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HomeNewsLocal newsPremier “Deeply Offended” by BVI Governor’s Reform Push

Premier “Deeply Offended” by BVI Governor’s Reform Push

British Virgin Islands Gov. John Rankin, left, has asked London for additional powers to push anti-corruption reforms. Premier Natalio Wheatley said he was offended by Rankin’s “deflating and frankly anti-democratic words.” (Photo courtesy of BVI GIS)

Locally elected officials and the Buckingham Palace-appointed British Virgin Islands’ governor clashed this week over slow-moving reforms meant to curb potential corruption. Premier Natalio Wheatley said Monday he was “deeply offended” by Gov. John Rankin’s request to London for greater authority to hasten changes. Wheatley called Rankin’s maneuver a return to colonialism.

Rankin, who leaves office at the end of January, said Friday he was asking U.K. authorities to give the BVI governor additional powers that would force local officials to meet agreed-upon deadlines for reforms.

While stopping short of calling for a full dissolution of local government and direct control from London, as suggested in the April 2022 Commission of Inquiry report — or COI — on potential BVI corruption, Rankin did express displeasure with the slow pace of reforms.

Rankin said Wheatley and counterparts were behind schedule amending the Register of Interests Act — which forces elected officials to declare companies in which they have investments — creating a functioning Whistleblower Act, revising criminal procedure rules, creating a new Public Service Management Act, improving rules about ministers using their discretionary powers, creating a policy about how statutory boards operate, creating a new education grants policy, and strengthening the Integrity in Public Life Act, which are guidelines of ethical behavior for elected officials.

“Without such reforms, the better governance which the people of the BVI need and deserve will not be achieved and the issues which the COI identified could more easily return,” Rankin said.

Until 2021, the 2006-enacted Register of Interests Act only required members of the House of Assembly to shared potential conflicts of interest in certain circumstances, such as criminal investigations, legal proceedings, or on written request by the Assembly.

Wheatley, who became premier after his predecessor Andrew Fahie was arrested in Miami on cocaine smuggling and money laundering charges in April 2022, said his government saw reforms suggested in the COI as “an essential route to improving the delivery of transparent, effective and accountable government in the Virgin Islands.”

After two years of investigation, the Commission of Inquiry report was released the day after the arrest of Fahie and Ports Authority Managing Director Oleanvine Pickering Maynard.

Pickering Maynard pleaded guilty and was scheduled to testify against Fahie in a trial to start Wednesday but the trial date was pushed back to Jan. 22.

Wheatley said Rankin’s request for additional authority from London without first consulting local BVI officials was a “shock to the system” that went against agreements for corporations in the reforms, Wheatley said.

“The fact that this request has been made without any consultation with the Government of the Virgin Islands harkens back to the heyday of colonial governors ruling over these Virgin Islands,” the premier said. “My colleagues and I are alarmed and deeply offended by the governor’s request for additional powers to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.”

While Rankin complained Wheatley and other BVI officials had 21 months to enact the recommended changes, Wheatley said an election eight months earlier, as well as staffing shortages, had slowed progress.

“I also want to give more details on some of the areas the governor has mentioned, but which unfortunately were not adequately addressed in his report,” Wheatley said.

The premier said half the recommendations had been implemented as of Nov. 30, 2023. Of the 50 recommendations, there were 131 actions. Of these, he said, 80 had been completed, while 34 actions were not completed and their agreed-upon deadline passed.

“I share the governor’s urgency in advancing to completion the reforms and seeing us come safely through the task that the COI has set before us, but true reform is about building capacity and resilience and ensuring that all of us in the Virgin Islands understand what we must do to move forwards. Time is needed above all else — time to consider, time to consult and time to draft new legislation and amend existing laws,” Wheatley said.

“The deflating and frankly anti-democratic words of the governor are an insult to our voters. They also damage the morale of the very public officers who are working so tirelessly to ensure that the Virgin Islands fully implements the COI’s recommendations and through this enables us to develop truly modernized government structures,” he said.

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