Statement By Premier, Dr. The Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley on Progress Of Implementation Of The COI Report Recommendations And Other Reforms



1ST JULY 2022

His Excellency the Governor Mr. John J. Rankin, CMG

Members of the Press Corps

People of the Virgin Islands,

A pleasant good morning. On behalf of the Government of National Unity, I am pleased today to provide the public with an update on the progress of the implementation of the Commission of Inquiry Report (COI Report) recommendations and other reforms that fall under the specific areas of responsibility of the elected arms of government and some of those that are shared with the Governor.

First, however, I would like to thank the public for your participation in the ongoing public meetings on reform and other matters. We have had several meetings thus far on Tortola and Virgin Gorda which have been constructive and provided valuable feedback. We look forward to the remainder of the public meetings, including an upcoming livestreamed townhall meeting.

In terms of Government’s approach to implementing the COI Report recommendations, we are putting structures in place to rapidly advance reform. Toward this end, we have established an internal Steering Committee to help guide the implementation process. The Steering Committee is comprised of all five Permanent Secretaries, the Financial Secretary, Attorney General and Director of Strategy in the Office of the Governor. It is Chaired by Permanent Secretary in the Premier’s Office Mrs. Carolyn Stoutt-Igwe and will help to keep implementation on track. Work on the development of an overall work programme and implementation schedule to deliver the reforms is in underway.

To support the work of implementation in the Ministries of Government, we are in the process of also establishing a COI Report Implementation Unit which will be up and running by 15th July. The Terms of Reference was approved by Cabinet on 15th June. The UNDP Office here in the Territory is supporting our efforts in this regard.

The Ministries themselves have developed reform implementation plans based on their responsibilities contained in the framework for implementation of the COI Report recommendations. Each has completed a report on their work thus far. In addition, quarterly updates from statutory boards have been submitted.

At the House of Assembly, a Reform Committee has been established and a legislative schedule for implementation of reforms has been circulated to Members. We are making good progress.

In terms of deliverables, as you are aware, the Government committed to transitioning all House of Assembly assistance grants and Ministry Assistance grants to the Department of Social Development, as required by Recommendations B7 to B10. This has been done successfully. The Minister of Health and Social Development Hon. Marlon Penn provided an update earlier this week on the new arrangements which will ensure that our vulnerable persons and individuals who have a legitimate need for social assistance receive it.

In addition, the Ministry of Education and Culture recommended a panel to review the Scholarship/Education Grants Programme, which was considered and approved by Cabinet on 29th June 2022.

In terms of Recommendation B29 concerning the granting of Residency in the Territory, the Department of Immigration commenced a project on 13th June to strengthen the administrative systems within the Status Unit of the Department. Additional human resources were also deployed on 27th June.

In terms of statutory boards, a draft protocol for the appointment and removal of statutory board members has been developed as required in Recommendation B28. Senior Managers are currently reviewing the draft and will provide feedback.

The Ministries of Government also continue to do preparatory work for the next round of recommendations and other reforms to be implemented.

The biggest challenge for delivery by all concerned was Recommendation A2 concerning the Constitutional Review Commission. As you know, the forthcoming Constitutional Review will consider the aspirations and changes the people of the Virgin Islands wish to see in their next constitution.

A total of 16 commissioners have been approved by Cabinet. Agreement of fourteen of those persons was unanimous, while two were not. Despite this, representation of the interests of the Virgin Islands is robust and the people of the Territory can be assured that their perspective will be strongly represented.

The Members of the Constitutional Review Commission include:

Mrs. Lisa Penn-Lettsome, Chairman

Ms. Janice Stoutt, Deputy Chairman

Dr. Charles Wheatley

Mr. Ronnie W. Skelton

Mrs. Bernadine Louis

Rev. Dr. Melvin A. Turnbull

Dr. Benedicta P. T. Samuels

Dr. Steve Lennard

Ms. Maya Barry

Mr. Sendrick Chinnery

Ms. Noni Georges

Mr. Coy Levans

Mr. Rajah A. Smith

Sir Dennis Byron

Mrs. Tanya Cassie-Parker; and

Ms. Susan Demers.

I employ each Constitutional Commissioner to carry out their duty with integrity and with a view to what is in the best interest of the people of these Virgin Islands that builds on the constitutional progress we have made as a people since 1950.

 Finally, ladies and gentleman, there is much more reform work to do. Implementation is a work in progress that we must continue to drive forward. We have made tremendous progress on all our commitments, and we are moving in the right direction.

As I have said before, I believe reform must start at the top with me and my political colleagues. Yesterday in the House of Assembly, we had hoped to make the Register of Interest public, which we were fully prepared to do as elected officials. However, the provisions of the bill not only applied to us, but also to public servants.

In the legislative process, it is important that we consult with those groups who will be affected by the changes we are making. We owe it to public servants to at least consult them before finalizing a register of interests that will apply to them. I look forward to doing just that at the soonest possible juncture, and then subsequently seeing the new Register of Interests bill passed in the House of Assembly.

I want to close by thanking all of our hardworking public servants for their tremendous effort over the past weeks that has helped us to begin the process of delivering reforms in earnest. I know that the Governor and his group have also been working hard on their end, which I want to commend as well. I must also thank the cabinet and members of HOA for their hard work and constructive engagement in the process.

Thank you for your attention.

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