Madam Speaker, Members of the House of Assembly, ladies, and gentlemen, good morning.
As Governor of the Virgin Islands, I am honoured to deliver this Speech from the Throne on behalf of His Majesty King Charles III.
Traditionally, in the Commonwealth and Overseas Territories, the Speech from the Throne signals the start of a new Session of the House of Assembly, and the legislative agenda the elected Government plans to pursue in the upcoming Session.
This Fifth Session of the House of Assembly is focused on bringing forward legislation in the context of “Resilience, Revenue, Reform, and Recovery: The Virgin Islands in Transition.“ This theme is aligned with the 2023 Budget Address and its strategic objectives and outcomes of Government agencies.
As this is likely to be the last Session of the current Fourth House of Assembly, it is appropriate to take a moment to reflect on the work and achievements of the current Fourth House of Assembly over the last three years before I outline Government’s legislative agenda for the upcoming Session.
During the First Session of the Fourth House of Assembly, which commenced in March 2019, six pieces of legislation were passed and enacted.
During the Second Session, 30 pieces of legislation were passed.
During the Third Session, 47 pieces of legislation were passed.
During the Fourth Session, 18 pieces of legislation were passed.
With the Fourth House of Assembly having considered and successfully passed 101 pieces of legislation in a single term and in extenuating circumstances such as the COVID-19 Global Pandemic, which began in 2020, it is fair to say that this has been one of the most productive terms of any legislature in the Virgin Islands – if not the most productive term. This is something the elected Government and all Honourable Members should be proud of, and citizens should note how their legislature has functioned in addressing its responsibility to the people’s business.
It would not be practical to list all 101 pieces of legislation that were passed or the 96 that were enacted, but certainly, there are a few that stand out and are worth mentioning, particularly those that focused on Good Governance, SMART strategies, innovation, green development, transformation, business development and long-term resilience of the Virgin Islands.
Madam Speaker, I will start with our national budgets. The Appropriation (2020) Act, 2019, and Appropriation Acts 2020, 2022, and 2023, were all passed within sufficient time ahead of the start of each respective new financial year. The Appropriation Act, 2019, which was the Budget for the 2019 financial year, had not yet been passed when the Fourth House of Assembly was constituted after the February 2019 General Elections. The new Fourth House of Assembly passed this Budget before the 30 April, 2019 statutory deadline, and went on to pass the 2020 Budget before the close of the financial year.
A number of Supplementary Appropriation Acts were passed throughout the term, as is customary, to make adjustments to the budgetary allocations during the financial year. These do involve considerable work, just as the preparation of the national budget.
The Government initiated and passed a number of pieces of legislation to further strengthen Good Governance, Transparency and Accountability. Many of these measures were undertaken on the initiative of the Government and do coincide with recommendations made by the Sir Gary Hickinbottom Commission of Inquiry, which is weighing significantly on the Government of National Unity’s reform programme.
These included the Integrity in Public Life Act, 2021, which aims to ensure ethical conduct of Public Officers, Statutory Boards and Elected Officials in the carrying out of their public sector responsibilities; and the Register of Interests (Amendment) Act, 2021 which deals with the declaration of interests of Members of the House of Assembly. The Government remains committed to continuing to strengthen the Good Governance systems and will pursue further amendments, as necessary.
Some of the other Good Governance legislation passed during the term include the Contractor General Act 2021 to promote transparency and value for money in public procurement, and the Whistleblower Act 2021 to protect persons who report or provide evidence of corruption in public affairs. A new Public Procurement Act 2021 was also passed to regulate the processes involved in public procurement.
Madam Speaker, the Government passed several pieces of legislation to aid in the war against transnational crime, money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Some of these are consistent with our commitments under the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and other international obligations. These included amendments to the Proceeds of Criminal Conduct Act, the Financial Investigation Agency (Amendment) Act 2021, and the enactment of the Counter Terrorism Act 2021.
The Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) (Amendment) Act 2021, serves a similar purpose.
The Advance Passenger Information Act, 2020 provides for the sharing of information relating to passengers and crew members of an aircraft or vessel between the Virgin Islands and certain other States to identify the persons who may pose risks to security and to provide for connected matters. Apart from creating a safer environment for international travel to and from the Virgin Islands, this legislation is expected to enhance the experience and increase the efficiency of processing travelers at immigration checkpoints.
Amendments were made to strengthen the laws concerning drug trafficking via the Drug Trafficking Offences (Amendment) Act, 2021.
The Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2021 was passed to modernise the way criminal matters are handled in the courts and to improve efficiency in prosecutions.
Government passed the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime (Amendment) Act, 2019 to deter nefarious online behaviour such as cyberbullying, identity theft and fraud, and to protect children and vulnerable people while ensuring freedom of speech for citizens and the protection of journalistic commentary. This legislation is very necessary in a digital world.
The suite of e-Goverment legislation — Data Protection Act, 2021, Electronic Transfer of Funds Act, 2021, Electronic Filing Act, 2021, and Electronic Transactions Act, 2021 – was passed to significantly advance the mission of modernising Public Service delivery to support comprehensive digital transformation, improve e-payments for customers and to afford greater flexibility for citizens to remotely transact business with the Government and its agencies and departments online.
The Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 2021 repealed and replaced the Registration of Births and Deaths Ordinance, (CAP. 276), which was over 56 years old. This change signaled the modernisation of procedures in the Virgin Islands regarding the registration of births and deaths, and now enables computerisation of the notification and registration process.
The Government, during the current House of Assembly, passed a number of pieces of legislation to improve the ease of doing business, and to stimulate and regulate trade and business.
The Virgin Islands Trade Commission Act, 2020 was passed to make provisions for establishing the Virgin Islands Trade Commission as a statutory agency. The legislation establishes a Board for the Commission that will advise the Minister responsible for Trade on all matters relating to trade, investment, and consumer affairs.
The Consumer Protection Act, 2020 was passed to provide for the promotion and protection of consumer interests, in relation to the supply of goods and the provision of services. It ensures the protection of life, health and the safety of consumers.
Four amendments were passed to update and further strengthen the legislation governing the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System, which is a key feature of the Virgin Islands Financial Services Industry. Relevant amendments were also made to the legislation for regulating the financial services industry to ensure the Virgin Islands Financial Services sector remains compliant with international requirements, secure and competitive.
The Securities and Investment Business Act, 2019 was amended to establish the requirements for private investment funds to be recognised by the Financial Services Commission.
In order to contribute to a more business-friendly investment climate, the Government amended the Labour Code 2010 via the Labour Code (Amendment) Act, 2020 to allow for greater efficiency and transparency in processing work permits through technology and without disenfranchising Virgin Islanders.
The Virgin Islands Gaming and Betting Control Act, 2020 was passed, assented to, and became law to govern the licensing and operation of businesses engaged in gaming and betting activities in the Territory.
The Virgin Islands Food and Security and Sustainability Act, 2022 was passed to provide for the establishment, powers and functions of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Virgin Islands Agriculture and Fisheries Authority. The Act also speaks to the development and review of the policy for sustainable agricultural production, food security and food safety to ensure sustainable production, management and use of food, while addressing the impacts from climate change and disasters on food production.
As we aspire to have the most efficient healthcare service in the region, the Medical (Amendment) Act, 2020, and the Nurses and Midwives Act, 2020 were passed into law. The Medical (Amendment) Act, 2020 strengthens the framework for regulating medical and dental practices in the Virgin Islands. It provides the Medical and Dental Council with the requisite powers to perform its function to ensure that such services are at a high standard. The Nurses and Midwives Act, 2020 performs a similar function by establishing the Nurses and Midwives Council.
It is worth mentioning, Madam Speaker, that the Government passed four Acts for COVID-19 Control and Suppression to manage the demands and challenges of the pandemic.
The Virgin Islands Red Cross Act, 2020 was passed to establish the organisation as a corporate body to grant it recognition as a voluntary aid society auxiliary to the public authorities in the Territory.
The Public Holidays (Amendment) Act, 2021 was passed to reflect the name change and substitution of Territory Day with Virgin Islands Day; St. Ursula’s Day with Heroes and Foreparents Day; Commonwealth Day with the Commemoration of the 1949 Great March and the Restoration of the Legislative Council and Festival Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with Emancipation Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Madam Speaker, in the previous Session, the Government passed the Water and Sewerage Authority Act 2022, establishing the Water and Sewerage Authority as a statutory corporation to provide water supply and sanitation services. This legislation repealed the Water Supply Act (CAP. 153) and made provisions for the Authority to be managed as a commercial undertaking.
Madam Speaker, these are just a few of the pieces of legislation I have highlighted. Persons who want to learn more about the other pieces of legislation can do so through the Gazette, the Government’s official online newspaper at eservices.gov.vg/gazette/.
Madam Speaker, I now turn our attention to the different pieces of legislation that are expected to be brought forward or amended in this upcoming Fifth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly.
As a reminder, the legislative agenda is aligned with the 2023 Budget, which has the theme: “Resilience, Revenue, Reform, And Recovery: The Virgin Islands in Transition.” The Government and the House will deliberate on each Bill in the context of this theme.
Resilience means putting in place legislation that will help the Virgin Islands withstand massive natural and manmade shocks on our economy, reducing the vulnerability of the people.
Revenue means putting in place legislation that will drive much-needed revenues to provide for the needs of the Virgin Islands and to drive our development and growth, ensuring the most efficient spending of Government revenue to provide value for money while improving revenue collection.
Reform means putting in place and strengthening legislation and policies to maintain a high level of confidence, enhance accountability, transparency, value for money, adherence to the rule of law, and efficiency.
And, recovery means focusing on completing our recovery from the disasters of 2017 while transitioning to developing a world-class infrastructure that will support a thriving economy and facilitate the needs of the population, not just presently, but in the future.
In this Session, the following pieces of legislation will come to the House of Assembly.
Government will seek to amend the BVI Health Services Authority Act, 2004 (No. 14 of 2004) to enhance the delineated roles and powers of the different levels of governance and streamline the management of BVI Health Services Authority operations. The recommended legislative changes will propel the management structure of the Authority into better alignment with best practice trends for the healthcare industry and international accreditation standards.
Government will seek to amend the Tobacco Products Control Act, 2006 (No 18 of 2006) to provide for restrictions on the use of electronic smoking devices and the creation of the new offences of prohibiting smoking in a public place, smoking by a person under 18 years of age, and smoking in a motor vehicle while a person under 18 years of age is present.
Government will seek to amend the Social Security Act (CAP. 266) to increase the membership of the Social Security Fund Investment Committee and provide that its recommendations be referred to the Board for ratification.
The legislation that is being proposed would provide for the Board to pay legal costs only in cases where rulings from the Courts are not in favour of the Board, and provide for how reimbursements will be handled where the beneficiary has another private health insurance plan.
Various other amendments will be made to the principal Act to improve the general governance and administration of the Social Security Fund and the National Health Insurance Fund.
In addition, Government also intends to make amendments to the Social Security (Contributions) Regulations, the Social Security (Benefits) Regulations, and the Social Security (National Health Insurance) Regulations to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of the social insurance system.
Madam Speaker, governance and effective public administration are an important part of the work of the Government of the Virgin Islands.
In this vein, the Public Service Bill will be introduced to legislate the Public Service Code that sets out the terms and conditions of public officers. This will contribute to modernising the Public Service in the Virgin Islands.
The Flexible Working Arrangements Bill will be brought to this Honourable House supported by policy, and will outline the criteria and process for undertaking a flexible working arrangement. This legislation will be timely as officers and employees continue to manoeuvre through their personal hurricane recovery efforts and the challenges caused as a result of COVID-19.
Government will seek to amend the Police Act (CAP.165). This will bring together an updated legislative basis for policing in the Territory and provide a strong constitutional and professional base for a modernised Police Force. Supporting the proposed Act would represent a positive and measured response to the current crime and community challenges facing the Virgin Islands and provide a real opportunity for the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force to emerge as a leading police force in the region.
Government will move to amend the Proceeds of Criminal Conduct Act, 1997 to make provisions consistent with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations particularly as it relates to the Civil forfeiture of proceeds of crime.
The Witness Anonymity Legislation will be brought forward to ensure the protection of witnesses and the preservation of their rights by making provisions for a court to make a witness anonymity order to protect the witness’s safety, prevent damage to property, and prevent real harm to the public interest. This would be an invaluable tool in assisting with combating serious crime. At the same time, it would also help to bolster public confidence in the criminal justice system.
Government will seek to repeal and replace the Immigration and Passport Regulations, 2014, to allow the Department of Immigration to update its fee structure and provide additional services. This change will also include effectively managing the Territory’s borders while mitigating illegal migration through legislation. Additionally, once passed, the public can benefit from a more streamlined and technologically enhanced way of processing the issuance of Residence and Belonger Status, along with the introduction of fillable forms of the department’s different services.
Legislation pertaining to the Human Rights Commission will be brought forward to provide for the establishment of the Virgin Islands Human Rights Commission in accordance with section 34 of the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007.
Amendments to the Second Schedule of the Magistrate’s Code of Procedure, Chapter 44, will be brought forward to bring filing and service-related fees more in line with the fees charged in other jurisdictions and current operational costs. The current Schedule of Fees is more than 36 years old and is the lowest in the region. The fees were updated in 1985. Therefore, the current rates are not reflective of the cost of living in the Virgin Islands, nor the increased operational cost associated with a Magistracy of a higher level of functioning than yesteryears.
Similar to the Civil Procedure Rules, Government will bring forward the Criminal Procedures Rules to serve a vital role in managing all criminal matters filed within the Supreme Court. This will improve upon the Criminal Procedure Code and provide a more detailed framework for the administration of justice in this area. The Criminal Procedures Rules will make provisions for filing dates and deadlines for certain matters, case management procedures, disclosure, adjournments, bail, and service of documents, among other matters.
Amendments to the Elections Act will be brought forward to improve the administrative process of voter registration and the accuracy and accessibility of the database of voters. The amendments will seek to consolidate and streamline the application processes of new voter registration, transfer and update voter registration details to reflect the name and occupational changes, as well as to capture additional information to help identify voters, and aid in reducing the duplication of records.
The Elections Act 2013, Revised Edition, and Regulations, will be brought forward to enhance and strengthen the electoral administration process. Additionally, the amendments will promote the public’s level of trust in the electoral system, and the level of functioning in relation to international standards.
Government endeavours to introduce the Architects and Engineers Registration Bill for Architects and Engineers registration to ensure that all architects and engineers practicing in the Virgin Islands are registered, licensed, and regulated. This proposed Act will help protect the integrity of the professions and safeguard the public by ensuring that minimum qualifications are met to reduce or remove these infrastructural shortcomings. This is to protect building occupants’ health, safety, and welfare.
Government will also seek to amend the Road Traffic Act (CAP. 218) to modernise the legislation with an emphasis on further development. Since being enacted in 1988 (32 years ago), significant developments and advancements in motor vehicle technology and road traffic systems have evolved while the fines and penalties have remained unchanged. An amendment to the Road Traffic Act (CAP. 218) will update traffic fines and penalties used to regulate and control road traffic.
The Road Traffic Act (CAP. 218) will also address vehicular noise pollution, modernise speed limits, address vehicles transporting unsecured items or materials, and upgrade roadways to be more accessible for differently-abled persons.
As we seek to make the capital city of the Virgin Islands more appealing, pedestrian-friendly, and accessible, Government will seek to amend the Wickham’s Cay Development Authority Act (CAP. 281) to introduce a Board and a secretariat as integral parts of the Authority for the management of day-to-day operations in the city of Road Town. The amended Act will also ensure that, as a Territory, we continue to make good on the 99-year Wickham’s Cay leases and preserve the history of Wickham’s Cay.
Madam Speaker, building an education system that caters to all students, regardless of their academic, physical, and cognitive abilities, is important, and that education system must also be ready to adjust and adapt if the economy is to develop and remain competitive at the global level.
As we re-imagine education, during this Fifth Session, Government will seek to have the adjustments to the Education Amendment Act (2014) and its Regulations completed to ensure that teaching and learning align with the needs of students to become proficient in their overall development with further adjustments to consider the drive of S.T.E.A.M. – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math education.
We must re-think education and prepare the next generation to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities and overcome the challenges enabled by ever-increasing technological change.
The adjustments will consider the demand for online learning where schools and classrooms must have in place technology-driven standards, redefine the roles and responsibilities of teachers, students and parents, and address the curriculum changes that are necessary to foster and develop 21st-century skills.
The adjustments to the Act will also include a focus on Virgin Islands History, Civic and Financial Literacy which are paramount to the advancement of the individual and the society. They will also seek to expand and enhance the technical and vocational skills programmes to increase the pool of skilled workers and strengthen the entrepreneurial skills of current and future generations of Virgin Islanders.
While the Members of the House deliberate the Education Act, the Ministry of Education will seek to put in place several policies such as the Early Childhood Education policy, the Special Education Policy, Promotion, Placement and Retention Policy, Graduation Requirements, S.T.E.A.M. policy, the Curriculum policy and update the Discipline policy and Student Code of Conduct focused on values, relationships, and skill-building.
Educational development also includes recreation and sports. The Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports will update the National Sports Policy established in 2014. This update will align with ensuring the Territory meets the emerging needs of sports development in the Virgin Islands and supporting our athletes. The Ministry will also work with the Recreation Trust to modernise the procedures and facilitate standards to meet international requirements at our recreational facilities.
Since establishing the Virgin Islands Youth Policy and Strategic Procedures in 2015, the Territory has undergone a series of events that have impacted our youth. With these unprecedented changes, we need to ensure that a new Youth Policy outlines strategies that will empower youth and place them in a position of strength to be resilient and ready to adapt easily.
Madam Speaker, this session the Government will lay on the table of the House a new Cultural policy to support our aspirations for national development, national pride, and further strengthen our knowledge and our skills.
Madam Speaker, the effective management of our natural resources is important to the sustainability of the Virgin Islands. A Crown Lands Act will be introduced to reform the land disposal process, review and modernise integral components of the land management framework to include land registration matters.
The Environment, Coastal Zone and Marine Estate Bill will be brought to the House to ensure the sustainable and rational use of the environment, including the management of our coastal zone and the marine estate. The Bill, once passed in law, will establish the Exclusive Economic Zone, and ensure that the 200 nautical miles comprising this Territory are also managed in a manner that not only supports the advancement of the blue economy, but protects the vast and unique marine environment.
Finally, Madam Speaker, several pieces of legislation will be brought forward with regards to updating and strengthening the Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) legal framework. These will include the following enactments:
Anti-money Laundering Regulations – to tighten areas that may be identified through ongoing interaction with the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force/International Monetary Fund (CFATF/IMF) Assessors prior to the onsite visit in March 2023;
Anti-money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Code of Practice – to tighten areas that may be identified through ongoing interaction with the CFATF/IMF Assessors prior to the onsite visit in March 2023;
Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Act – to ensure full compliance with the confidentiality obligations required under FATF Recommendation 37, Criteria 37.5;
Customs Management and Duties Act – to consider and deal with requirements relating to outgoing mail;
Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act – to expand the list of narcotics and psychotropic substances to ensure full compliance with the UN Convention on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, 1988 (the Vienna Convention);
Trustee Act – to ensure full compliance with the FATF requirements with regard to the application of AML/CFT obligations in relation to trusts; and
Financial Services (Private Trust Companies) Regulations – to ensure full compliance with the FATF requirements with regard to the application of AML/CFT obligations in relation to trusts.
Legislation will also be brought forward with respect to updating the regulatory framework via The Banking Code, The Banking Act, The Trust and Company Service Providers Act, The Financial Services Commission Act, The Credit Union Act, Virgin Islands Deposit Insurance Act, and the Virgin Islands Deposit Insurance Regulations.
Amendments will also be brought forward for the Customs Management and Duties Act to add to the list of items (wheel chairs, crutches, artificial limbs, etc.) already duty-free for seniors and physically challenged. This Legislation will be amended to include medical beds/hospital beds, disposable diapers, glucose, and blood pressure monitors. This further illustrates Government’s commitment to supporting affordable healthcare.
Madam Speaker, the Government’s Legislative Agenda is laid out for this Session and will be monitored by the Premier’s Office to ensure it moves forward with fortitude and determination.
One important note from the Government is that other pieces of legislation not mentioned will be considered from time to time, especially as reviews relating to the COI are completed and considered, such as the review on discretionary powers of Ministers and Crown land.
In conclusion, I thank you, Honourable Speaker, and I wish Members of this Honourable House a fruitful Fifth Session of the House of Assembly.
I thank you.