Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley has said the government plans to reintroduce the existing Register of Interest Act of 2006 and amend it to include penalties for persons who fail to declare their interest to the register on time.
He proposed this as an alternative to establishing the Register of Interest Act of 2022 that was recently withdrawn from the House of Assembly (HOA) because of several concerns, including the government’s initial decision to rush it through the House to meet a deadline promised to the United Kingdom.
The Premier said the government also plans to have public consultations about striking a balance between registering one’s interest and privacy.
Speaking at the HOA sitting held last week, Premier Wheatley said all members of the House agreed that the people must be involved in the process, democracy must be respected, and the integrity of the legislative process must be respected. He added that he cannot see how the United Kingdom or anyone else could counter this argument.
“So, yes, we missed the deadline — this June 30th deadline — and of course we have to discuss how we resolve that. What we will do is bring back the existing Register of Interest Act (2006). We will make that public, we will add the penalties for not declaring on time and then of course we will engage in a conversation with the people of the Virgin Islands
, with public officers, persons in statutory office, and other public bodies about the measures that we should take as it pertains to the registration of interest,” Dr. Wheatley said.
“[We will also talk about] what it is we seek to achieve and what balance we can strike between persons individual rights — their rights to privacy and their rights not to be exposed unnecessarily and, you know, be subjected to security risks, etcetera. And that is the conversation we will have. We will take time for that, and we will bring other examples of countries in territories where they register their interest, and we will see what works for us best here in the Virgin Islands
,” the Premier added.
Dr Wheatley also clarified that it is important that people understand very clearly that the legislation the Government of National Unity committed to passing by June 30 was only about making the existing register public for elected officials.
“We cannot get past that point. We cannot be leading our people to believe that we intended to pass a bill on them that they were not consulted on. We cannot allow people to believe that. That was not the situation and that was not the case and every elected member in the House knows that. We were just supposed to, by June 30th, make the existing register public. That is what we committed to do,” Dr Wheatley said.
“However, it happened a new bill came to HOA for three readings. We must not let the public think that this bill was approved for three readings. The three readings, one, two, and three were for the existing register that the members have to declare presently to go one, two, three. Anybody that is misleading the public to think that we were coming one, two, three on public servants that they did not have an opportunity to see is being disingenuous,” the Premier added.
He explained that the new bill should have an introduction known as a first reading. He said it should be made public and the ministry responsible for bringing it to the House has a responsibility to consult with stakeholders.