Statement By Governor Pruce On Sixth Quarterly COI Review

STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS MR. DANIEL PRUCE

I would like to start by recalling Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom’s conclusion in the COI report of 4th April 2022. He said, and I quote, “With limited exceptions, in terms of governance (that is, how government makes and implements decisions), the people of the BVI have been badly served in recent years” end quote.

Since my arrival in January of this year, and building on the work of my predecessor, my team and I have been working intensively with Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley and all branches of the Government of the Virgin Islands to address, and reverse, what Sir Gary Hickinbottom observed.

This is a joint undertaking.

Our shared objective is to ensure the reforms foreseen in the CoI are properly delivered, in order to give the people of the Virgin Islands the governance they deserve.

Our collective effort is in their service.

This is my first Quarterly Review, and it is the Sixth such review since October 2022.

Based on my assessment of the current status of COI implementation, I make the following recommendations:

· Firstly, to extend the deadline for completion of implementation from 31st May 2024 to 31st August 2024 – and within that we will set earlier deadlines for those COI recommendations we agree can be completed before then.

· Secondly, to conduct a final assessment of progress after the end of August. And that assessment, when its conducted, should draw a clear overall conclusion on whether the COI recommendations have taken root.

· And thirdly, and finally, to keep open the options of additional powers for the Governor and recourse to the Order in Council.

Those are my recommendations, let me set out a little more detail.

The UK Minister for the Overseas Territories, David Rutley MP, visited the BVI between 4th to 6th February this year. That was to discuss the issues presented in the previous Quarterly Review by my predecessor. He met with the Government, Permanent Secretaries, the Opposition, and the Governor’s Office to discuss how delivery could be accelerated. And this to ensure that all reforms were completed by the end of May 2024. During Minister Rutley’s visit, discussions focussed on delivering the remaining COI reforms as well as agreeing the following arrangements, there were three:

· To dedicate a space for collaborative working between the Government of the Virgin Islands and my Office.

· To appoint a Delivery Manager to oversee the reforms.

· To produce a robust and realistic plan for implementing the remaining COI reforms.

Progress in delivering these three commitments has been as follows:

· The Governance Reform Coordination Centre (GRCC) has been established. Four members of staff from the Premier’s Office and two from the Governor’s Office now operate from there.

· The Delivery Manager, Kedrick Malone, started work on 2 April 2024.

· There have been multiple versions of the Governance Reform Action Plan, including a version which was put to Cabinet on 6th March. A final joint action plan was submitted to Minister Rutley on 15th May by myself and the Premier. In my view it provides a realistic basis for completing the COI reforms, albeit beyond the May 2024 deadline. The Premier and I had an opportunity to discuss this plan with Minister Rutley on 22nd May.

The past few months have seen a significant intensification of our joint working which has led, in my view, to real progress in taking forward the recommendations.

So what is our current status?

The previous Quarterly Review (submitted on 4th January 2024 by my predecessor) noted that twenty-five out of forty-eight recommendations had been completed. As of yesterday, the total completed stands at twenty-nine out of forty-eight. Four additional recommendations have been completed since January, and nineteen remain.

However, based on the joint action plan submitted to Minister Rutley on 15th May, only 36 of 48 recommendations (75%) will have been completed by the end of the month.

Four reforms will be delivered late by the Government. They relate to fundamental COI recommendations:

the curtailment of discretionary powers (A3). Although there was a significant step forward on that point with agreement in Cabinet of policy this week; rules and consequences associated with how elected representatives and candidates declare their interests (B5); social assistance reform (B7); and Statutory Board legislation (B25/B26).

In recent weeks the House of Assembly has proposed a new integrity model. Discussions of that continue. But nevertheless a robust system must be in place before recommendation B5 will be considered complete.

On the part of the Governor’s Office and Governor’s Group, I am pleased to report that I expect the law enforcement review (B38 & B41) and the remaining reports from the Complaints Commissioner (B45) to be made public next week, as required by the COI.

The Auditor General has been responsible for the completion of five recommendations to date, however the scale of evidence means that the remaining audits relating to Covid Assistance Programmes and Government contracts over $100k has been delayed until the end of June.

The delivery of two recommendations have been put on hold pending external developments: firstly the regional review of Criminal Procedure Rules (B42), and secondly the constitutional change to allow for judge-only trials (B43).

For the remaining recommendations which the Governor’s Group is due to complete after May, the status is as follows:

The amended COI Act (B1) is due to be passed in July; The Deputy Governor is responsible for the extension of the Register of Interests to include public officers (B4), will be included in the Public Service Management Act The Public Service Management Act itself will be passed in June (B36) Developing legislation to allow for the vetting of law enforcement officers (B39) has proven challenging, however we are now confident that all police officers will start to be subject to vetting in June and that vetting of other law enforcement officers will begin in August.

So, bringing all of that together.

It is clear that implementation of the COI recommendations will not have been completed by the end of this month. Therefore, they will not have “taken root” by this time, as required for the Order in Council to be lifted. However the joint action plan agreed by myself and the Premier provides a robust basis for ensuring the outstanding recommendations are completed by the end of August 2024.

So the facts speak for themselves. We need more time, and that is what I recommend in this review. These past months have seen tangible benefits from the closer collaboration on key proposals in advance of their presentation to Cabinet. This intensively collaborative approach has started to lead to better outcomes. I am confident that this will drive good outcomes in the coming months. The joint plan provides a realistic and credible basis for our future work. Hence, my first recommendation, a final extension to 31st August 2024. And as I said, defining earlier deadlines for those recommendations we judge can be completed before 31st August.

This past period has also revealed challenges of interpretation, including of the Framework Agreement and of the COI itself. It has also shown that assessing progress is not always straightforward. It is my view therefore that September should be devoted to a final and thorough review of all progress at that stage. That will enable us to conclude whether the previously defined standard of reforms having taken root has been met. So, I recommend that a final assessment of progress should take place after August, with a clear overall conclusion on whether the COI recommendations have taken root.

In his January 2024 Quarterly Review, my predecessor John Rankin raised the possibility of additional powers for the Governor to help drive delivery. The improved collaborative working processes I’ve described mean that I do not judge additional powers are necessary at this stage. But this should remain an open question, to be kept under review as we move through the final stages of implementation. In my personal view, the greatest additional power available to us will be that of all branches of government working together collaboratively to deliver the recommendations with sustained commitment and determination.

So, my recommendation is that there should be no change on this: the question of additional powers for the Governor should be kept under review.

It follows that I do not at this stage judge that the conditions to remove the Order in Council have been met. So again, I recommend no change on this: the Order in Council should remain in place.

In concluding, I’d note that from today there are 99 days until the end of August. So we have 99 days to get the COI done. We must not waste this time, nor miss the once in a generation opportunity it gives us to help build a better future for the Virgin Islands.

Which brings me to my final point: in submitting these recommendations, I do so in the service of the people of the Virgin Islands. People that I have met in my first few months here, who have given me a warm and much appreciated welcome, those people tell me they want the reforms of the COI done and delivered.

So we must sustain our shared collective effort to deliver the COI reforms for the benefit of the people of the Islands. We must sustain our commitment to give the people of the Islands, and future generations, what they deserve: a system of government that will serve them well.

I consider it a privilege to work alongside the Government of the Virgin Islands in this shared mission.

https://bvi.gov.vg/sites/default/files/sixth_quarterly_review_of_coi_implementation_24_may_2024_1.pdf

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