HONOURABLE DR. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
THURSDAY, 9th NOVEMBER
pleasant good afternoon to the members of the press corps, persons viewing via Facebook, and the wonderful people of the Virgin Islands.
In continuing my Administration’s commitment to transparency, accountability and good governance, I am pleased to have this press conference today, particularly before I travel the United Kingdom (UK) to attend the Joint Ministerial Council (JMC) between Overseas Territories (OTs) Leaders and UK Government Ministers. We refer to the meeting by its acronym “JMC”.
Before I say anything further, I want to extend my deepest condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones since I last held a press conference. I pray that God will give you comfort at this time.
I want to unequivocally condemn the murder of Mr. Julio Rivera. Yet again, we have lost another young man in our community to gun violence. The incidents of gun crime that we are experiencing are very serious and the security of the Territory will have to continue to be bolstered. This is on my agenda for discussions with OT Minister Hon. David Rutley MP next week.
Let me also mention that earlier this week I had the opportunity to discuss the situation at the prison with Hon. Michael W. Freer MP, who is the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts and Legal Services in the Ministry of Justice. The UK Minister visited the Territory for several days to get a sense of things here on the ground. The Honourable Vincent Wheatley as Minister with certain responsibilities for the prison also met Minister Freer. All of the discussions were constructive and I hope will produce tangible results in due course.
I will now turn to the JMC. As you are aware, ladies and gentleman, the political leaders of the Overseas Territories and the UK Government Ministers meet annually to discuss the relationship between the UK and Territories. You will recall that one of these meetings was held earlier this year in May. However, that meeting was postponed from 2022.
The 2023 JMC I will attend from 13th-15th November will focus on reframing the relationship between the OTs and UK, as well as the development of a new UK strategy for its engagement with the Overseas Territories.
This effort to reframe the relationship is about identifying and affirming certain political principles on which the UK and OTs operate in order to minimise friction, and promote a more supportive posture by the UK for Territories, especially after the severe strains experienced over the years that damaged the relationship. The new OT strategy is supposed to be supportive of a better relationship and will be presented to OT political leaders in London.
I want to list some of things that I believe are important considerations for the UK to improve its relationship with the Overseas Territories. They are:
- Respect for the role and responsibilities of the devolved Governments of the Overseas Territories;
- Respect for the role and responsibilities of the legislatures of the Overseas Territories;
- Respect for the will of the people of the Overseas Territories and their unique cultures and values;
- Respect for the OTs’ self-governance and political advancement in line with the United Nations Charter, UN declarations and UN resolutions;
- Support for the sustainable development of the Overseas Territories to help them achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; and
- Assistance to the OTs based on their vulnerability to help them respond to the negative impacts of climate change.
The reframing of the relationship is expected to be captured in a Political Declaration at the conclusion of the JMC.
I should mention as well that there will be a discussion on public registers of beneficial ownership. That is why I am pleased that Deputy Premier and Minister for Financial Services, Trade and Labour Honourable Lorna Smith, OBE will be joining me at the JMC.
We will reiterate that the Virgin Islands is a jurisdiction that respects fundamental human rights, including privacy and data protection. Both were highlighted by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in a ruling earlier this year on public registers. The position of the Court is that the implementation of public registers should not violate individuals’ right to privacy and data protection. Violation of these fundamental human rights can lead to unwanted legal challenges. This is something the Virgin Islands takes very seriously, and the Deputy Premier and I will discuss further with Minister Rutley.
Notably, as a jurisdiction, the Virgin Islands currently exchanges beneficial ownership information seamlessly with UK law enforcement agencies via the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System (BOSSS). BOSS is a model system for this purpose that has proven highly effective. We have been able to assist the UK in their investigations using the system, and will continue to be a good international partner in combatting financial crime.
Finally, while in London, we will honour the late former Premier Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal at a reception at the BVI London House. Over the past year, the London Office embarked on a journey of reflection and appreciation, culminating in the final event, the highlight of which will be the unveiling of a commemorative bust, in honour of the first Premier of the Virgin Islands, Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal. As you know, it was under his leadership that BVI House was purchased, which has served as the location of the BVI London Office since its inception. The two are inseparable. Honourable’s O’Neal’s vision of the Virgin Islands representing itself in the UK, Europe and beyond via our own Representative Office has been fully realised. He is worthy of recognition in light of the 20th anniversary of the BVI London Office.
With that, I will end my statement and hand back over to the Acting Director of Communications.