FROM GOVERNOR OF THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
MR JOHN RANKIN CMG
Today I have published my Fourth Quarterly Review of the implementation of the Commission of Inquiry recommendations.
In summary, my Review notes that although no additional recommendations are reported as having been completed in the last Quarter, much has been done over the last few months. This is not just a tick box exercise and we have seen some progress.
Policy development, pursuant to the COI recommendations, is underway across social assistance, scholarships, Crown Land distribution and Statutory Boards. Action plans have started to come to Cabinet and public consultation is taking place.
I am pleased to note that specific issues which I raised in my previous Quarterly Review received the positive attention of the Premier. Additional funding for the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) was agreed. And actions have been taken to improve and speed up the current arrangements for processing Residency and Belonger Status applications.
In the last Quarter, more Audits and Reviews flowing from the Commission of Inquiry Report have also been completed and published. But while that is welcome, the vital next step remains to turn the findings and recommendations in the Audits and Reviews into practical action to achieve reforms. This is necessary to prevent the abuses that the Commission of Inquiry exposed from occurring again.
To take the most obvious recent example, the findings from the Audit of Covid-19 Assistance Grants provided clear evidence, for everyone to see, of the need for reform to ensure that public funds are properly allocated.
So the three months ahead are where more of the real work starts.
I recognise that some of the issues covered in the Reviews are sensitive, some are difficult, and that meaningful public consultation is required.
But we have, on occasion, seen elected officials questioning the necessity of reforms and the findings of audits. What happens next is therefore crucial. If the findings of audits are undermined or reviews aren’t given proper consideration, there is a risk that the abuses which previously took place will happen again in the future. We all, myself as Governor and the Government, must not waiver in our commitment to reform.
So crucially I look to see actual delivery of the action plans which are now coming forward between now and the end of this year, leading to meaningful change.
I also expect to see by the end of December a strengthened Integrity in Public Life Act, the Whistleblower Act and an amended Register of Interests Act brought into force. These legislative protections must be sufficiently robust to prevent the sort of abuses which the COI highlighted.
I do not shy away from the fact that there have been challenges in areas for which I am responsible. But I am pleased to report that the Law Enforcement Review is now well underway and a specialist has been recruited to work on the Vetting project on a full time basis.
Reforms must be appropriately resourced and prioritised, particularly to ensure that the scale of legislation required does not create bottlenecks which delay implementation.
I am encouraged by the “Government Business at its Best” strategy which was launched in July and offers a new reporting structure for the COI recommendations. Themes of ‘greater transparency’, ‘continued accountability’ and ‘effective communication’, alongside ‘value for money’ and ‘easier access to services’, are beginning to capture the spirit of what needs to be delivered. The next step remains to have clear measurements in place to show that these things are being acheived.
The overall aim remains for the necessary reforms reform to have “taken root” no later than May 2024, to achieve that there will need to be evidence of improvement. This could take the form of clear policies which are consistently used, effective communication with staff and the public, and appropriate budgets and staffing allocations.
I do not believe there is an immediate need for additional powers based on the plans and commitments the Government has made. However, if we do not see significant progress in the coming months, additional action may be necessary.
I will publish my final Quarterly Review as Governor in December of this year and this will form part of my handover to the new Governor, Mr Daniel Pruce. In the run up to that time, and beyond, the process of reform must continue unabated.
I know that the Premier understands the significance of the reforms and remains committed to delivering them. I look forward to continuing to work closely with him, as we ensure that the people of the Virgin Islands experience the positive difference that good governance makes.