By Davion Smith, BVI News Staff
Premier Dr D Orlando Smith says he is banking on legal support to block the UK’s policy that is forcing the BVI to implement public registers of beneficial ownership by December 2020.
Though the policy officially became law yesterday (May 23), the Premier still maintains that the BVI will not comply unless public registers become a global standard.
The BVI, therefore, has less than two years to prove that the UK has no constitutional authority to dictate any of the territory’s financial services policies.
“If all else fails and we are not able to demonstrate that we have the constitutional rights to manage these affairs … then they (the UK) would have imposed an Order in Council,” said Premier Smith during a joint press conference with him and Opposition Leader Andrew Fahie on Wednesday, May 23.
Effectively, an Order in Council is a forceful command made in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. Failure to comply with that command can result in the UK exerting diplomatic pressure on the BVI.
Asked if the BVI would bend to the will of the UK if the British nation gives that order, the Premier replied: “They would have imposed an Order in Council. That’s all I can say at this point.”
Opposition Leader backs Premier
While backing the Premier’s position of non-compliance, Opposition Leader Fahie added that the BVI has contingency plans.
Fahie said, between now and 2020, the BVI will be employing fresh initiatives to keep the BVI economy afloat.
“There are aspects of the financial services that can be built upon to ‘drill new wells’ and get new water from. So I don’t want to have it seem as if this is the ‘end all’ and the ‘be all’. There are much more wells to drill and get water from than just waiting [to see] if this [Order in Council] is imposed on not imposed,” Fahie said.
In what resembled a tag team effort between the government leader and the Leader of Opposition, Premier Smith chimed in to give further detail on the BVI’s plan for the threatened financial services sector, which accounts for 60 percent of the territory’s annual revenue.
Dr Smith said if the BVI is eventually made to implement public registers, the territory might only “lose a certain percentage” of the sector. But, he assured that local financial services will never fully disappear.
The Premier then announced plans to expand other areas of the sector.
“And even as we are doing that, I can tell you, next week myself and some [members] of my team will be going to Asia — China — to show up our financial services sector in that part of the region because that is part of the world where BVI financial structures are used very regularly.”
“We are going there to carry the message that we are still in business, financial services will remain a strong part of the economy of the BVI, and we want to continue to work with you and we want you to continue to work with us,” Dr Smith said.
He said the BVI is also actively developing other local industries such as agriculture.
BVI will also be creating what Dr Smith described as economic zones to “encourage new kinds of industries to come into the country”.
What are public registers, what do they mean?
Imposing public registers is an amendment to the UK’s Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act. These registers mean the BVI and other Overseas Territories are required to publicise the names of beneficial owners of offshore companies registered in those jurisdictions.
Effectively, beneficial owners are persons who enjoy the benefits of ownership in a company even though the title of the company is in another person’s name.
Publicising the names of these beneficial owners could discourage them from doing business with the BVI as it relates to financial services.
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