PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DR. the HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
EMERGENCY RECALL OF THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
TO ADDRESS THE FAST TRACK RESIDENCY AND BELONGER PROGRAMME
14TH APRIL 2023
Greetings to the People of the Virgin Islands.
Democracy is a sacred trust. We all have a responsibility to protect and uphold democracy. It provides the legitimacy on which Government rests.
The rule of law is the best way to ensure that we can participate in an orderly and meaningfully way in a democracy.
The Fast Track Residency and Belonger Programme was implemented to regularise the immigration status of a number of persons who have lived, worked and meaningfully contributed to the Virgin Islands over time.
Cabinet’s approval of those persons was done on the basis of the legal advice provided by the former Attorney General. However, the recent audit of the Fast Track Programme identified what appears to have been an honest oversight. Six-hundred and eighty-eight (688) persons were simultaneously approved for Residency and Belonger status, when in fact they should have been free of immigration controls twelve months prior to applying for Belonger status, according to the law.
I agree with Governor Rankin that this was not the fault of any of the applicants. We live in a democracy and it is important that no one who is qualified is disenfranchised because of this error.
That is why I support the Governor in recalling the House of Assembly so that this matter can be appropriately and immediately addressed. The House of Assembly has the power to validate the grant of the Residence and Belonger Certificates made by Cabinet and this is what we will seek to do as early as Monday the 17th April, at the beginning of next week.
A Bill will be introduced in the House of Assembly to validate the Residence and Belonger status of the 688 persons identified in the audit report.
Let me be clear. This issue is not one for politicking. It involves the lives of real people who are members of our community. Their lives and that of their families should not be seen as a convenient opportunity to score political points.
I am committed to addressing this matter because I take democracy extremely seriously. I call on all of my honourable colleagues to do the same. Our brothers and sisters should not be disenfranchised because of a legal oversight or administrative error.
Finally, I want to reassure the public following consultation with the Governor and advice from the Attorney General, that the scheduled General Election of the 24th April will proceed as planned as well as advanced polling day on the 20th of April.
I encourage everyone to exercise their democratic right to vote, which our fore-parents fought so hard to secure.
I wish everyone a blessed and pleasant evening and a safe and enjoyable weekend.
I thank you.