TORTOLA, British Virgin Islands (CMC) — British Virgin Islands (BVI) citizens took to the streets outside the official residence of Governor John Rankin as they protested the recommendations of a report of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) that the BVI government cease to exist in its current format for at least two years.
The report was examining allegations of corruption and abuse of office by elected and statutory officials.
The protest coincides with planned meetings involving UK Overseas Territories Minister, Amanda Milling, with local stakeholders on the COI report.
“We as Virgin Islanders come to say to the United Kingdom that you should not suspend our constitution in an attempt to establish direct rule over us,” said Bishop John Cline, saying he wanted to speak directly with Milling and the Governor General.
“We cannot sit back and accept this atrocity. We cannot sit by and let this happen. We say to the UK, Amanda Milling, you cannot want for us what you do not want for yourself…We do not want our Constitution suspended.”
“We live in a democracy, we do not want the Constitution suspended for six months, much less two years, we do not want it suspended at all. We want the right to elect a government, we want the respect of the UK and we want the respect of the UK in helping us determine our destiny.
Cline said that while the islanders acknowledge that there are some faults, he warned nonetheless “if you push us we will push back”.
“We want the UK to come alongside us and create political systems…for good governance. We want to be in a respectful partnership with the United Kingdom. We want the UK to change the international narrative that they have set around the world that the people here are corrupt.
“There is corruption in the UK, there is corruption in America…Russia in every country….we want to say, do not settle for anything less,” he said, as the protesters shouted “no direct rule, no direct rule”.
Cline called on the UK government to re-think its position on the recommendations, saying “we say to the UK if you want to do something, come and speak with us”.
“We come here today because we are serious and we are determined you will not suspend our constitution…we are not going back to 1949,” Cline told the protesters, adding “the fight is about our homes, our legacy, the fight is about our political progress, the fight is about our future”.
“So let’s say to you, with God’s help we will win by any means necessary we will win,” Cline said, urging London and Milling to listen to the voice of the people and “stand back from this decision”.
Rankin said that the commissioner had recommended: “a return to Ministerial Government and an elected House of Assembly as soon as practicable, with the governor taking regular advice from the Advisory Council and others on the earliest practicable date on which such government can resume”.
“Secondly, the commissioner recommends an early and speedy review of the Constitution with the purpose of ensuring that abuses of the type he has identified do not recur, establishing a Constitution that will enable the people of the BVI to meet their aspirations including those in respect of self-government within the context of a modern democracy.”
But as they took to the streets on Monday, the protesters shouted “A people united will never be divided” and called on Britain to allow the status quo to continue.
“We will not be removed,” they shouted as they marched under the gaze of law enforcement authorities, with protest music blaring from speakers mounted on the back of a truck.
Meanwhile, an attorney who represented a member of the House of Assembly during the COI has contended that the United Kingdom is after the BVI‘s resources and has no interest in helping the territory’s people, as it claims.
Daniel Fligelstone Davies, speaking at a panel discussion on Sunday night, said “they (the UK) are seeking to take away our fishing waters”.
“They are here for our resources; they are not here for us,” he said, citing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1966 that states, among other measures, that “all peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
“All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic cooperation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence”
Rankin said overall, the commissioner in his report finds that the elected government, in successive administrations, “has sought to avoid good governance” and that “in terms of governance the people of the BVI have been served very badly in recent years and that almost everywhere the principles of good governance such as openness, transparency and the rule of law are ignored”.
“He concludes that it is highly likely that serious dishonesty may have taken place across a broad range of government and that there is information that a substantial number of elected officials may be involved. He makes recommendations for further investigations and possible criminal prosecution in several areas,” Rankin said.
The governor said that the COI made 45 specific recommendations on how to address each of the areas of concern that his report identifies.