HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH THE GOVERNOR
10TH AUGUST, 2022
UPDATE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS
OF THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
Thank you Your Excellency.
Good morning to members of the media.
This morning I am pleased to have the opportunity to provide an update since our last joint press conference on the Government of National Unity’s efforts in implementing the COI Recommendations as set out in the Framework for the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) Report and other Reforms. This morning’s update focuses on activities during the month of July.
Preparatory Steps to Support the Implementation of the COI Recommendations
The implementation of this Framework continues to be coordinated by the Steering Group which has been meeting regularly to receive progress reports, identify any potential challenges and collaborate on solutions. As the coordinating ministry, the Premier’s Office continues to support the other ministries and reviewers in fulfilling their obligations under the Plan. To date, a few members of staff have been assigned to the Implementation Unit and work has commenced on developing the budget for the Implementation Unit and for implementing the recommendations, drafting the implementation plan and a communications strategy, reviewing policy documents and developing terms of reference for the reviewers. Recruitment of additional staff is at an advanced stage and within the coming week, a release will be issued to provide further details and contact information.
Cabinet continues to work assiduously in approving the necessary policy changes to support the implementation of the Framework. Since my last update, Cabinet took the following action:
- On 6th July, Cabinet approved the amendment to the Audit Act and the Service Commission Regulations, 2014 to advance Recommendations B16 and B17 as proposed under Recommendation A4 of the Framework. It is now a criminal offense for a person, without lawful excuse, to fail to cooperate with or otherwise impede (obstruct, hinder or resist) the Auditor General. The Audit (Amendment) Act was passed in the House of Assembly on 21st July. Failure to cooperate with or otherwise impede, hinder or resist the Auditor General and the Director of Internal Audit in the discharge of their duties and functions is now an act of gross misconduct under the Service Commissions Regulations. For a first time misconduct, the penalties are up to 30 days’ suspension or demotion and for a second time and subsequent misconduct, the penalty is dismissal.
- With respect to Recommendation B35 pertaining to the revised Public Service Transformation Programme, Cabinet on 6th July and 27th July received and endorsed the Ministerial Transformation Plans for the Ministry of Communications and Works and the Ministry of Education, Culture Youth Affairs and Sport, respectively, in line with the Public Service Transformation Programme priorities.
- In an effort to meet the 30th September deadline for amending existing legislation in consideration of the recommendations of the Supervisor of Elections’ General Elections Report 2019 and the recommendations made by the Observer Mission, including those on campaign finance reform, Cabinet on 13th July approved various amendments to the Elections Act. Once these amendments have been drafted, they will be submitted to Cabinet and subsequently to the House of Assembly.
- The Terms of Reference for the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) were approved on 20th July. These terms have now been incorporated into a resolution with the members of the CRC and are before the House of Assembly to be debated.
- Persons would recall that on 29th June, Cabinet had approved a Bill entitled, Register of Interests Act, 2022, which had its First Reading in the House of Assembly on 30 June, 2022. However, due to the high level of feedback received and after a robust debate in the House of Assembly, the Bill was withdrawn. Cabinet subsequently on 21st July approved the Bill entitled Register of Interests (Amendment) Act, 2022 which was passed by the House of Assembly on 21st July. This amendment addressed the areas to which we committed in the Framework. .
- Within the coming week, Cabinet is expected to decide on reviewers for the following:
Recommendations B24 and B28 which deals with statutory boards, specifically:i) the extent to which those boards are behind in their obligations to submit timely financial reports and audits; ii) the extent to which those boards are applying policies intended to promote good governance such as a conflict of interest policy and a political interference policy; iii) the extent to which those boards follow a due diligence policy; and iv) what steps need to be taken to remedy any deficiencies and a timescale in which these steps should be accomplished.
- Recommendation B33 which deals with a review of the existing policy and processes for granting residency and belonger status, including the open discretion by Cabinet to grant such statuses, and the length of residence required for belonger status, among other things; and
- Recommendation B1 to review the Commission of Inquiry Act 1880 with a remit to make recommendations designed to improve the conduct of Commissions of Inquiry in the Virgin Islands and bring the Act into line with modern practices adopted by other Common Law jurisdictions.
In accordance with Recommendation B7, preparations are underway to commission a Review of Social Assistance Benefits and Grants Administration Systems in the Virgin Islands, with technical and financial support from UNICEF. The Terms of Reference were finalized in consultation with the Governor and Minister for Health and Social Development, issued by UNICEF along with an Request for Proposal to potential bidders, and will shortly be submitted to the Cabinet, together with an update on the Project.
July also marked the first month of the Transition Grant Programme being implemented by the Social Development Department in fulfillment of Recommendations B8 and B9. The Department dispatched social workers into communities, including the Sister Islands, and commenced the use of a digital system to capture information needed for registration and enrolment of beneficiaries [referred from the House of Assembly] into the Public Assistance Programme (PAP). The electronic registration tool, developed with assistance from the World Food Programme, is being piloted among transitioning beneficiaries. It provides the added advantage of enhancing the transparency and objectivity of the validation process undertaken by the Public Assistance Committee.
The ongoing progress demonstrates that the Government of National Unity, the public officers in the respective Ministries and all parties including the Governor and the Governor’s Group are working hard and are seriously committed to delivering the implementation plan for addressing the COI recommendations and the other reforms.
A tremendous amount of work continues to be undertaken to deliver the recommendations and I wish to commend and express sincere gratitude to the dedicated public officers who have been working diligently to meet the stipulated deadlines. Although we have had some slight delays in implementing some of the reforms, in a few cases we are ahead of schedule.
I wish to reassure the people of the Virgin Islands that the Government of National Unity is firmly committed to our obligations as set out in the Framework.
I thank you.