The Virgin Islands is supposed to be in a partnership with the United Kingdom (UK); however, according to Deputy Premier and Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7), the relationship with the UK can hardly be defined as a partnership, since the UK wants to have all the say.
In fact, he likened the United Kingdom to a bully.
Speaking at the Second Sitting of the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly (HoA) during the budget debate on December 14, 2020, Dr Wheatley was responding to comments the Leader of the Opposition, Hon Marlon A. Penn (R8) made about the Virgin Islands needing a global partner, in this case, the UK.
But according to Dr Wheatley, he has nothing against a global partner if it was really a partnership.
“If that was really what it was, a partnership, I wouldn’t mind it, but I don’t like the idea of being bullied,” Dr Wheatley stated.
“You’re not going to, I don’t know if I can use the word in here, urinate, Mr Speaker, in here, but you are not going to tell me it is raining and then tell me we in a partnership. All the time you here bullying me and telling me we partners, we good, but somehow in this partnership, you have all the say I don’t have any at all?”
The Deputy Premier pointed out that the UK continues to stifle the advancement and sustainability of the VI economy, instead of helping to advance it as a true partner should do.
He gave examples such as the holding up of the cannabis legislation, where the VI has already lost major investors, and the pressure on the territory to have public registers of beneficial ownership in financial services, knowing very well that this could be detrimental to the industry in the VI.
Dr Wheatley explained that the Virgin Islands has always been compliant with international regulations regarding financial services; however, the UK continues to harass the OTs to have public registers of beneficial ownership. This is even while the VI has introduced its own search mechanism known as the Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System (BOSS), which has proven to be efficient.
“They changed the goal post on you, we do whatever is required of us. And now we have this issue of open registers. This issue was not pushed by any international agency like the OECD or the Financial Action Task Force, any of these IMF. It was pushed by some backbenchers in the United Kingdom parliament who wanted to justify to their constituents in the United Kingdom why the UK had some financial challenges as a result of global economic crisis.”
Dr Wheatley said the UK politicians found a “nice issue” to be able to get some political mileage. He said the UK politicians blamed a shortfall in revenue on financial services.
“And we have a system called Beneficial Ownership Secure Search System (BOSS) and law enforcement agencies have the ability to find out the beneficial owners of any of the companies that are registered here in the Virgin Islands, and they have been making requests and those requests are being fulfilled within 24 to 48 hours.”
And, according to Dr Wheatley, now he is seeing a draft Order in Council, although he did not elaborate on it.
“This is what partners do? Can you impose a draft Order in Council on the United States? Would you impose it on the Republic of China? The only reason you can impose it on us is because we are a small colony of the United Kingdom, because we were once enslaved by the United Kingdom and we have a relationship with them, which is a colonial relationship.”
The United Kingdom, through its Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert, has often been accused of trying to bully the elected government of the Virgin Islands as well as the Legislature and has also been accused of trying to create division between the elected Government and the electorates.
The United Kingdom has been accused of continuing to neglect its Overseas Territories in the Caribbean, including the Virgin Islands.
Further, the United Kingdom has been accused of continuing to neglect its Overseas Territories in the Caribbean, including the Virgin Islands.
When the VI was devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, the UK instead of giving substantial financial aid as other countries such as France, Netherlands and the United States had done for its territories, the UK offered only a Loan Guarantee while refusing to adjust borrowing conditions as stipulated in the Protocols for Effective Financial Management, effectively tying the hands of the elected Government to seek substantial loans for recovery.
When the coronavirus pandemic began to affect employment in the Virgin Islands, the Government made a request for a grant to assist those affected. The UK callously; however, told the VI to use its own money first.
Dr Wheatley said he was thankful that the General Assembly of the United Nations has proclaimed 2020-2030 as the Fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.