British Virgin Islands officials who recently assumed the territory’s leadership role have called for better relations with Britain in light of its current leadership crisis. BVI caretaker Prime Minister Natalio Wheatley spoke at a public event on Tuesday that was more in line with his previous post as Minister for Education, Culture and Youth.
Wheatley was chosen to lead in place of BVI Premier Andrew Fahie by members of Congress from the Virgin Islands after Fahie was arrested April 29 in Florida on drug-related charges. The May Day vote made Wheatley the political head of the BVI Congress, and with it also came the title of Acting Prime Minister of the BVI.
During an athletics meeting held on Tuesday, the interim prime minister acknowledged that relations between the territory and the British authorities were strained. Wheatley said he hoped the current situation involving an apparent leadership failure would lead to “greater engagement, greater understanding and (and) greater positive developments between the British Virgin Islands and the UK”.
The BVI is one of 14 British Overseas Territories in the world and since 2002 its citizens have held full British citizenship.
Shortly after Fahie’s arrest and that of BVI Port Manager Oleanvine Pickering Maynard, the territory’s appointed governor issued a report recommending that the territory’s constitution be suspended and London take direct control.
This recommendation was based on the findings of an ongoing commission of inquiry, headed by Governor John Rankin. The report examined the performance of the BVI government and instances of alleged corruption, and was due to be released in June. But Rankin chose to make the findings public right after Fahie’s arrest.
Public protests against the recommendation erupted earlier this week. Leaders in other Caribbean have asked British officials to avoid a government takeover of the BVIs. But on Tuesday, Wheatley said constructive engagement on the territory’s shortcomings could produce a good outcome.
But with Rankin sitting front row at the opening ceremony of the event called Queen’s Baton, the acting prime minister called for mutual respect between the territory and its parent nation.
The Queen’s Baton is a qualifying event where local athletes compete for places at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which will take place from July 28 to August 8 in Birmingham, England.
“And as we celebrate this year, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, we would like to see if the moment we are in now can propel us towards a better and brighter future, and a relationship of mutual respect in which both parties can really proud of the relationship. I’m committed to it, I know the Virgin Islands community is committed to it, and I know His Excellency the Governor is committed to this partnership,” Wheatley said.
According to a press report published in Jamaica, the commission of inquiry requires someone to serve as the prime minister of the BVI in order to administer the report’s recommendations. British Overseas Territories Minister Amanda Milling released a statement on Wednesday about this report. Because Wheatley is currently in an acting role; an unconfirmed report says Congress party leaders are also calling for Fahie’s formal resignation.