Speech From The Throne – Driving BVI Innovation Through Legislation

SPEECH FROM THE THRONE DELIVERED BY
HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR MR. AUGUSTUS J.U JASPERT
First Sitting of the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly

Save the Seed Complex

Thursday, 5 November, 2020
10:00 a.m.

DRIVING BVI INNOVATION THROUGH LEGISLATION

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members of the House of Assembly, invited guests, those viewing online and listening via radio, good morning.

I stand in this Honourable House to present the second Speech from the Throne during this Administration.

I count it an honour and privilege as Governor of the Virgin Islands to deliver the Speech from the Throne on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

As is the tradition, and is the case in most Commonwealth countries and British Overseas Territories, the Speech from the Throne outlines the elected Government’s Legislative Agenda to pursue in the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly.

The Speech from the Throne is prepared within the Premier’s Office in consultation with Ministries. The Speech is then deliberated and approved by the elected Government of the Virgin Islands.

In this speech, I will refer to Her Majesty’s Government as ‘Our Government’.

During this Session, our Government will focus on introducing and amending different pieces of legislation under the theme: Driving British Virgin Islands Innovation Through Legislation.

Our Government will deliberate each piece of legislation within the context of building a stable, diverse and competitive economy through trade, industries and the people of the Virgin Islands.

The vision of our Government is to transform the Virgin Islands into a leading regional economy through innovation, entrepreneurship and local and foreign investment by 2025.

I will first share about those pieces of legislation focused on: A COMPETITIVE ECONOMY

Modern digital technology provides the opportunity to improve convenience and access to Government services and enhance the efficiency of the delivery of many Government services to the citizenry.

In this regard, our Government will bring forward a longstanding suite of electronic legislation to support the comprehensive digital transformation of the Public Service and improve e-payments for customers. The Bills include Data Protection, Electronic Filing, Electronic Funds Transfer, and Electronic Transactions.

Following a review of the Virgin Islands Correctional Facilities Act that was passed in 2018, it was determined that individual sections were inconsistent with the provisions of the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007. Hence the Act has not been assented to.

The legislation will therefore be revised to align its provisions with the Virgin Islands Constitution while maintaining its original objectives to repeal and replace the Prison Ordinance (CAP.166) and modernise the Territory’s legal framework with respect to the management and security of prisons, and the safe custody and rehabilitation of inmates.

The Emergency Call Handling Bill is needed at this time. Our Government has established a Next Generation 911 Emergency Call Handling Centre for the Territory of the Virgin Islands, which is designed to enable the sharing of valuable lifesaving emergency response and law enforcement information through the use of smart mobile and fixed communications.

A critical element to the full functioning of this Centre is the enactment of supporting legislation.  Hence, 911 Emergency Call Handling Bill will be introduced to meet the aims and purposes of the Call Handling Centre.

The Disaster Management Bill provides for the more effective organisation of the efforts related to the mitigation of, preparedness for, and recovery from hazards affecting the Virgin Islands and other matters associated therewith. Additionally, it seeks repeal the current legal framework related to disaster management in the Virgin Islands and provides a comprehensive mechanism for disaster management in the Virgin Islands, and the rights and obligations of the Virgin Islands under the Agreement establishing the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency.

The Architects and Engineers Registration Bill remains in draft form and still to be approved by Cabinet for further processing. The proposed legislation will focus on the protection of health, safety and welfare of building occupants, guarantee safety, and all the while help to protect the integrity of the professions.

I will now turn to those pieces of legislation focused on BUILDING THE PEOPLE OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS

Education and higher education drives innovation and creativity. This is important to improve the training of our people. Our Government will continue to invest in its people.

Our Government is committed to educational development and is cognisant that in this era of the “New Regular,” the education system must become more technology-driven and coherent with the established protocols. That is why there will be a focus on the Education Act (2004), as amended, to bring this legislation in line with the technological requirements for learning, as well as the new physical standards for schools and classrooms, the placement of students and the establishment of stricter disciplinary and academic protocols.

Our Government remains committed to ensuring that students receive the best possible instruction and are also trained to become functional citizens within this Territory, despite the new challenges that are being faced. To realise this, our Government will aim to finalise the recently drafted Discipline Policy and the revised Student Code of Conduct.

For any developing country to rightfully take its place and remain on the global stage, its human resources must be adequately trained with the knowledge and skills necessary to move the country forward. Our Government remains committed to ensuring that educational opportunities are continuously available to the people of this Territory. As such, the Virgin Islands Scholarship Programme Policy (2014) will be revised to ensure that this programme remains sustainable and adequately supports the training and workforce needs of the Territory.

With respect to the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, our Government wishes to put forth amendments to the College Act of 1990 to bring this legislation up to date with contemporary norms for the governance of accredited tertiary institutions.

This year, our Government set out to revisit the Virgin Islands National Youth Policy and Strategic Objectives (2014-2019) in an effort to update the policy with the status quo of its young people. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic related economic strain placed on this Territory, this project was not realised. We will bring this policy back into focus.

In recent years, local sportsmen and sportswomen have been performing remarkably well on the international stage, raising the profile of the Territory and inspiring us with their achievements. Our Government recognises that our current and aspiring athletes deserve support and an enabling environment to help them realise their potential. The introduction of the Virgin Islands National Sports Council Bill to provide for the establishment of a National Sports Council is in the early stages of stakeholder consultation. It is anticipated that a draft Bill will be before this Honourable House during the latter part of 2021.

Our Government will create Children (Care and Adoption) Bill so that it is in line with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Model Children (Care and Adoption) Bill would serve to modernise and strengthen the laws to aid in the proper care and management of children in the Virgin Islands.

More specifically, the Bill provides a more comprehensive way to address matters relating to child abuse, neglect, exploitation, and other forms of violence against children. Its express intent is to ensure the safety, welfare, and well-being of the child and that any decisions taken are made in the child’s best interest. The Bill would also modernise the laws relating to foster care and adoption procedures and the child’s overall welfare.

The Registration of Births and Deaths Bill 2020 will be repealed and will replace the Registration of Births and Deaths Ordinance (CAP.276) which has been in existence for over fifty-six years. It also seeks to modernise the Territory’s procedures with respect to the registration of births and deaths, and enable computerisation of the notification and registration process.

The archives and records of the Territory are very important to the history and identity of its people. The Archives and Records Management Act 2010 is being amended to establish the Archives and Records Management Department and to provide for the preservation of public archives and records from an electronic perspective.

Following a 2017 consultancy through the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to assess the Labour Code 2010, work now needs to be done to bring about a full revision of the legislation.

The overall purpose of the exercise is to establish a framework to enhance the effectiveness of employment laws and standards in place in the Territory.

The process for improving the effectiveness of our local labour law aims to reassert citizens’ fundamental rights and align effectively with local standards and international norms and best practices.

The 2018 consultant’s report outlines the way forward. Additional work will be done to ensure that the requisite measures are taken to establish the Labour Policy and amend the Labour Code, where applicable.

There will also be amendments to the Social Security Board Act seeking to bring the legislation in line with international best practice and ensure that the best decisions are taken regarding the benefits to be received by the people of the Virgin Islands. This also includes amendments to the National Health Insurance processes.

Our Government will seek to amend the Immigration and Passport Act (CAP. 130) to ensure that the Immigration Department as a frontline border agency has the requisite power to charge compound fees on persons who enter the country illegally without having to take them to court. This frees up the court system from dealing with smaller cases and allows the Immigration Department to expedite issues while sending a strong message to those attempting to enter illegally.

A general revision of the Immigration and Passport Act (CAP. 130) is also needed to bring it in line with international best practice and ensure that the legislation is in keeping with the transformation plan for that department.

The new border management system is to be enforced shortly and ensures that a number of systems become online systems to make the department more efficient and effective.

In addition, amendments to the Immigration and Passport Act (CAP. 130) will help to facilitate adjustments to the immigration policy to allow longer stay for investors in an effort to attract more business to the British Virgin Islands.

In order to bring greater awareness to the roles of Honourable Members as Legislators, their privileges and Powers as we keep on the path of institutional building Legislative Council (Privilege, Immunities and Powers) Act.

Government intends to stay current with modernising the House of Assembly, as such; the Standing Orders will be further updated, to keep the House of Assembly in line with ever-changing regional and international parliamentary best practice.

Our Government values public input and debate on Bills and will endeavour to increase public consultations on all legislation coming to and presented in this Honourable House.

In the last Session, our Government was hoping to have at least one Sitting per year on a few Sister Islands, so that members of the public can get further experience and exposure to the proceedings and to be a part of monitoring the progress of our Government’s Legislative Agenda.  However, due to the challenges with COVID 19 plans were changed to ensure that everyone remains safe.

Our Government during this First Sitting of the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly will be swiftly moving forward with some of the legislation mentioned in this Speech from the Throne.

In closing, our Government’s Legislative Agenda has been laid out for this Session, and it will be monitored by the Premier’s Office to ensure that it moves forward with fortitude and determination.

Notwithstanding, as the need arise, other pieces of legislation not mentioned will be considered from time to time.

Finally, as Governor, Honourable Speaker and Honourable Members of this House, visitors in the gallery, members of the public, I thank you.

The proposed Sexual Offences Act would provide a gender-sensitive legal framework relating to a broad range of sexual crimes, offer adequate measures to minimise secondary traumatisation, and monitor and track sex offenders following their release into the community.

The Jury Act (CAP.36) will be addressed to seek to examine the powers of a Judge as it relates to jury trials.The review will explore the question as to whether some trials can be heard by a Judge without a Jury to allow the expediency of Justice in the Territory.The review will also be conducted to streamline and enhance the selection of Jurors and to establish a jury register.

The Audio Visual Link 2017 will be amended to strengthen the legislation to ensure the effective continuity of the Courts, particularly as it relates to the social distancing guidelines that were implemented to supress or prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Territory.Additionally, the legislation will be strengthened to look at non-arrest matters.

The Flexible Working Arrangements Bill, supported by a policy will outline the criteria and process for undertaking a flexible working arrangement. The implementation of this policy will come at a time where officers and employees continue to manoeuvre through their personal hurricane recovery efforts and the challenges caused as a result of COVID-19.

Consistent with the national vision, our Government will mobilise and attract foreign and domestic investment to enhance economic development, reduce unemployment, grow entrepreneurship, accelerate growth, and diversify the economy through the proposed BVI Investment Bill.

Additionally, the Incentive Legislation Bill will be introduced to ensure the empowerment of local investors and local businesses in all sectors of the economy, inclusive of all, but not limited to tourism, health, entrepreneurship, agriculture and fisheries.

Our Government also proposes to revise the Non Profit Organisations Act 2012. In July 2016, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) revised its recommendations on the supervision and monitoring of Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs). It was felt that the previous language led to overregulation and inappropriate restrictions on NPOs hampering their legitimate and essential work around the world.

The new FATF recommendation acknowledges that not all NPOs are at risk and directs countries to undertake a risk-based approach when considering terrorist financing measures. A new Non-Profit Organisations Act has therefore been drafted to engender a more targeted and risk-based approach to the regulation of NPOs, which would reduce the burden of compliance presently placed on those community groups that are not at high risk for abuse by terrorist organisations.

This new approach takes into account the differing types of NPOs that exist, the environment in which they operate, and the level of risk they are exposed to.

I will now turn to those pieces of legislation focused on: A STABLE AND DIVERSE ECONOMY

A number of pieces of legislation that are geared toward creating a more a stable and diverse economy will be brought forward in the upcoming year.

As our Government looks towards creating a more stable and diverse economy, food security is a priority area that also provides economic opportunities for the people of the Virgin Islands. The agriculture and fisheries sectors remain a part of the historical, economic and cultural identity of Virgin Islanders and will remain key elements of our Territory’s increased emphasis on food security.

This is why The Virgin Islands Agriculture and Fisheries Marketing Authority Bill is being proposed, following a series of stakeholder contributions. This Bill will seek to establish a statutory authority to serve as the primary vehicle to coordinate the Territory’s focus on food security, and is expected to be realised in early 2021.

Amendments will be made to the Customs Management and Duties Act encourage investments in Green SMART products like green energy, as well as export tax, among many other areas to stimulate the economy of the Virgin Islands and to increase revenuesOther amendments to this Act also include measures that will increase and reposition the Territory as the sailing capital of the world.

The Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 (No. 18 of 2006) will be amended to address various deficiencies and bring the legislation in line with international standards, more specifically to meet the basic provisions outlined in the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC aims to combat the global tobacco epidemic and protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental, and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and tobacco smoke exposure.

Our Government will introduce the Environmental Management & Climate Resilience Act to establish the legal mechanisms for the improved management of the environment and the conservation of biodiversity.  It aims to provide for the sound and sustainable management of natural resources while establishing the institutional framework to manage the causes of and impacts from climate change.

The Liquor Licence Act (CAP.106) will be modernised in consideration of the changes in the industry so that legislation is aligned with modern day practices.

The introduction of a Waste Management Bill is essential to being a competitive economy, especially when we consider the role that the environment plays in the Territory’s economy.

The team is finalising a comprehensive Waste Management Strategy and is proposing new legislation to reform the law regulating waste management, in accordance with the waste hierarchy.

Waste Management Act will strengthen the legal framework for sustainable management of household waste, industrial waste, construction and demolition waste, and hazardous waste in order to protect health and the environment, while improving the aesthetics of the Territory.

We will move forward with the Plastic Litter Reduction and Container Deposit BillThe primary objectives of the proposed legislation are to reduce beverage container litter along roadsides, ghuts, coastal and marine areas, and on other public or private properties; and encourage recycling.

The Water Supply and Sewerage Bill remains in draft form and still to be approved by Cabinet for further processing. The proposed legislation will seek to expand on the Water Supply Ordinance (CAP.153) by encompassing the management of the public water supply, sewage collection, treatment and disposal, and the control of disposing of fats, oils and grease. The Water Supply Ordinance (CAP.153) would be repealed for a more modern and comprehensive legislation.

There will also be an amendment to the BVI Health Services Authority Act (No. 14 of 2004)The proposed changes to the principal legislation aim to address the operations of the BVI Health Services Authority as it relates to effective governance and management of the Authority’s mandate.

Strengthening Governance is important for having a stable economy. The Integrity in Public Life Bill will promote and enhance ethical conduct standards by consolidating laws relating to the prevention of corruption and the award, monitoring, and investigating government contracts and prescribed licences.

Additionally, it will establish a single body responsible for supporting the establishment and enforcement of integrity standards that will promote and strengthen measures for preventing, detecting, investigating, judging, sanctioning, and prosecuting acts of corruption, linking with law enforcement as appropriate.

Public safety and justice are essential for maintaining the stability of our economy and our society. The Police Act (CAP.165) will bring together an updated legislative basis for policing in the Territory and provides a strong constitutional and professional base for a modernised Police Force. It provides a real opportunity for the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force to emerge as a leading police force in the Caribbean.

Our Government will introduce the Road Traffic Act (CAP.218) (Amendment)The amendment will seek to modernise the suite of traffic offences and fines intended to regulate and control road traffic more efficiently. Further, it is envisioned to reduce the number of traffic offences and accidents and act as a deterrent, thus improving compliance and public trust of the motoring public with the law, and overall road safety as better policing of the road traffic would be achievable.

Amendment to Section 2 of the Explosives Act (CAP.124) is being proposed to widen the use of the word explosives to include articles consisting of a cartridge case and various cartridges. The amendment will allow law enforcement to properly deal with serious criminal offenders and ensure the safety of citizens, residents and visitors.

  1. the Proceeds of Criminal Conduct Act, 1997, to make provisions for unexplained wealth orders.
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