Britain is to decide this week whether it will temporarily recolonize the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in keeping with the recommendations of a commission of inquiry report that had detailed widespread corruption and alleged poor governance practices in the archipelago just east of Puerto Rico.
Amid widespread in-country opposition and objections from the 15-nation Caribbean Community, of which the BVI is an associate member, London has said it is considering taking back full daily responsibility for the islands for two years until the situation is remedied.
To stymie any such moves, opposition lawmakers have teamed up in a unity government with cabinet ministers to work together to tackle a slew of necessary reforms including tighter controls on finance, the sale of crown or state lands and better monitoring of ports to minimize international drug smuggling, mainly to the U.S. among other ills.
The report was released earlier this month hours after federal authorities in Florida had arrested then premier Andrew Fahie, the ports authority head Oleanvine Maynard, and her son, for allegedly plotting with Mexican drug cartels to smuggle large quantities of cocaine to the U.S. through BVI ports with the protection of high officials. The entire plot had turned out to be a federal undercover operation.
At the weekend, new Premier Natalio Wheatley said the cabinet had been informed that a decision will come from London this week, noting that “when the time comes, we are certainly prayerful and hopeful that we are able to keep our democracy. We have to gather ourselves very quickly and devise a strategy. The people of the VI want good governance. They want reforms. We will be going in detail into the changes we have to make to show our commitment to good governance,” Wheatley told reporters.
Islanders—or belongers, as locals are called—especially fear a negative decision from London, given the lesson of a similar re-imposition of direct rule in the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009 based on a recommendation also from a commission of inquiry into corruption and bad governance. TCI lawmakers have asked counterparts in the BVI to make every effort to oppose the suspension of the constitution and direct rule.
Meanwhile, the British are also moving to enact criminal corruption and poor governance probes into a number of government departments, some dating back up to 12 years.
Gov. John Rankin at the weekend announced plans to implement recommendations for the probe from the inquiry report that had taken an indepth look at corruption and governance issues in the archipelago.
The office of the premier, including those run by the past three premiers, the customs department, BVI Airways, the ports authority and several others will be investigated to determine the extent of malfeasance in recent years.
“There is now an urgent need to decisively move forward and in line with my responsibilities under the constitution. I have today instructed the Royal Virgin Islands police force to undertake a number of criminal investigations as recommended in the report,” Rankin said.
The sale of several parcels of prime crown lands will also form part of the probe, the governor said, noting that in one case, a former premier used his influence and political clout to block a state audit into misconduct by top government officials.
The announcement about a full scale probe into government affairs came hours after the BVI’s unity government said it had submitted a comprehensive plan of action to the British government to reform and amend the way state affairs were run in the past.
Newly sworn-in Premier Natalio Wheatley did not give details about the plan but made it clear this was an effort to stave off a major recommendation in the inquiry’s report that had suggested the suspension of parts of the constitution dealing with self governance.
Montserrat, The Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and the BVI are Britain’s remaining territories in the region. Wheatley said his secret plan should restore good order.
“It represents our commitment to good governance and strengthening our institutions and systems of government. We want to engender a new culture in the handling of the people’s business. I am pleased to report on behalf of the government of national unity that I have submitted a proposal to UK Minister for the Overseas Territories Amanda Milling that sets out our approach to reform and presents a framework for implementation under continued democratic governance,” the premier said in a national address.
London had sent Milling to the BVI in the immediate aftermath of Fahie’s arrest in Florida. She has promised to return after briefing government officials in London. She also said that no firm decision had been made on direct rule.