Below is a July 26 statement from Premier Andrew Fahie on Cabinet’s decision to hire up to nine political advisers to support government ministers.
Good day and God’s Blessings to all Virgin Islanders and residents.
I wish to set the record straight on some misinformation that is being intentionally promoted by Members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition with respect to the recent Cabinet Decision – No. 281/2021 of 8 July, 2021 – to create the post of Ministerial Political Adviser to provide specialist support to Ministers and Junior Ministers to assist them in delivering the mandate for which they were elected and sworn in as Government to perform.
Before I go into the depths of that matter, it is important for you (1) to be made aware of some background information, (2) to refresh your minds of certain things that happened in the past that cause us to be where we are now, and (3) to explain the concept and the background behind the direction we are trying to take as your Government.
It pains my heart to go into these areas at this time knowing that we are: (1) battling an unfavourable loan guarantee offer negotiated by the last Government that will result in less self-autonomy for our people; (2) seeking to secure funding necessary for recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria; (3) allocating funds to fight this global pandemic – the worst pandemic in the world in over 100 years; and (4) in the thralls of an unstructured and untenable Commission of Inquiry which amounts to a 71 year audit of us in the Virgin Islands and to which each and every public servant – regardless of their having to deal with the demands of COVID-19 and their regular tasks of running the Government services – is actively engaged in securing documents spanning the life of almost all Administrations.
For the record, your Government believes in a transparent Commission of Inquiry that will lead to a just outcome as this can only make the BVI better.
In addition, we are dealing with the current spike in COVID-19 cases in the BVI, and we are glad to know that the measures your Government has put in place are yielding success in reducing the number of active positive cases and significantly increasing the number of persons now being vaccinated. To GOD alone be all the glory.
I must take this time to thank our health team, public officers, private donors and all our volunteers.
Let me now state clearly that your Government has recently approved the process and funding for the job reclassification and salary review exercise for the public service that is currently ongoing.
This has been lingering for many years, for which the Members of the Opposition who were then in the Government ignored the cries of our public officers for better working conditions, clearer job descriptions and improved salaries.
In simple words, they did nothing to assist our public officers while they were in Government spending your money callously, including $7.2 million in airplanes that to date the only thing that has flown is your money. Now they are coming to you as though they are paragons of virtue.
There are many other areas where they wasted your money and have refused to account for it to date, but now is not the time to go any further into that.
Let me clarify that the elected officials do not control the public service in respect of hiring, discipline and other areas. This is solely the Constitutional remit of the Governor and by extension the Deputy Governor.
However, the elected Government has the authority through Cabinet and the Ministry of Finance to approve the exercise for the job reclassification and salary review for the public service, and the required funding.
The current Cabinet used its authority to do this. The question is why the Leader of the Opposition did not use his authority while he was in Cabinet to advance this exercise that would improve the working conditions and salaries and benefits for our public officers.
Now he is telling the public officers he loves them and he cares for them. This is indeed a paradox.
In the middle of the worst pandemic in over 100 years, your present Government has decided that there will be no excuse to prevent us from ensuring that our public officers are treated justly. And in spite of all the criticisms, we have pushed forward with this exercise and we are awaiting the findings and recommendations of this exercise from the Governor through the Deputy Governor so that the next stage of the implementation can proceed.
Your Government takes the responsibilities that you the people of the Virgin Islands have entrusted to us very seriously. And this is why upon taking office your present Government approved the funds to pay the 2016 outstanding increments that were due to all public officers so that they could receive the money that was justly due to them for which they had been pleading for some time.
Recently, the Ministry of Finance has been instructed to pay the 2017 increments that are outstanding, which should be received by all public officers within the next few months.
All these areas of concerns were ignored by the Opposition Members who, in most parts, were Members of the past Government for many years. Now they are telling the public officers that they love them and they care for them. This is indeed a paradox.
Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, our public officers were working in deplorable conditions in the now re-named Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Complex. A comfortable and safe working environment is essential for workers’ wellbeing and performance.
Noting this, your Government commenced the rehabilitation of the Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Complex. This obviously was not important to the now Leader of the Opposition when he was in the last Government, as the building was left to deteriorate for two years after Irma and Maria under his watch. Now he is telling the public officers he loves them and he cares for them. This is indeed a paradox.
Now your present Government is making progress for the people.
Speaking of progress, the Minister of Education is working ardently to push forward with the erection of buildings on the Elmore Stoutt High School campus to house the junior school that is currently operating from the CTL building in Pasea. This project should be completed around April 2022.
Finally, our children and teachers will be in a more conducive learning environment.
This obviously was not important to the now Leader of the Opposition when he was in the last Government. Now he is telling the students, teachers and parents that he loves them and he cares for them. This is indeed a paradox.
My people of the Virgin Islands they want us to pay no mind to the fact that significant resources that were geared to completing certain programmes and projects had to be repurposed over the last 18 months in order for us to try to contain and effectively manage the worst pandemic in over 100 years. While doing this we were able to keep all public officers employed and Government services running.
And might I add that it was this Government that completed the work on the e-Government suite of legislation, took them to Cabinet, passed them, took them to the House of Assembly and ensured their passage, and now they are being implemented – making it easier for our citizens from all our Virgin Islands – Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, and all the others, and any other part of the world, to remain in their homes and be able to do their business with the Government of the Virgin Islands remotely.
We have done the same with the Consumer Protection legislation and this is now being implemented to serve as a protection for the people of the Virgin Islands, especially during hurricanes and pandemics.
I also need to further add that this Government has restarted the Scholarships Abroad programme that was left dormant since Irma and Maria. This has allowed scores of our young people to further their tertiary education so that they can return to the BVI and strengthen our human capital and our Virgin Islands economy.
Let us also be reminded of the many water issues that were plaguing our communities across our islands for years. While we still have some way to go, we have made substantial progress. Many persons are now getting their water supply being connected and meters installed. This is so even for most of our community centres, especially in North Sound, that have also been repaired and can now be used as shelters once again.
Let us also not forget that this Government implemented the work permit online system, making it easier for persons and employers to submit their work permit application without having to travel to Road Town and to sit and wait, which is time consuming and a loss of revenue for their businesses.
It is clear that the reason all these initiatives – and many more that I need not mention at this time, which would have made life easier for the people of the Virgin Islands and for the Government to function more efficiently – were not completed by the Leader of the Opposition and his Administration, was because of the same thing that he is doing now, which is majoring in the minor.
And while we acknowledge the private sector suffered the brunt of the ongoing COVID-19 financial storm, your Government tried to assist them and other entities such as our private schools, churches, daycares, taxi operators, traffic wardens, farmers, fisherfolk, and many others – as well as helping persons with income and unempoyment relief and settling years of outstanding monies owed by the Government to the NHI, all through a one-time grant of $40 million from the BVI Social Security Board for which all of this money is accounted.
However, the Leader of the Opposition conveniently neglects to remind the people that a significant portion of that $40 million that could have gone to assist more people in need, went directly to pay outstanding monies that was owed to NHI by the Government of the Virgin Islands – a debt that was incurred and left by the Leader of the Opposition and his Administration where he was at one time the Minister of Health and made no effort to clear this outstanding debt to NHI of over $7 million, nor did he make any noticeable effort during his tenure as Minister of Health to improve the healthcare system. As a result the NHI has never really caught itself and has always been left to play catch-up.
Now he is telling everyone he loves them and he cares for them. This is indeed a paradox.
The general public of the Virgin Islands would remember the little or no help received after Irma from the Leader of the Opposition and his Government. Hence, you would understand why he is now trying to change the narrative in an attempt to try to score political points due to him and his Administration’s dismal record of leadership.
Again, I hate to recall some of this history at such a vulnerable and challenging time in the Virgin Islands, but it is necessary to put in context and to clearly highlight the duplicitous nature of some of the Members of the Opposition who were heavyweights in the last Government.
Their non-action while they were in the past Government has led to the present Government having to clean up a lot of matters, especially financial matters, while trying to finally diversify and expand our economy, while balancing lives and livelihoods with limited resources, high demand and during the worst pandemic in over 100 years.
Many persons in the Virgin Islands have stated to all Government and House of Assembly Members that now is a time for us to unite, and your Government agrees. However, what is appalling to many, is that it is clear that there are Opposition Members, and some of their close key supporters and some of their agents, who have one main objective, especially in the middle of the worst pandemic in over 100 years, which is to try to win the next election at all cost, and to try to do that by:
- Trying to frustrate everything the Government does under the cloak that they are seeking transparency and accountability; but rather they are up to their usual mischief, seeking to gain the popularity of the population through misinformation and innuendoes, hoping that this would deter the Government from achieving what the people elected us to do.
- Trying to scandalise everything the Government does in an attempt to cast the Government in a bad light in the eyes of the public. And,
- Playing on the vulnerability of persons during these difficult times with the intent to try to incite the people to turn against their Government and make them believe that COVID-19 and its challenges are only happening in the BVI and not the rest of the world.
That is what their mission is, pure and simple, and with every issue and every statement.
Hence this Government is left with no other alternative but to defend its good name and its hard work and achievements for the people of the Virgin Islands.
Thus far, in the middle of this worst pandemic in over 100 years, we have not seen nor heard from some Opposition Members encouraging the people of the Virgin Islands to take the best line of defence currently available against COVID-19, which is the vaccine. And for those who have done so, they have done it in a most dismal and unengaging manner.
While your Government was trying to save lives with vaccines over the last few months, they and some of their agents and some of their key supporters were trying to convince the public that your Government was fear-mongering.
We thank them for their efforts now in trying to convince our people to be vaccinated, but the question is, why was this not a high priority of most of the Opposition Members before?
The answer is simple. Many people in the Virgin Islands in the beginning were against the vaccine. So those Opposition Members took the safe and seemingly popular route of siding with what they perceived to be the majority at that time or to stay quiet.
Some of them and some of their key supporters who were encouraging persons not to take the vaccine, went like Nicodemus in the night, got themselves vaccinated, and still continued their campaign of misinformation and discouraging people from becoming vaccinated – and have succeeded to some extent – while secretly taking the vaccine to protect themselves and their families.
While this is not a tit-for-tat, now is the time to highlight that leadership is doing what is right for the people at all times and not when it is politically convenient, or when it seems like there are easy political points to be scored – because lives depend on leadership that is genuine.
Now I turn my attention to this long overdue matter of assistance to Ministers and Junior Ministers in carrying out their Ministerial functions.
This matter has been tossed around by Governments for the last 20 years and has been further compounded since the addition of Junior Ministers in the new Constitution of 2007, as it is one of great concern to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the elected Government.
The expectations from Ministers and Junior Ministers have significantly increased over the years, but the resources that should be available to Ministers and Junior Ministers has been allowed to be depleted, where it is clear now that the public service has institutional capacity issues.
Your Government will continue to work with the Governor and Deputy Governor to transform the public service into a more modern, efficient and effective public service to make improvements in this area.
I take this time to commend our existing hard working and dedicated public officers but it is clear that the concerns surrounding the lack of institutional capacity that has been allowed to dominate the public service over the past several years is taking a toll on them.
Clearly, again, the transformation of the public service was also not a priority then. But for your present Government, this is a priority.
Every four years, the people elect a Government and their complaint is always the same that more often than not, the promises made in the manifestos do not come into being. And often, a lot of blame gets thrown around.
And yes, to some extent, Ministers and Governments can be blamed for lacking political will to take on tough challenges. And sometimes they can be blamed for losing focus or changing focus.
But one integral part of the problem that does not get the attention it deserves is the system.
And this is not in any way directed to any of our hard working public officers.
I am speaking about some of the bureaucratic structures that slow down the pace of delivery.
As your present Premier, I cannot speak for any of my predecessors or any past Government or Governor. It is for them to explain why when systemic problems were detected they did not fix them, but opted to kick the can down the road for someone else to deal with while those problems festered to the detriment of the people.
Immediately on taking office in March 2019, your Government recognised – which I also verbalised – that there are certain changes that must be made in the way the public service and the Government system work for any Government you elect to deliver the expectations of the people.
Many of you would remember that shortly after Ministers were sworn into office, we held a thanksgiving service at the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park on 6th March, 2019, at which event I spoke about strengthening the policy capabilities of the Government.
I stated then:
“Proper development will not be guaranteed by ad hoc policies and arrangements nor attempting quick-fix legislation. It is important that we get a functioning policy unit in place with some urgency. It is an important mechanism to ensure that the renewal that the people voted for and expect shall take place.”
This is about strengthening the structures in how the Government develops and implements policies. And, again, this is not any put-down of our public officers. Our public officers have been working hard and are overworked in a deficient, inefficient, frustrating system, that has long been outdated and that is direly in need of reform and restructuring, which we are working on at present in conjunction with the Deputy Governor’s Office.
You would recall that recently, I disclosed that the long-overdue job reclassification and salary review exercise for the public service has begun and is in progress with collaboration between the Government and the Deputy Governor’s Office, which is directing the exercise.
Your Government remains resolute that public officers must be paid their true worth. And we are not passing the hot potato with this. We are not kicking the can down the road any longer. This Government is dealing with the issue.
And we are doing the job reclassification and salary review exercise even as the records show that there are persons who are criticising us for undertaking this exercise at this time, saying that our timing is off. And again I ask you my people, when will the timing be right to do what is right? When will the timing be correct to do what is correct? When will the timing be right to do what is needed? The answer is NOW!
So, the job reclassification and salary review for public officers is in progress.
Also in progress is the Transformation of the Public Service. And you can appreciate that these two exercises are linked.
But while one of the outcomes will be better terms and conditions for public officers and salary increases, another outcome will be the restructuring and redesign of how many aspects of the public service function to deliver efficiency, effectiveness, value for money and Good Governance.
The establishment of a Policy Unit remains a priority, but we are in the ongoing process of the Public Service Transformation Exercise. And it would be poor logic to create permanent positions for a Policy Unit with terms and conditions fixed, only to come shortly after when the Transformation exercise is done and have to try and align those terms and conditions with whatever new salary structures, organisational charts and procedures are decided at the end of the Transformation exercise.
But these initiatives will strengthen only part of the policy making process.
There is another part of the process that public services are not allowed to get into because that is how the public service is set up.
And this is where the Ministerial Adviser comes in, to address that dimension of the policy process that is outside the scope of the public service but within the scope of the public’s legitimate expectations.
And, may I say, as we continue building the resource capabilities of the Government and all the dimensions of the policy process, this should lead to taxpayers getting better value for money from their Government.
In the past and presently, where there are areas that the public service does not have the capacity to address or where public officers cannot go into, the practice is to engage consultants who are paid from the annual Budget allocations for consultancies.
However, engagement of consultants can be a time consuming task, and it is often an issue that is politicised, scandalised and sensationalised, even though it is routine and necessary.
And this is not a situation that is unique to the present Government, but one that past Governments have had to grapple with and which, if not adequately addressed, will continue to plague the effectiveness of future Governments.
Since your current Government took office in March 2019, we have encountered certain problems with pushing forward the mandate for which we were elected. These problems are not unique to this Administration. They are issues that also hampered past Governments.
And this is not due to any question of the abilities or dedication of our public officers, but rather a number of limitations that have affected the entire system of Government over years.
In a number of initiatives, and for varying reasons, Governments have resorted to the engagement of consultants using the annual budgetary allocations for this purpose. In essence, the consultants would bring to the table some expertise, ability, experience, knowledge or other skill that is needed to add to what is available in the public service so that we can get the job done and be accountable and transparent while doing it.
In order to make it easier for Ministers to access this kind of resource in a timely fashion so that they can press forward with their mandate, it was felt that an efficient option would be to designate the role of the Ministerial Political Adviser as a category of consultant and that the advisers would be paid from the allocations for consultancies as is customarily the case when these services are sourced.
This is similar in nature to how this issue is handled by the UK Government system.
Ministerial Advisers or Ministerial Aides are not uncommon in Government systems around the world – and that also includes the United Kingdom, from where we have sourced a model for the role and adapted it to the needs of the Virgin Islands.
As I said, the history in the Virgin Islands is that Ministers and Ministries have always needed expertise that are outside of the resource capabilities of the Public Service, and for work, the nature of which is outside the limitations of the Public Service Regulations – but necessary to get the job done. And this expertise is most often sourced through the engagement of consultants – for which each Ministry has long been allocated a budget annually.
So, my first point to you is that this is not a new expense being created. All we have done is to give the role a title, streamline the terms and conditions of engagement, and in the interest of Good Governance, we have created some checks and balances so that neither the Ministers nor the advisers can abuse the post. That is all that we have done. We have merely put some structure and controls on an age-old practice.
There is nothing arbitrary in terms of what these advisers will be paid to do, or what they will be doing. There are approved job descriptions and there are salary caps. And as I mentioned there are checks and balances which I will explain shortly.
In the first instance, in order for an Adviser to be engaged they must have either a Master’s level degree with five years of experience, or a Bachelor degree and ten years of progressive experience in relevant planning, management and/or analytical positions, among other professional areas.
We have followed the model of the UK where the Adviser is selected by the Minister based on the area of need the Minister may identify. Since the Minister’s goal is to implement the political mandate approved by the electorate in the elections, it is important that the incumbent is someone who is able to further that official mandate, and this is why even in the UK system the selection is done by the Minister.
The word “political” in the job title simply reflects that the adviser is selected by the Minister and is not a public officer engaged by the Public Service Commission.
I must say here that the original job title and terms and conditions proposed by the Premier’s Office were different and more conservative than what was eventually approved by Cabinet. This was because the role was conceived as research and policy based – which still remains the core of its main focus.
Simply put – this role is not about hiring friends and family as was the norm under the past administration of the Leader of the Opposition.
Recommendations were received from the Deputy Governor’s Office (DGO), reinforced by correspondence from the Governor, as to what they recommend the job title should be and what should be the terms and conditions for the role.
The DGO agreed with the need for the role of the Ministerial Political Adviser.
All the recommendations of the DGO and the Governor were accepted by the Premier’s Office and it was only after the satisfaction of the DGO and the Governor were achieved that the matter was carried to Cabinet.
It is clear that this initiative was not one that was just pulled out of a hat.
As I said, the UK model has been used as a guide for the terms of reference but there are certain features that occur in the UK system that we have chosen NOT to adopt for the BVI.
In the UK system, the Ministerial Advisor also works at a political level in the Minister’s constituency and works closely with the Minister’s political party. The UK adviser can even function as a lobbyist of sorts between persons and supporters in the party and the UK Government.
I can assure you that from the inception, the Premier’s Office has been clear that the Adviser will NOT be working with or alongside any political party or engaged in any lobbying as is done in the UK. We have put this into the terms and conditions of the contract.
The adviser’s role in the BVI is strictly research, policy analysis and to assist the Minister with certain aspects of communications messaging, among other areas.
In the UK system, the Adviser can instruct or override public officers. But, in the BVI system, the Adviser CANNOT instruct nor override public officers.
The Adviser will conduct research and policy analysis and deliver advice to the Minister on whatever subject the Minister instructs. Where it is necessary for the Adviser to interface with the public service, this will be done through the Permanent Secretary, as recommended by the Deputy Governor’s Office.
It is also important to note that the Adviser is NOT going to be duplicating the job of any public officer.
Under the Public Service Regulations, public officers are prevented from considering certain factors when analysing research and designing policy. But those factors are part of the real-world operating environment. And that is why we sometimes have a disconnect between what the public officer is able to do, and what the Minister and the Government is trying to achieve for the people based on the mandate given by the people.
This is where the Ministerial Adviser role comes in, to incorporate those dimensions that the public officers are not allowed to go into.
The areas that the Adviser will provide support to the Minister include, but are not limited to:
- coordinating materials for briefings and submissions by reviewing, analysing and coordinating briefing materials, notes, background material, speeches, Ministerial correspondence, submissions, and other information submitted to the Minister and provide feedback to the Minister;
- reviewing papers, proposals and other subject matter going to the Minister, drawing attention to any political considerations that the Minister should take into account in his/her decision making, and
- liaising and consulting with relevant stakeholders, to obtain information, to seek advice and to assist the Minister.
Even though in our BVI system, the Adviser will NOT be performing the political functions as they do in the UK system and will not be working closely with the political party or getting involved in lobbying as they do in the UK system, we have adopted – more or less wholesale – the Code of Conduct that applies to the UK Ministerial Aides.
And we have done this to provide an extra layer of confidence that despite the name of the job title, the Advisor is NOT engaging in any party political activities, NOT using public resources for party political work, and NOT engaged in any activity that poses a conflict of interest.
The Advisor must also not act adversely to any Public Service Laws, Regulations and Policies, and must not ask public officers to do anything which is inconsistent with their obligations under the Public Service Code.
We have also established an Integrity Committee for Ministerial Political Advisers to enforce the Code of Conduct, and this Committee comprises the Permanent Secretary in the Premier’s Office as Chair; the Permanent Secretary in the Deputy Governor’s Office; and one of the four other Permanent Secretaries in rotation each year.
Advisers are required to declare any private interests that they may hold in any matter that may be deemed relevant to their work upon assumption of duties and periodically as circumstances may require. This disclosure shall be made in writing to the appointing Minister and copied to the Permanent Secretary in the Premier’s Office as Chair of the Integrity Committee for Ministerial Political Advisers.
As I have already stated, this role does NOT create any new expense for the Government or taxpayers because we are simply putting structure to an existing practice and utilising the funds already allocated to the Ministries for engaging consultants.
But, further to this, the amount that will be paid in remuneration is NOT the $1.35 million that the Opposition is throwing around.
Cabinet approved a maximum of three advisers to the Premier and a maximum of one for all other Ministers and Junior Ministers. The Premier or any of the Ministers are NOT obligated to utilise this post or the maximum allowed.
The remuneration are in two bands; (1) for the Adviser to the Premier, the remuneration range is between $79,440 and $120,000 per annum; and (2) for the Adviser to the other Ministers and Junior Ministers, the remuneration range is $60,408 to $84,408 per annum.
So, if the Premier and the Ministers and Junior Minsters engage the maximum allowed number of advisers, the total amount to be paid across all Ministers will be between $600,768 on the low side to no more than $866,448. These are the facts.
There is nothing else to add on to this figure because the advisers are not entitled to any other benefits. The advisers are not entitled to vacation leave, sick leave, overtime, gratuity, phone allowance, travelling allowance, vehicle allowance, meal allowance or any other benefits.
So, clearly, we are not near the base total of $1.08 million that the Opposition is peddling, and definitely a long way from the $1.35 million they are throwing around, which they have inflated with false and sensational assumptions about non-existent benefits.
I must say that the modus operandi of this Opposition, as they always do when they spew sensationalised misinformation, is to say they do not have access to the information.
Well, the responsible thing to do before making statements is to first get the correct information. And there are legitimate avenues for the Opposition to get accurate information. The Opposition can ask questions in the House of Assembly – which they are accustomed to doing, and which this Government has been diligent in answering.
But doing the right and responsible thing is not in the interest of this Opposition, because that will not incite and rile up the population in the way that they want to do.
As a matter of fact, this initiative and policy will benefit all successive Governments to become more efficient and effective in the delivery of the mandate that the people have given them.
It is our optimism that with a cadre of qualified, experienced and skilled persons – holding Master’s level degrees and five years of experience – or higher, or Bachelor degrees and ten years of progressive experience in relevant planning, management and/or analytical positions among other areas, working in a coordinated way with the other resources available to the Ministers, we can deliver the pledges and the quality of Government that citizens expect and deserve; rapidly position the Virgin Islands to become a leading regional economy; and ensure that we create the opportunities for Virgin Islanders and residents to prosper.
Your Government will continue to work with the Deputy Governor’s Office to push forward the job reclassification and salary review for the public service. We will continue pushing forward with the Transformation of the Public Service. And we are committed to strengthening the capabilities of the Government through the establishment of a Policy Unit in due course.
These are the facts and they will withstand the test of time from the political mischief and misinformation.
I thank you and may God continue to bless, protect and prosper our beloved Virgin Islands and our people, as we continue our 21 days of Prayer and Fasting.
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