It is a difficult time in the British Virgin Islands.
As British Virgin Islands Prime Minister Andrew Fahie fights drug charges, Britain considers direct regime
A scathing commission of inquiry headed last month by a retired British judge found that “almost everywhere” in the territory “principles of good governance, such as openness, transparency and even the rule of law are ignored”. And Britain is seriously considering one of the commission’s key recommendations: temporarily suspend parts of the constitution and impose direct government from London.
The proposal has drawn opposition in the islands – a popular tourist destination and tax haven with turquoise waters and a reputation for financial secrecy – which has spilled over into the Caribbean, posing a tricky challenge for Britain amid growing recognition of colonialism.
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A The opposition leader called the proposal “fundamentally undemocratic”. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States said it was “misguided”. The Caribbean Community, the main regional bloc in the Caribbean, called it “retrograde”. The Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines reprimanded him as “ridiculous”.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who said the investigation showed “substantial legislative and constitutional change is needed”, dispatched Foreign Secretary Amanda Milling to the British Virgin Islands this week. She was met with protests.
Natalio Wheatley, the country’s new prime minister, told reporters their discussions were “constructive, but frank and open”. He acknowledged the “shortcomings” and “serious problems” highlighted by the inquiry, but said he did not believe direct rule was the solution.
He proposed a national unity government with members from all political parties to rule the territory of 30,000 people.
“To be clear, I see the implementation of the recommendations as a path towards realizing our national renewal,” he said. “But it can be done successfully without resorting to direct rule.”
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Milling said everyone she met agreed there had to be “meaningful changes”.
“Let’s be clear: the report highlighted significant concerns about corruption, transparency and accountability,” she said. “There is no escaping this. As many people have told me, it’s not about whether something needs to be done. It is a question of what is done.
The British Virgin Islands, located miles from its more populous American counterparts, is one of 14 British Overseas Territories. They have a Governor appointed by the Crown, who represents the Queen, and a National Assembly made up of elected politicians. Britain is responsible for defense and foreign policy. The assembly takes care of much of the rest.
The investigation was launched last year by a former governor of the British Virgin Islands amid allegations of political corruption. Sir Gary Hickinbottom’s over 900-page report found successive governments have been plagued by ‘alarming failings in governance’ which ‘have been positively endorsed and even encouraged’.
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One of his main recommendations — made with a “heavy heart” — was to partially suspend the islands’ constitution and impose a direct regime where the governor would temporarily assume the executive powers of the elected officials with the help of an advisory council composed, in part, of civil servants from the territory.
The proposal comes amid a reckoning with the legacy of British colonialism, spurred in part by the Black Lives Matter movement and a scandal over Britain’s treatment of the Windrush generation. It stoked long-simmering Republican sentiment in parts of the Caribbean calling for reparations for slavery.
Last year, Barbados rejected the Queen as head of state and became a republic. During a sometimes turbulent royal visit this year, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Prince William and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, that he was “moving on”, although it was not not yet.
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The last British overseas territory to come under direct rule was the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009, after a commission of inquiry found a “high likelihood of systemic corruption in government”.
Then, as now, the decision was met with opposition. Then Prime Minister Galmo Williams accused the country of being “invaded and recolonised” by Britain.
But today’s broader appreciation of the sins of the British Empire adds a new complexity to the decision.
“I think that’s an important subtext,” said Peter Clegg, professor of politics and international relations at the University of the West of England in Bristol. “The UK might think twice before stepping in, and even 15 years ago it was certainly a decision not taken lightly.”
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British Virgin Islands Governor John Rankin released the inquiry report in late April ahead of its scheduled release in June. He said it was in the ‘overwhelming public interest’ and hoped it would quell speculation he was linked to the arrest of then Prime Minister Andrew Fahie on charges of trafficking conspiracy drugs and money laundering.
The director of the territory’s ports was also charged.
Federal prosecutors allege that a DEA A source posing as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel met with the director to discuss trafficking thousands of pounds of cocaine through the islands to the United States.
Fahie’s attorney said he plans to plead not guilty, the Associated Press reported. He also claimed immunity as head of government. The director of ports invoked her right to silence. Their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The affidavit alleges the ports manager told the source that Fahie would likely join, saying, “He’s a petty crook sometimes.”
He alleges that Fahie, who on more than one occasion sought to ensure that the alleged drug dealer was not an informant or a cop, agreed to help obtain the required licenses and to hide the boats filled with cocaine in exchange for 12% of the total value of sales in the United States.
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Fahie was arrested in Miami aboard a private jet after inspecting the $700,000 down payment, stuffed into designer bags, that he had been promised. He received $500,000 bond this week.
The affidavit alleges that during one of the cases, Fahie was “temperamental,” the informant reassured him by saying, “Well, first of all, you don’t touch anything.
“I will get one thing: the money,” Fahie reportedly replied.