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BVI Constitutional Talks Nearing End

by Robin Pilgrim,, London

30 October 2006

BVI leader Dr Orlando Smith headed up the BVI's Constitutional Negotiating Team as a third round of negotiations began with the United Kingdom, over recommended changes for a new BVI Constitution last Friday.

Two earlier rounds in March and June resulted in considerable progress on the role of the Governor, introduction of a cabinet system of government, the public service, and the creation of a sixth ministry; but some issues remained. The third round of negotiations is expected to be the last round before the Chief Minister and members of the BVI Constitutional Negotiating Team meet with Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Lord David Triesman to consider the proposed amendments.

Negotiation points between the BVI and UK negotiating teams are based on a detailed report that was produced by the Virgin Islands Constitutional Commission, which was appointed by the Chief Minister in April 2004 to conduct a year-long review of the Territory’s constitution, in consultation with the public, and submit recommendations for its improvement.

The Report from the Virgin Islands Constitutional Commission, which was made public in November, 2005, concluded that the establishment of a cabinet would “demonstrate the UK’s commitment to fulfilling the mandate of providing an effective transition to self-determination if and when the people of the Virgin Islands, by referendum, should so decide”.

The Commissioners proposed that under such a system, the cabinet would consist of a Chief Minister acting as a chairman and up to five other ministers. These ministers would become the principal policy-making body for the BVI and their remit would extend to all areas of governmental decision-making except those retained by the Governor, who, along with the Attorney General, would be a non-voting member of the cabinet.

The Governor would also have the power to defer the consideration of any matters that he believed may infringe on the exercise of his areas of special responsibility or be prejudicial to the Government of the United Kingdom.

The Commission, which was chaired by Gerard Farara QC, was required to report on several aspects of the BVI's constitutional make-up, including: the duties of the attorney general; the definition of belonger status; the legitimate rights of indigenous people of the BVI; the efficiency and productivity of the government; the need for a human rights chapter in the constitution; the reserve powers of the governor; and Executive Council functions.

According to BVI Governor Thomas Macan at the time, the public had expressed overwhelming support for the maintenance of the jurisdiction’s status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

"The preference...would seem to be for a continuation of a sharing of responsibilities between the government of the Virgin Islands and the government of the United Kingdom," Mr Macan stated.

"That sharing must be on terms which are agreeable to both parties, where the risks and liabilities which each bears are acceptable to each party," he added.

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