Sitting government ministers have accused former governor, Augustus Jaspert of openly undermining their lawful authority outlined in the constitution. This, the government said, resulted in “controversy and distrust”.
Offering an example, the government said it took the view that disaster management should predominantly be the responsibility of government ministries since they were the ones involved in the planning of the territory’s disaster response.
The government said it sought appropriate legal advice which concluded there was no constitutional objection to such a change. The government, therefore, introduced the Disaster Management Act 2020 to place the overall responsibility for disaster management with a minister.
The former governor reportedly disagreed, arguing that although ministers must be and were involved, the governor should remain in overall charge. He reportedly invoked Section 60 of the constitution, arguing that the legislation affected internal security. Jaspert threatened to withhold assent.
In a position statement submitted to the Commission of Inquiry (COI), the government said it is essential to good governance that everyone, including the governor, adheres to the respective roles and responsibilities assigned in the 2007 Constitution.
However, the government submitted to the COI that it believes “there have been many instances of a failure by the previous governor to respect the standing and scope of authority of the elected institutions conferred by the Constitution, even to the extent of openly undermining them.”
Disrespect in Cabinet
The government pointed out that Section 49 of the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007 says the governor shall preside over Cabinet proceedings. The Constitution also says: “In the absence of the governor, there shall preside at any meeting of the Cabinet the Premier, or in his or her absence, the Deputy Premier.”
However, the government claims that “since the election of the government in February 2019, on each occasion on which the former governor was absent … he refused to allow the Premier to preside over a Cabinet meeting and purported to delegate that responsibility to the Deputy governor instead”.
This continuing refusal to recognise the specific rule set out in the Constitution has been a source of concern to the elected government, the ministers further told the COI.
The rift between the former governor and the Andrew Fahie-led administration escalated for months before a complaint was eventually lodged to the UK Minister responsible for Overseas Territories, Baroness Elizabeth Sugg.
According to the position statement, the Premier again wrote to Baroness Sugg in September 2020 requesting her intervention to resolve the dispute, but without success.
“If the UK government, and the former governor whom it has appointed, are unwilling, when it concerns the Overseas Territories, to adhere to the rule of law, it is reasonable to ask, what example does that set?” the government’s statement said.
The statement added that other contentious issues arose after the government’s instalment in February 2019. It said these issues can be characterised as a ‘turf war’ between the governor and the elected government.
The government said it wished to assume greater autonomous responsibility for the affairs of the BVI where the constitution permitted it, even if that meant a change in the status quo. However, the governor invariably resisted.
It added that sometimes those disputes, “regrettably”, sometimes became heated.
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