Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley has sought to steer blame away from his Virgin Islands Party (VIP) Cabinet, of which he was a part, for illegitimately granting Belonger status to 688 persons back in 2020.
This massive error was discovered in the findings of an audit done on the VIP government’s Fast Track Residency and Belongership Programme. And to correct the error, Governor John Rankin
has recalled the House of Assembly to regularise the 688 people before election day.
In a statement following the governor’s announcement on Friday, Dr Wheatley suggested the VIP Cabinet, within which he was Education Minister, received incorrect legal counsel.
“Cabinet’s approval of those persons was done on the basis of the legal advice provided by the former Attorney General,” said Dr Wheatley. He did not call the former Attorney General by name but the person serving in that capacity at the time was Baba Aziz.
“The recent audit of the Fast Track Programme identified what appears to have been an honest oversight,” Dr Wheatley added. “Six-hundred and eighty-eight 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.”
He continued: 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.”
Dr Wheatley, made it clear that the issue is not one for politicking and reassured the public that the scheduled April 24 general election will proceed as planned.