Fellow Virgin Islanders,
Good afternoon. I know that many of you have been anxiously waiting to hear an update about talks with UK Overseas Territories Minister The Right. Hon. Amanda Milling, MP and His Excellency the Governor Mr. John J. Rankin, CMG.
On Monday 2nd May, I along with my Special Envoy Mr. Benito, held bilateral talks 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 Governor expressed their very serious concerns about the report’s findings. I acknowledged the shortcomings of our governance and the very serious problems highlighted by Sir Gary Hickinbottom. I am in full agreement that audits, investigations and fundamental institutional reforms must take place without delay to address the very troubling issues described in the report.
No matter how uncomfortable the recommendations may be, they provide us with a golden opportunity to fundamentally change how we do things here in the Virgin Islands, which I believe is achievable within the framework of democratic governance. To be clear, I see the implementation of the recommendations as a path to achieving our national renewal, but this can be done successfully without resorting to direct rule.
My vision is to see us transform our society into a model democracy, undergirded by robust, transparent and efficient political institutions and systems of Government, where confidence in the Virgin Islands as a jurisdiction and open economy is high. However, achieving this will require very strong support from the United Kingdom and very close cooperation between the Governor and the elected Government. The Territory has also been offered technical assistance from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, our fellow Caribbean Overseas Territories and our partners throughout the Commonwealth.
At my meeting with Minister Milling and the Governor, I shared some initial ideas about addressing immediate concerns pointed out in the report and an overall approach by which to implement the recommendations without a partial suspension of the Constitution. Minister Milling and the Governor listened attentively, and I very much appreciated their engagement.
My Special Envoy and I also participated in a combined meeting with Minister Milling, the Governor and the three representatives of the Opposition Parties in the House of Assembly, who had earlier had a separate engagement. In the combined meeting, the representatives of the Opposition parties and I pledged our commitment to working together in unison and in partnership with the Governor and United Kingdom to implement the recommendations of the report under a democratic governance framework if we are given the opportunity to do so.
Toward this end, the Virgin Islands Party, the National Democratic Party and the Peoples Virgin Islands Movement have agreed to propose a National Unity Government to Governor Rankin under my leadership as Acting Premier. Each party would be represented in Cabinet as this would give the best political representation as a Government in working closely with the Governor and United Kingdom on reforms, which must go well beyond the Commission of Inquiry recommendations.
As Acting Premier, I am very pleased to announce that I will be recommending to the Governor that Cabinet be comprised of the following Ministers in a National Unity Government:
The Honourable Kye Rymer, Minister for Transportation, Utilities and Works;
The Honourable Sharie De Castro, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports;
The Honourable Marlon Penn, Minister of Health and Social Development;
The Honourable Mitchell Turnbull, Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration;
And I will continue to serve as Acting Premier and Minister of Finance.
In terms of Junior Ministers, The Honourable Alvera Maduro-Caines will serve as Junior Minister for Tourism.
The Honourable Shereen Flax-Charles will continue to serve as Junior Minister for Trade, Economic Development with the added responsibility of Agriculture and Fisheries, which will migrate with me to the Premiers Office.
Honourable Neville Smith will serve as Acting Speaker until a new Speaker is confirmed.
The Honourable Vincent Wheatley as the Representative of the 9th District will continue to represent the interests of the people of Virgin Gorda and Anegada.
The Honourable Carvin Malone as a Territorial At-Large 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 new appointments as required, once the necessary constitutional steps have been taken to initiate the process. I will update the public by the end of the week on his response and timelines.
I want to thank my political colleagues in the Virgin Islands Party for their maturity and understanding in agreeing this approach. I also want to thank the National Democratic Party and the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement as our new partners for their commitment to coming together to form a stronger political core in Government that will begin the process of taking the Virgin Islands into a new era of democratic governance. Both the Leader of the Opposition and Member for the Eighth District, the Honourable Marlon Penn, and the Representative of the Second District, Hon. Mitchell Turnbull, will make statements immediately following my own on the proposed National Unity Government.
In terms of the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry report, my political colleagues and I are of the view that the urgent reforms needed cannot be delivered as things stand today. We must be honest about that.
There needs to be a fundamental cultural shift in the way we handle the peoples’ business as a Government. There must be a new attitude in the way we do business. The established institutions of good governance need much more resourcing to effectively do their job. New institutions will also have to be created to support good governance, including an independent Commission of Inquiry recommendations implementation body that is not a part of our existing institutional structures. A National Unity Government is committed to making the financial resources available to advance and support the taking of these steps. Such a comprehensive approach is absolutely necessary because we must go deep and wide into our institutions and systems to fix them.
We are currently finalising our proposal on how we will deliver reform and will be coming back to you in due course to set out our approach. What I can say now is that change is going to be hard. It is going to be painful. People we know and care about will be affected, but we must take the necessary action needed to become the model democratic society we wish to see.
This is why we must come together as a community for the difficult period ahead. If we take the tough decisions now, we will emerge much stronger as a Territory with more robust political institutions, stronger systems of Government, a world class Public Service, and a strong economy in which there is great confidence in the services and products that we provide. This is the moment for change and to set ourselves on a new trajectory of national development. With an ironclad commitment by a National Unity Government, we have what it takes to advance reforms in close cooperation with the Governor and in partnership with the United Kingdom.
My final meeting with Minister Milling and Governor Rankin took place yesterday afternoon, where my Special Envoy and l wrapped up talks that were very cordial. Minister Milling reiterated that no decisions have been made yet, but that it was important for her to listen to the views of the Government, the Opposition and other stakeholders. I think this was a fair and reasonable approach by her and hope that the case for an alternative to direct rule will be strongly considered.
Ladies and gentleman, as I close, I want to thank Minister Milling for travelling to the Territory and wish her safe travels back to the United Kingdom today. I also want to thank the Governor for his very balanced approach to engagement. I cannot forget the invaluable advice and support of my Special Envoy Mr. Benito Wheatley who has been my side these past days.
The United Kingdom and Virgin Islands are indeed partners, and we should approach our relationship in that spirit by building upon our good cooperation on sanctions, public registers of beneficial ownership and medicinal cannabis. There is much that can 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 at the appropriate time.
It is now my pleasure to invite the Leader of the Opposition and Member for the Eighth District, Honourable Marlon Penn, to make a statement.
God bless you all and God bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.