Photo Credit: Gordon French/BVI Platinum News
Changes to the 2007 Constitution, in relation to election eligibility of persons in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), must be discussed with the people of the territory before any efforts are made to have amendments to the Constitution. This is the position of Hon. Ronnie Skelton—who will be seeking to lead the territory in the next election.
According to the 2007 Constitution, a person seeking election into the House of Assembly (HoA) must be a Virgin Islander of the age of twenty-one years or above.
To qualify as a ‘Virgin Islander’ in this case, a person must belong to the Virgin Islands by birth of a father or mother, who at the time of the birth belonged to the Virgin Islands by birth or descent; or born outside the Virgin Islands of a father or mother who at the time of the birth belonged to the Virgin Islands by birth or descent.
There is also a clause which states that, “A person born outside the Virgin Islands, who belongs to the Virgin Islands by descent, shall not be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Assembly unless one of his or her grandparents belonged to the Virgin Islands by birth.”
According to Hon. Skelton—who was a member of the Constitutional Review Committee, this issue is a complicated one that would require public consultations before any changes are considered.
“The issue of who is eligible to run for political office in any country is governed by the Constitution,” he reminded.
He went on to say that there are over 110 different nationalities living in the BVI.
“Some of the elements of the Constitution, it wasn’t just a government doing it. The government, yes, they headed and had it done, but the people of this country felt that this was important in order to preserve their history, their culture, their support and so on.”
These requirements, he stated, were birthed out of a need by the people for the elected representatives to be familiar with the culture and history of the territory.
“They say your grandparents need to be here so it gives you some level of grounding in our culture and our customs,” he stated, pointing to what is referred to as ‘the grandfather clause.’
If he is to be elected into office and sit as Premier, Hon. Skelton said that making changes to this constitution “is not a Ronnie Skelton decision...that is a country decision.”
He further stated, “It is not as simple as we are taking it to be…it needs proper discussion.”
Hon. Skelton also reminded that a Constitutional Review is overdue since the ten-year deadline was up in 2017, but this was delayed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
It should be noted that the 2007 Constitution also withholds belonger status from children born in the BVI to expat parents. As a result, there is a category of stateless individuals who have to reside in the territory for 18 years before seeking to regularize themselves.
In the territory, many adult expats, who form the majority of the BVI’s workforce, also have no voting rights and access to land because they don’t have belonger status.
There have been questions over Chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Hon. Myron Walwyn’s eligibility to run for office because he was born to immigrant parents. There were even plans by some to challenge his eligibility in court, despite the fact that he was born and raised in the territory, and later regularized.
Hon. Walwyn had even recently admitted that he faces discrimination within his party as a result of this issue.
Back in 2017, the government—which Skelton was part of at the time—had announced it will be reviewing its policies on residency and belongership in the first quarter of 2018. This has not yet been done.
This commitment was made after government took note of deficiencies in policies related to residency and belongership.
Back in 2016, a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report alleged that the BVI’s laws are set up in a way to abuse and exclude expatriates and their children.