public of how some of the already approved funds are being targeted.
I thank you Mister Speaker.