It was agreed between colonial power the United Kingdom (UK) and the Virgin Islands (VI) that after every 10 years there will be a review of the VI Constitution.
The last review of the VI Constitution took place around 2006, leading to the Constitutional Order of 2007. That was some 15 years ago.
Word now reaching our news centre is that the Fahie-Administration has settled on Mrs Lisa Penn-Lettsome, a local attorney with over 26 years experience and the current Executive Director of International Business, to chair the committee.
Meanwhile, it’s also our understanding that attorney Janice A. Stoutt, the daughter of late legislator Prince Stoutt, has been appointed Deputy Chair. Both Penn-Lettsome and Ms Stoutt are indigenous Virgin Islanders.
Our news centre understands that the Opposition in the House of Assembly (HoA) were allowed to nominate three persons to the nine-member Committee. They recommended attorney Dr Benedicta P. T. Samuels; pastor of the Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church, Reverend Dr Melvin A. Turnbull Sr; and businessman and former political aspirant, Rajah A. Smith.
It is believed that other Members of the Committee include businessman Sendrick Chinnery of Jost van Dyke; Director of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) on Virgin Gorda, Dr Steve Lennard; attorney Maya M. Barry and businessman Egbert D. Wheatley of Anegada.
The political and social classes have been calling for independence from the UK; however, Premier Fahie has insisted it’s a matter for the people to decide.
Since the Territory came out of grant-in-aid in the 70s they have received little or nothing from the UK and, in fact, taxpayers have been burdened with paying the bills for the UK appointed Governor who represents Queen Elizabeth II.
The VI taxpayers shoulder the cost for the upkeep of Government House, the local staff, water, electricity, all parties and other social functions, along with ground transportation and provide a driver and security for the non-elected Governor among many other items. This is to the tune of millions of dollars yearly from the national budget.
After the two category five hurricanes of 2017, the UK provided a few items during the aftermath; however, used the opportunity to entrap the territory to access millions of pounds in loan guarantees. The terms and conditions of the loan guarantees were immediately rejected by the Minister of Finance Honourable Fahie, who took office in 2019.
Recently, the British donated some vaccines to the Territory after asking the Government to suspend its order via other Caribbean arrangements to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, allegedly based on reports, the colonial power encouraged by a former Governor, Augustus J. U. Jaspert, who many accused of being a racist because of his many public and private statements, have engaged in what many local and regional scholars labeled as ‘a modern day lynching’ by calling a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the VI.
Many regional Governments and International Organisations have blasted the CoI and questioned whether the UK has the moral and legal authority to lecture the VI on ‘good governance' and on the issue of alleged corruption.
A few years ago, the UK passed a Bill in Parliament to force the VI to open its financial services registry, a move to kill its financial services sector. The Sector brings in almost 60% of the VI’s revenue that keeps public officers hired, schools and hospitals open, the private sector paying taxes and supports many infrastructural projects.
It is believed that only about 50% of the population is pro-independence and the other half simply need to be educated on the benefits and risks and the meaning of self-determination, along with some residents lacking confidence in their own people and leaders.
It is unclear when the Constitutional Reform Committee will start the series of public meetings throughout the Territory to get feedback from residents on what they would like to see in a new constitution.
After the report is compiled, both the Cabinet and the HoA will have the final say on what goes to London. Once the report is approved, a new and separate team will be selected to negotiate with the British on the recommended changes to the constitution.
Meanwhile, our newsroom attempted to get comments from Premier Fahie, Opposition Leader Hon Marlon A. Penn (R8) and Mrs Penn-Lettsome; however, no responses were received up to publication time.