CONTRIBUTION BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE HONOURABLE DURING THE REGISTER OF INTEREST (AMENDMENT) ACT
ANDREW A. FAHIE DURING THE SIXTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Thursday, 4th March, 2021
Mr. Speaker, I rise to second this motion. Mr. Speaker, it is a very important one that the Attorney General has brought forward. This Government in its wisdom has brought to the table, as one of the actions that we as a Government would like to move forward with, in the spirit of cooperation and transparency.
Mr. Speaker, the Attorney General has set out very clearly the reasons for this Bill and the Government policy that informs its purpose.
The Government’s policy is to support and facilitate the work of the Commissioner of Inquiry.
The Commissioner has requested each Member of this House to consent to him having access to that part of the Register of Interests that records the declarations of that Member, but the Register of Interests Act does not permit access to the Register in those circumstances.
It allows access to the Register, other than to Members of this House, only for the purposes of a criminal investigation or a court order. But let me make it clear Mr. Speaker, there is no criminal investigation, and the Commission of Inquiry is not a court.
Therefore, the Registrar has no power to grant the request even with the consent of a Member.
Furthermore, the Register is not a public Register. The House decided in passing the original Act in 2006 that, save in those limited circumstances, this House should have exclusive cognisance of all matters connected with the Register.
Matters connected with the accuracy of Members’ declarations, and judgments about whether a declaration should have been made, are for this House and its committee to consider and decide.
This principle cannot be waived or set aside save by this Honourable House.
Therefore, the Government proposes to put beyond doubt the ability of the Commissioner to gain access to the Register and to inquire into these matters.
It is the Government's view that it is in the best interests of the Virgin Islands for the Commissioner’s requests to be complied with voluntarily and to avoid the necessity for the Commissioner to issue summonses, if possible.
It also wishes to avoid the risk of inconsistent interpretations of the Register of Interests Act among Members and potential litigation that might impede the Inquiry.
We must be vigilant to protect the reputation of the Virgin Islands.
We must not gratify those who hope we will shrink from the gaze of this Inquiry.
We must show that the Virgin Islands is not afraid of fair, impartial and transparent scrutiny and that we ourselves are committed to transparency and good governance, as is evident today through the suite of legislation that has been brought to this Honourable House including, but not limited to the Whistle-blower Legislation and the Contractor General Legislation, with many more of the good governance legislation to come.
But by this Bill, that is in question today, and the Government’s commitment to support the Inquiry’s work, we help to demonstrate exactly that.
We have set up a Unit, led by distinguished international Counsel, reporting to and acting under the direction of the Attorney General, to ensure that proper and accountable standards are upheld in the Government’s cooperation with the Inquiry and that the Government makes a full and constructive contribution to its processes.
Nothing could be more important to the welfare of these Virgin Islands than that the Inquiry reaches sound conclusions that are seen to be based on a fair and balanced process, that there is no area that is off-limits to its scrutiny and that no justification can be made for a charge that its work was deliberately impeded.
We look forward to the Commissioner’s work in examining the matters he has been set, both those that are under ministerial control and those that are not.
This Bill evidences the Government’s commitment in good faith, and I repeat that in good faith, to that end and I commend it to this Honourable House.
Mr. Speaker, I say thank you and I second the motion.