SPEECH FROM THE THRONE DELIVERED BY
HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR MR. AUGUSTUS JASPERT
First Sitting of the Fourth Session of the Third House of Assembly
House of Assembly Chamber
Thursday, 13th September, 2018
BUILDING BVI STRONGER, SMARTER, GREENER BETTER THROUGH LEGISLATION
Madame Speaker, members of the House of Assembly, invited guests in the gallery, those listening via radio and online, good morning.
I count it an honour and privilege as Governor of the British Virgin Islands to deliver the Speech from the Throne on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth the Second, which outlines the legislative agenda of the Government of the Virgin Islands for the Fourth Session of the Third House of Assembly.
It was only about six months ago that I delivered the last Speech From The Throne. Therefore, much of what I will say today may sound familiar as these are much needed pieces of legislation that must be brought forward into this Session to help this Territory become stronger.
As you can imagine, since the unprecedented weather conditions of last year, we have been on this long road to recovery and there has been some progress, and a substantial amount of work that happened across the Public Service.
I thank the hard working public officers for their dedication and commitment in progressing the legislative agenda, in a time where they are also dealing with working in challenging circumstances.
I will refer to Her Majesty’s Government as ‘Our Government’.
Our Government is focused on introducing and amending different pieces of legislation that will support our recovery vision which is a stronger, smarter, greener and better BVI that is economically vibrant, socially cohesive, environmentally sustainable, structurally resilient and adhering to the principles of good governance and the rule of law.
In no particular order, the proposed legislative amendments are placed into seven categories: (1) Recovery; (2) Business and Economy; (3) Infrastructure and Utilities; (4) Education; (5) Health Care; (6) Natural Resources and the Environment; and (7) Good Governance—all aimed at supporting prosperity of the Virgin Islands and improving the livelihood of citizens.
I will first begin with Recovery.
In the last Session, through legislation our Government approved the Virgin Islands Recovery and Development Act, 2018 that led to the successful establishment of the Recovery and Development Agency (RDA). This was quickly followed by the appointments of the Board of Directors and the Chief Executive Officer. The RDA is responsible for ensuring that the activities outlined in the Recovery and Development Plan are carried out. A priority for this House is to approve the Virgin Islands Recovery and Development Plan.
Our Government will also bring forward amendments to the Disaster Management Act which will improve the Territory’s ability to prepare and respond.
I will now move to those pieces of legislation that will seek to strengthen business and boost the economy.
A new Bill for the Procurement of Goods and Services will be introduced with a supporting handbook to further create and regulate a new framework for the public procurement process that promotes integrity, fairness, transparency, value for money, efficiency and flexibility.
The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry will be re-branded to become an independent Maritime Administration and Ship Registration authority of the Virgin Islands. The Merchant Shipping Act will be amended and international maritime laws will be adopted so that the new Maritime Authority builds its foundation as an unrestricted Category one (1) member of the Red Ensign Group of United Kingdom, Overseas Territories and Crown Dependency partners.
Our Government continues to focus on seeking public private partnerships for major tourism development investments in key areas. It is crucial that in the coming years, our Government will partner where ever possible and provide incentives such as hotel aid for investors to confidently invest in rebuilding and building resorts and the marine infrastructure to take our tourism product to the highest competitive level.
In order to contribute to a more business friendly investment climate our Government will amend the Labour Code 2010 to enhance the efficiency and transparency of work permits processing through technology.
The National Trade Policy of the Virgin Islands which was recently approved by Cabinet outlines the policy framework and the direction in which Government seeks to develop and grow the economy through trade and investments, by creating an attractive business environment that encourages fair trade.
As a result, our Government also recently approved the Consumer Protection Policy, which will seek to ensure fair and equitable treatment of consumers. The appropriate legal instruments are being drafted based on the CARICOM Model, and should be ready for public consultation by the fourth quarter of this year.
Due consideration is also being given to the areas of Trade & Export Development, Business Development and National Investment. We will also review the existing legislative regime and where necessary introduce new legislation or amendments to ensure that the Territory, appropriately meets international best practice for laws relating to the use and development of technology in business and everyday life.
Madame Speaker, I will now turn to Infrastructure and Utilities
The effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria no doubt have affected our infrastructure and public utilities system.
Our Government will seek to amend the Ports Authority Act, 1990 and its enabling regulations. The amendment is to facilitate overall improvements to the day to day operations as well as during times of emergencies/crisis. It will also strengthen our compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code and pave the way towards BVI becoming a premier transshipment point in the Caribbean region.
Just three weeks ago our Government published in the Virgin Islands Official Gazette a significant amendment to the enabling regulations of the Road Traffic Act (CAP 218). More specifically the Vehicles and Road Traffic (Traffic Signs) Amendment Regulations, 2018 have been extensively upgraded to make our Territory more internationally friendly to motorists and pedestrians alike, as the signage which is more comprehensive, now has the legislative backing to be text based and iconic or a combination of both, along with the introduction of new Guide signs, Emergency Management signs and Accessibility Parking signs. A public education campaign will commence in the coming weeks and thereafter additional legislation will be pursued to further develop the accessibility for differently abled persons.
Our Government has now taken lessons from what has happened and our Government will seek to amend the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 234) to strengthen our building codes. Our Government will introduce the Architects and Engineers Registration Bill to ensure services are provided at an acceptable industry standard, which in turn would ensure the optimum health and safety of building occupants and enhance and strengthen the enforcement and effectiveness of the Physical Planning Act, 2004. Physical Planning Regulations will be introduced to ensure effective and standardised practices across the Territory.
Madame Speaker, I will now turn to Education.
Madame Speaker, our Government is committed to educational development and will continue its SMART school initiative. Our Government is mindful that in today’s technological age, the education system is evolving and the Territory’s schools must keep pace with the rest of the world. That is why there will be a focus on amending the Education Act (2004) to bring this legislation in line with the technological learning preferences and expectations of students in this and future era.
Additionally, the Education Act (2004) will be amended to outline the relationship between the Ministry of Education and the Private Schools. Our Government believes that it is important to forge a closer monitoring relationship with the private schools. One example is data collection from private schools to better analyse and report on the status of education in the Territory as a whole.
As we continue to Build BVI Stronger and Smarter, our Government remains committed to meeting the needs of the students at the collegiate level, and the wider community. A draft amendment of the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College Act will be presented to this Honourable House to ensure that the institution is able to maintain its accreditation status and keep pace with the changes necessary to prepare the workforce for the development of the Territory and higher education.
Madame Speaker, I will now turn to Health Care
Our Government will introduce legislation that promotes social justice and human rights where we safeguard the welfare of our children; improve the prevention and management of sexual offenses, and enhance the regulatory framework for effective collaboration and partnership with the non-profit sector.
The Medical Act, 2000 will be revised to align with modern practices and to provide an adequate framework for proposed improvements in the health sector. It would distinguish between licensing and registration, broaden the categories of registration, expand the range of practitioners registered under the Act, and include a requirement for continuing education, among other provisions.
Another very important Bill is the Children (Care and Adoption) Bill, which will be introduced to revise and consolidate legislation that provides for the care and protection of children, in line with regional and international standards. The Bill will seek to ensure that in all actions and decisions concerning a child, the safety, welfare and well-being of the child shall be of paramount consideration, and the same principle is applied where a child has been removed from his or her parents. Enactment of the proposed legislation will result in greater supervision of adoption procedures and for the protection of the welfare of the child in such proceedings.
Madame Speaker, the Sexual Offences Bill will be proposed to comprehensively address the prosecution and management of all sexual offences matters in the Territory. It would serve as a consolidated, stand-alone piece of legislation regarding sexual offences that would replace the few scattered Criminal Code provisions that are presently in existence in the Virgin Islands. Its underlying goal is to protect persons from non-consensual sexual activity, while ensuring gender neutrality and gender equity. The Sexual Offences Bill will seek to ensure international best practice is maintained with appropriate provisions for prevention, investigation, and adjudication of sexual offence matters.
Madame Speaker, I will now turn to Natural Resources and the Environment
Careful management and protection of our environment is important if we are to preserve it for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
It is for these reasons; priority consideration will continue to be given to the introduction of an Environmental Management, Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Change Adaptation Bill in building BVI Greener. This Bill addresses a myriad of concerns that could impact the environment including dumping of waste at sea, as well as speaking directly to the issue of derelicts and removal of same from the Territory. The need for this piece of legislation is now even more critical as we build resiliency into this critical sector of our tourism industry.
Madame Speaker, another matter requiring the attention of this Honourable House is the amendment to the Virgin Islands Fisheries Act 1997 and Regulations, as well as overall legislative reform in the agricultural sector to ensure greater food security for the Territory.
In term of effecting better administration of the Territory’s land, the Registered Land Ordinance 1970, revised 1991, and Land Surveyors Act 1970 amended in 2005, and Land Surveyors Regulations 2004 will be revised to address the issue of persons being able to acquire land via prescription.
Additionally, to ensure greater efficiency, plans are afoot to merge the Departments of Land Registry and Survey to create one Department under the heading, Land and Survey Department. These two goals will require amendments to the various pieces of legislations governing both. This merge is essential in the transformation of the Public Service as a one stop service provider.
Madame Speaker, the last priority area that our Government will highlight is good governance.
My Government will seek to reintroduce the Human Rights Commission Act to put in place all of the necessary components to ensure its full implementation.
Steps will be taken to institute modern Public Finance Management (PFM) legislation, namely the PFM Act and Regulations that would foster best practices in public financial management and to introduce Financial Instructions to support them and improve accountability.
A Code of Conduct will be brought to this Honourable House. The code will identify a set of standards that Ministers are expected to follow in protecting the integrity of their public office.
A Public Service Management Bill will be brought to this House to strengthen the Public Service of the Virgin Islands and provide the legal framework for the overall management, organisational structure and administration of the Public Service. The Public Service Management Bill will set the foundation for the revised Public Service Code, which will replace General Orders, 1982. This will also include Whistleblowing Protection Legislation to provide an avenue for reporting maladministration.
Our Government will seek to include the Freedom of Information Bill which will guide how people can access public records and it will outline the exempted categories. This piece of legislation will allow for increased transparency and accountability of public affairs. The Bill includes recommendations for the establishment of a Freedom of Information Unit to provide the public with the appropriate administrative mechanism to make and receive requests.
Madam Speaker, on a related matter, I am pleased to announce that the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands has decided to publicise Cabinet decisions in keeping with the Government's commitment to promote more openness and transparency. As such, the Premier and I will shortly announce how the publicising of Cabinet decisions will be implemented.
Additionally, the introduction of an Integrity in Public Life Act seeks to provide for the establishment of an Integrity Commission for the purpose of establishing probity, integrity and accountability in public life. It will seek to preserve and promote the integrity of public officials and institutions.
Our Government will also review the Register of Interests.
The Anti-money Laundering Regulations and Anti-money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Code of Practice (including consolidation of the Code of Practice) will be reviewed and revised to incorporate the results of the benchmarking exercise undertaken by the Financial Services Commission following Cabinet approval of the 2017 National Risk Assessment Report to ensure “full” technical compliance with the Financial Action Task Force recommendations.
During an election period, accuracy of the information being disseminated is important, particularly on Election Day. The Principal Act of 1994 together with the recommendations from the 2015 General Elections Report will form a consolidated Elections Act. The consolidation of the information will assist the election officers to operate more efficiently in the execution of their duties. Provision is also being made for technological advancements to improve efficiency of the elections process.
Madame Speaker, our Government will consider all legislation geared to strengthen the Judiciary of this Territory. The foundation of any functional society is a robust Judicial System and we will support legislation in this regard.
A revised Police Act will seek to create a consolidated and modernised Act that is reflective of modern policing practice, contemporary human resources practice and current technological advances in the prevention and detection of crime. The revised Act brings together the varied amendments, regulations and codes of practice, along with recent developments in police terms and conditions, advances in crime-fighting technology and the professionalization of the constitutional role of the RVIPF. This is expected to be submitted to Cabinet for review within the next quarter.
Witness Anonymity Legislation will be introduced to ensure the protection of witnesses and the preservation of their rights by the provision for a court to make a witness anonymity order to protect the safety of the witness, prevent damage to property, and prevent real harm to the public interest
The Prison Act (1956) and the Prison Rules (1999) will be revised to build a climate based on rehabilitation rather than on punitive action. To ensure that persons who are incarcerated work diligently and moves forward with ensuring that the individuals get the help to lead meaningful and productive lives. The Prison must ensure that inmates develop skills and are able to become functional on return to the community. These amendments were completed and are expected to be tabled in the HOA by the end of the year.
A review of the Immigration and Passport Act is currently underway to transform and reform Immigration legislation and policies inclusive of e-services, training and the introduction of the Advance Passenger Information (API) System which will address issues of integrated border management, automated border control and international co-operation. The United Kingdom in principle has already approved this system and it has already been implemented in the region.
These are just a few of the changes that are being actively addressed to improve the public service and by extension the efficiency and benefits that can be derived from it.
In conclusion, our Government understands that urgent issues may arise during the course of the year and prioritising may become necessary and accordingly urgent legislative matters not included in the above list may be given preference as may be appropriate.
Madam Speaker, our Government has put forward an ambitious programme with proposed Bills and legislative amendments for this Territory, which in many ways will help to Build British Virgin Islands stronger, smarter, greener and better.
Madame Speaker, Ladies and Gentleman, I thank you.