A New Premier Emerges from the BVI Scandal
Following a vote of no confidence in the House of Assembly, Andrew Fahie has been removed as Premier of BVI, and the ruling Virgin Islands Party Government has been dissolved. Former Deputy Premier Natalio Wheatley was sworn in and will head a new Government of national unity consisting of VIP members and members of the opposition National Democratic Party.
The move comes as the BVI seeks to resist a recent Commission of Inquiry proposal that the UK impose direct rule on the island for a minimum of two years. At his swearing-in, Wheatley said the move against Fahie was an "important and necessary step in renewing our cherished democracy and reforming our institutions." He went on to say that "it is my hope that this day will be remembered as the day we began a new era of democratic governance."
The Commission of Inquiry report, commissioned by the outgoing Governor Gus Jaspert in 2021, highlighted weaknesses in the governance of the island and decision making, particularly around the award of contracts, public appointments, and belonger status. The recommendation of direct rule was based on the conclusion of the Commissioner, Gary Hickenbottom, that "unless the most urgent drastic steps are taken, the current situation with elected officials deliberately ignoring the tenets of good governance will go on indefinitely."
Wheatley is seeking to challenge that view, and the UK is yet to make a final decision on the report's recommendations. Amanda Milling, the Minister for the OTs, visited BVI immediately after the report was published and issued a statement before she returned. "During my discussions with community and religious leaders, I heard about the impact corruption has had on the community here. I sought their views on what would be best for the people of the BVI. Everyone I have met has agreed that there needs to be significant changes in the BVI to improve governance. There is an urgent need to fix the systems, processes, laws and norms to ensure that money spent by the government – your money – is better spent on roads, education, hospitals and better public services and not misused, as the COI has found".
The drama has been heightened by Fahie's arrest by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Miami. Fahie, along with the Ports Authority Director and her son, has been charged with conspiring to import more than five kilos of cocaine and conspiring to launder $700,000. That led to the UK publishing the Commission's report two months earlier than planned. Fahie is still in custody pending an appeal by prosecutors on the decision to release him on bail. He had been claiming diplomatic immunity, but the US Courts had already rejected this by the time of his removal from office.
Meanwhile, the Organisation of East Caribbean States has offered its support to BVI and asked that the UK not impose direct rule. "The historical responsibility for strengthening governance in the BVI must rest on the shoulders of the elected representatives and the people of the BVI themselves. That ultimately will be the guarantee of good governance and full, transparent accountability. The OECS, for its part, is willing and ready to provide technical and other support required by the BVI as an Associate Member State in addressing the governance issues that need attention."
Morton has informed the islanders that ultimately the decision will be made by Liz Truss, the British Foreign Secretary. "I have a lot to consider", she said. "I heard about the impact corruption has had on the community here, and everyone I have met has agreed that there needs to be significant changes. I will share the feedback from the range of individuals and groups I have met with the Foreign Secretary, and we will discuss what steps to take next."
Premier Wheatley is hoping that the swift move to remove Fahey from office, following his refusal to resign, will be the first step in a successful campaign to minimise the UK's involvement in the island's internal affairs.