Deputy Premier Dr. the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley has told a meeting of the Fourth Committee (Special Political & Decolonization) at the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York that the United Kingdom (UK) should not go further down the path of colonialism in the Virgin Islands as the UK Government prepares for the outcome of a UK backed-Commission of Inquiry on governance in the Territory.
“Despite the questionable motives behind the calling of the Inquiry, along with the tremendous disruption to the operation of the Public Service, the locally elected Government of two years and seven months, and the Territory’s hardworking Public Servants, have fully cooperated as we have nothing to hide,” the Deputy Premier said in an official statement to the Committee on 6th October.
He went on to say that “the tremendous administrative burden of meeting unreasonable deadlines has taken away precious time and attention from hurricane preparedness and COVID-19 response, including responding to recent outbreaks. We have also noted that the Commission has shifted its focus from supposed corruption to now the ability of the local Government to govern the islands.”
In addition, Hon. Wheatley explained that “the proceedings are being conducted like a public trial in which the local Government has no right of rebuttal or the ability to cross examine witnesses. Locally this has raised very deep suspicions about what the intent of the Inquiry is and whether the goal is to lay the groundwork for the local Government to be stripped of its powers in areas such as immigration, lands and other things.”
Regarding the UK’s intentions for supporting the Inquiry, he said,
“We are also very worried that the former Ministerial leadership at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office possibly intended to use the Commission of Inquiry to find a pre-text to impose direct colonial rule through the suspension of the constitution, as was done in the specific circumstances of the Turks & Caicos Islands in 2009. We are also very concerned about the United Kingdom potentially seeking to roll back the autonomy of the British Virgin Islands by taking over the finances of the local Government, which are stable, and other draconian measures.”
However, the Deputy Premier said he believed there is an opportunity for the UK to change course.
“The recent Ministerial and Civil Servant level changes at the UK Foreign Ministry present an opportunity for the United Kingdom and the British Virgin Islands to reset our relationship through a new modern partnership that departs from the colonial past. United Kingdom support for the local Government’s COVID-19 response demonstrates that such a modern partnership is possible. We genuinely hope this is the path the UK will choose, and we stand ready to work together as partners.”
The Fourth Committee remains in session at United Nations Headquarters in New York until 11th November and will vote on a resolution on the British Virgin Islands that supports upholding self-governance and the right to self-determination in the Territory.
The Deputy Premier was joined by Special Envoy of the Premier Mr. Benito Wheatley.