STATEMENT BY THE PRIME MINISTER AND ACTING MINISTER OF FINANCE
DR. THE HONORABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
ON THE VISIT OF THE BRITISH MINISTER FOR OVERSEAS TERRITORIES RT. THE HONORABLE AMANDA MILLING, MP
TO DISCUSS THE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE COI REPORT

4and May 2022

Virgin island friends,

Good afternoon. I know many of you have been eagerly awaiting an update on discussions with the UK Overseas Territories Minister, The Right. Hon. Amanda Milling, MP and His Excellency the Governor Mr. John J. Rankin, CMG.

Monday 2n/a May, along with my Special Envoy, Mr. Benito, held bilateral meetings with Minister Milling and Governor Rankin to discuss the findings of the Commission of Inquiry report and its recommendations.

Our discussions were constructive but very frank and open. The minister and the governor have expressed very serious concerns about the findings of the report. I recognized the shortcomings in our governance and the very serious problems highlighted by Sir Gary Hickinbottom. I fully agree that audits, investigations and fundamental institutional reforms must take place without delay to resolve the very worrying problems described in the report.

No matter how uncomfortable the recommendations may be, they present us with a golden opportunity to fundamentally change the way we do things here in the Virgin Islands, which I believe is achievable under democratic governance. . To be clear, I see the implementation of the recommendations as a path to realizing our national renewal, but it can be done successfully without resorting to direct authority.

My vision is to see us transform our society into a model democracy, supported by strong, transparent and effective political institutions and systems of government, where confidence in the Virgin Islands as a jurisdiction and an open economy is high. However, achieving this will require very strong support from the UK and very close cooperation between the governor and the elected government. The territory has also been offered technical assistance from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, our other Overseas Territories in the Caribbean and our partners across the Commonwealth.

During my meeting with Minister Milling and the Governor, I shared some initial ideas on how to address the immediate concerns highlighted in the report and a comprehensive approach to implementing the recommendations without partial suspension of the Constitution. Minister Milling and the Governor listened carefully and I very much appreciated their engagement.

My Special Envoy and I also participated in a joint meeting with Minister Milling, the Governor and the three representatives of the opposition parties in the House of Assembly, who had previously had a separate engagement. At the joint meeting, representatives of the opposition parties and I pledged our commitment to work in unison and in partnership with the Governor and the United Kingdom to implement the report’s recommendations within a framework of democratic governance if we have the ability to do so then.

To this end, the Virgin Islands Party, the National Democratic Party and the People’s Movement of the Virgin Islands have agreed to propose a government of national unity to Governor Rankin under my leadership as interim Prime Minister. Each party would be represented in Cabinet as this would give the best political representation as the government works closely with the governor and the UK on reforms, which must go far beyond the recommendations of the commission of inquiry.

As Acting Prime Minister, I am very pleased to announce that I will be recommending to the Governor that the Cabinet be made up of the following ministers in a government of national unity:

The Honorable Kye Rymer, Minister of Transport, Utilities and Public Works;

The Honorable Sharie De Castro, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports;

The Honorable Marlon Penn, Minister of Health and Social Development;

The Honorable Mitchell Turnbull, Minister of Natural Resources, Labor and Immigration;

And I will continue to be acting Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.

In terms of junior ministers, the Honorable Alvera Maduro-Caines will serve as junior tourism minister.

The Honorable Shereen Flax-Charles will continue to serve as Deputy Minister of Trade and Economic Development with additional responsibility for Agriculture and Fisheries, which will migrate with me to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Honorable Neville Smith will act as interim chair until a new chair is confirmed.

The Honorable Vincent Wheatley as Representative of 9and The district will continue to represent the interests of the people of Virgin Gorda and Anegada.

The Honorable Carvin Malone, as At-Large Territorial Representative, will ensure that the people of the First District in particular, who are currently without representation on the ground, have a voice.

We are stronger working together in this way, and I hope Governor Rankin will accept and make the necessary new appointments once the necessary constitutional steps have been taken to start the process. I will let the public know by the end of the week of their response and timelines.

I would like to thank my political colleagues in the Virgin Islands Party for their maturity and understanding in accepting this approach. I would also like to thank the National Democratic Party and the Progressive Movement of the Virgin Islands as new partners for their commitment to come together to form a stronger political core in the government that will start the process of bringing the Virgin Islands into a new era of democratic governance. . The Leader of the Opposition and Member of Parliament for the Eighth District, the Hon. Marlon Penn, and the Representative for the Second District, the Hon. Mitchell Turnbull, will make statements immediately after mine on the proposed national unity government.

With regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the commission of inquiry, my political colleagues and I are of the opinion that the urgently needed reforms cannot be carried out in the current state of affairs. We have to be honest about this.

There needs to be a fundamental cultural shift in the way we do people’s business as a government. There must be a new attitude in the way we do business. Established institutions of good governance need many more resources to do their job effectively. New institutions will also need to be created to support good governance, including an independent body to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry that is not part of our existing institutional structures. A government of national unity undertakes to make available the financial resources necessary to advance and support the taking of these measures. Such a holistic approach is badly needed because we need to deepen our institutions and systems to fix them.

We are currently finalizing our proposal on how we will implement the reform and we will come back to you in due course to define our approach. What I can say now is that change is going to be difficult. It will be painful. The people we know and care about will be affected, but we must take the necessary steps to become the model of democratic society we want to see.

This is why we must come together as a community for the difficult times ahead. If we make the tough decisions now, we will emerge much stronger as a territory with stronger political institutions, stronger systems of government, a world-class civil service and a strong economy in which there is great confidence in the services and products we provide. Now is the time to change and embark on a new trajectory of national development. With an ironclad commitment from a Government of National Unity, we have what it takes to push forward reforms in close cooperation with the Governor and in partnership with the UK.

My last meeting with Minister Milling and Governor Rankin took place yesterday afternoon, during which my special envoy and I concluded very cordial talks. Minister Milling reiterated that no decision has yet been made, but that it was important for her to listen to the views of government, opposition and other stakeholders. I think that was a fair and reasonable approach on his part and I hope the case for an alternative to the direct rule will be given strong consideration.

Ladies and gentlemen, in closing, I would like to thank Minister Milling for being in the territory and wish her safe travels back to the UK today. I also want to thank the Governor for his very balanced approach to engagement. I cannot forget the valuable advice and support of my Special Envoy, Mr. Benito Wheatley, who has accompanied me over the past few days.

The UK and the Virgin Islands are indeed partners, and we should approach our relationship in this spirit, building on our good cooperation on sanctions, public beneficial ownership registers and medical cannabis. There is much to be gained that will help propel our society into a new era of democratic governance.

I will remain in close communication with Governor Rankin and provide further updates when appropriate.

I now have the pleasure of inviting the Leader of the Opposition and Member of Parliament for the Eighth District, the Honorable Marlon Penn, to make a statement.

God bless you all and God bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.