As he has done repeatedly in recent months, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley used a regional forum this week to again denounce the United Kingdom’s ongoing threat to implement temporary direct rule if the government doesn’t complete the reforms it promised after the Commission of Inquiry.
“As everyone is aware, the British Virgin Islands’ path to a general election was not easy,” Dr. Wheatley said during the opening ceremony of the 73rd Meeting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States in St. Kitts. “We faced very difficult and uncertain circumstances. While the democratic will of the people has been clearly expressed, we still face the threat of suspension of our Constitution that is hanging over our heads by the United Kingdom order in council held in reserve — and a potential attempt to seize more powers over the islands.”
The UK maintains that the order is necessary to ensure the completion of wide-ranging governance reforms that auditors and other watchdogs have recommended for decades with scant action from elected leaders in the VI.
But Dr. Wheatley has described it as a “blunt colonial instrument” that has “no place in democratic governance.”
As one of a handful of speakers during the opening ceremony for the OECS meeting held Sunday and Monday, he repeated such claims.
During his speech, Dr. Wheatley thanked the OECS, which has joined the Caribbean Community in calling for the UK to lift the order in council.
“I’m very conscious that I would not be here this afternoon as the newly elected premier without the unwavering support and intervention of the OECS,” Dr. Wheatley said, drawing applause. “I again want to thank the governments and people of the Eastern Caribbean for coming to our aid. You were there for us during our darkest hour and continue to make representation on our behalf at the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation in New York.”
Such efforts, he said, have helped to protect the “democratic rights” of the people of the VI.
Dr. Wheatley also welcomed the incoming OECS Authority chairman, St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Terrence Drew, and stressed the importance of OECS members supporting each other.
“The OECS is special because it brings together our government and people in a way that overcomes the political barriers created by the colonial experience,” he said.
Dr. Drew also spoke at the opening ceremony, sharing his strategic priorities for the OECS Authority. He touched on topics including the hurricane season, youth development, globalisation, inflation, infrastructure and sustainability.
“The new global digital economy is the market space that our young people will work in and use to expand our region’s economic border,” he said. “They must therefore be equipped to do so. Sports, the digital and orange economies, health, and tourism services are areas ripe for investments and involvement by this region’s highly talented young people.”
If the region doesn’t provide opportunities for the youth, he warned, it risks an “unprecedented brain drain.”
Dr. Drew also called for improving health care systems, ramping up security, preserving the environment, and transitioning to renewal energy across the region.
42 years of OECS
OECS Director General Dr. Didacus Jules also spoke, saying that the OECS come a long way in the past 42 years.
“The vision seeks to create a harmonious and resilient region that maximises its potential and safeguards the interests of its citizen,” he said. “This vision not only provides a clear direction for the organisation, but inspires member states to work together towards a common goal.”
Dr. Jules added that the OECS continues working to create a single economic space to enhance cooperation, trade and investment.
The VI is an associate member of the OECS, which is an international inter-governmental organisation dedicated to regional integration in the Eastern Caribbean. The OECS Authority is the organisation’s supreme policy-making body, controlling the performance and functions of the organisation, according to government.