The British Virgin Islands (BVI) has avoided being fully recolonized by Britain for the next two years after London agreed to hold off on such a decision in the wake of a commission of inquiry report that had exposed poor governance practices and widespread corruption in the archipelago near Puerto Rico.
At the weekend, British island Governor John Rankin and Premier Natalio Wheatley told reporters that London has decided that rather than administering BVI affairs on a daily basis, it will work with the new unity government in implementing a series of agreed reforms in finance, land administration affairs, the issuance of contracts and other areas of life.
London had threatened to act on a recommendation from the inquiry to take over state affairs for two years while reforms are implemented, but local authorities successfully pre-emptied the move by hurriedly forming a unity government with opposition lawmakers, drafting a slew of reform measures and pledging to cooperate fully with the U.K. in implementing them. Britain said it will accept the deal and will, for now, postpone any plans for direct rule.
The result is that locals will still largely be in charge of daily archipelago affairs except for foreign affairs, immigration and defense as these are preserve of Britain which owns the BVI, The Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, Bermuda and The Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.
As proof of the governance problems, the report had been unveiled just hours after the arrest in Florida of former Premier Andrew Fahie, Ports Authority head Oleanvine Maynard and her son for allegedly plotting to set up a massive cocaine smuggling ring through the islands on behalf of Mexican drug cartels. The three were nabbed in April after a protracted federal undercover sting operation.
Rankin and Wheatley met reporters jointly to make the announcement. There were real fears of a constitutional suspension along similar lines to the Turks and Caicos in 2008 following a probe that had unearthed widespread corruption and other poor practices.
“Last week, following discussions, the government of national unity submitted a final proposal to the U.K. government outlining, with clear timelines, how they will deliver the commission of inquiry recommendations but without the need for a temporary partial suspension of the constitution. I can inform you this morning that U.K. ministers have agreed to the proposal submitted by the government,” Rankin said.
He also said that authorities had demonstrated clear and strong political will to ensure improvements are made to local systems.
Premier Wheatley had in recent weeks admitted widespread malpractices and has suggested that the formation of a unity government was primarily designed to show London that locals are serious about improving the situation on the island.
“It is only with the most anxious consideration that I have been driven to the conclusion that such a suspension [of the constitution] is not only warranted but essential, if the abuses which I have identified are to be tackled and brought to an end. These are abuses against the people of the BVI. If they are allowed to continue, then, in my view, they would put at severe risk steps towards self-determination as a modern democracy to which they are entitled and wish to take,” Rankin argued. If direct rule had been re-imposed, Rankin would have assumed executive powers similar to those of a premier or chief minister of a colony.
The 15-nation Caribbean Community of which all of the remaining colonies are associate members, had stridently come out against direct rule, calling such a backward step.