The Whistleblower Act 2021 that passed through the House of Assembly (HOA) this month might be in danger of not receiving immediate assent from the governor who must approve all bills for them to become law.
The legislation seeks to allow individuals to disclose information about the corrupt practices of others once it is in the public’s interest. In addition to giving a reward to persons who make these disclosures, the bill would also provide for protection against the victimisation of whistleblowers.
But it remains to be seen whether the bill will be greeted with assent from Governor John Rankin, given his expressed reservation that the bill, as drafted initially, would undermine other established government roles.
The governor made the assertions after being invited to write to the Commission of Inquiry (COI), stating his position on good governance and how it is being applied in the BVI.
Legislation will undermine public officials
In his statement, Governor Rankin said the powers assigned to the Auditor General and the Complaints Commissioner provide strength to the BVI system of good governance and accountability.
He argued that further strengthening would be provided with both the Whistleblower legislation and the Integrity in Public Life legislation; adding that they are welcomed pieces of legislation, in principle.
However, he registered his strong concern that as initially drafted, “both these pieces of legislation would undermine or cut across the powers of the Auditor General, the Complaints Commissioner and indeed the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).”
According to the governor, such legislation risks weakening rather than strengthening good governance, if left unamended. Moreover, he said, the effectiveness of such legislation will ultimately depend on the extent to which it is properly implemented and enforced.
The governor did not mention what aspects of the legislation contravened the powers of the Auditor General, the Complaints Commissioner or the DPP.
Notably, however, the Whistleblower legislation was presented to the public for wider consultation and was given amendments before it passed in the House. It has not been said what those changes are.
This is not the first time the governor has threatened to withhold assent of a bill. In fact, the two bills were among several others Governor Rankin mentioned in his position statement as legislation that did not sit well with him, given their potential for breaching other already established conventions.
Is Contractor General legislation necessary?
The governor also took aim at the Contractor General legislation, describing it as being of “questionable necessity”.
At the time of stating his position to the COI, Rankin said: “At a minimum, it (the Contractor General bill) should be redrafted (a) to similarly avoid cutting across existing independent institutions and accountability mechanisms and (b) stipulate an appointment and removal system for the Contractor General which provides clear independence.”
The Contractor General legislation was also passed during the same sitting of the HOA.
Meanwhile, Governor Rankin is also not the first UK administrator to have withheld assent of bills that passed through the House.
The BVI previous governor, Augustus Jaspert, notoriously withheld assent for the heavily touted Cannabis Licensing Act months after its passage in the House. He cited a need for local officials to collaborate with the UK Home Office to bring the bill into effect.
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