Decision on the Commission of Inquiry Recommendations
As people in the BVI are already aware, the Commission of Inquiry Report which was published on 29 April identified significant failures of governance, including evidence of corruption, abuse of office, and serious impropriety in public office. To address these failures it is clear that fundamental changes are required.
The final Report proposed 49 recommendations to improve good governance, accountability, transparency and the rule of law, providing a comprehensive and robust roadmap that will help the Territory deliver better public services and meet the aspirations of the people of the BVI.
The question now is how to best implement the COI recommendations in support of the best interests of the people of the BVI.
Since publication of the Commission of Inquiry Report, I have been discussing this question with the Honourable Premier and the Government of National Unity, as well as with the UK Government. All agree that a fundamental shift in governance is required. The focus of discussions has been on whether this should be led by the Government of National Unity, or through a temporary partial suspension of the Constitution and an interim Governor-led administration.
Last week, following discussions, the Government of National Unity submitted a final proposal to the UK Government outlining, with clear timelines, how they will deliver the COI recommendations but without the need for a temporary partial suspension of the Constitution.
I can inform you this morning that UK Ministers have agreed to the proposal submitted by the Government of National Unity.
The Premier and Government of National Unity have shown the will and commitment to improve governance in the BVI and therefore it is right that elected officials here should have the opportunity to implement the COI recommendations.
I am pleased the Government of National Unity has made its firm commitment to carry out far-reaching reforms, including going beyond the COI Report, to fix the failings of governance. I welcome the detailed plan the Government has set out to implement the COI recommendations.
I also recognise that the Premier has demonstrated his commitment by making a number of changes already. Many more difficult decisions will be required to make the deep and systemic changes necessary to improve governance in the BVI and much hard work will be required.
I and the UK Government want the Government of National Unity to succeed in making these changes and delivering the COI recommendations.
But the UK Government has a responsibility to the people of the BVI to make sure that happens. To ensure these commitments are kept, the proposal therefore contains a number of conditions surrounding implementation.
In particular it contains a set of strict delivery milestones. Regular public updates against these milestones will be provided, with each BVI Government ministry and their departments providing monthly delivery reports, and I will formally assess progress every three months before sending a quarterly update to the Foreign Secretary. This will continue throughout the full period of COI implementation, which is estimated to be two years.
If the Government of National Unity, or any subsequent government, fails to deliver any of the milestones without reasonable justification, or I assess that progress is being frustrated in any way, the UK Government and I will take action to protect the interests of the people of the BVI. That includes the continuing option of temporary suspension of the House of Assembly and Cabinet, with a temporary Governor-led Interim Administration assisted by an Advisory Council, to drive forward the implementation of any outstanding recommendations.
The UK Government has put in place the framework to do this through an Order in Council. This is the procedural Order put before the Privy Council of the UK which is required in order to make changes to the Constitution of the BVI. This will allow the Foreign Secretary to swiftly provide me with the powers needed to take corrective action if progress against the milestones is unsatisfactory.
If the Government of the BVI delivers on the commitments and promises they have made, then the Order in Council will be kept in reserve and will not need to be used.
In the meantime I will continue to work constructively in partnership with the Premier and his Government in what I believe is a fair and balanced approach. I welcome the Premier’s commitment on behalf of his Government to take the many measures needed to implement the recommendations of the COI Report to drive real and meaningful change in the Territory.
Finally, I would like to thank the people of the BVI for their support and interest throughout the COI and for their overall calm and measured response during recent turbulent and challenging times.
I know that the vast majority of people of the BVI are honest, hard-working, and caring. The reputation of the British Virgin Islands sits on the shoulders of these individuals, and not on the small minority who wish to profit at their expense.
It’s time that governance of the BVI is as good as its people. They deserve no less and I will continue to support all efforts to achieve that goal