Shaken to the core by last week’s arrest of Premier Andrew Fahie on alleged drug trafficking charges in Florida, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) Tuesday sought to move on to a new era, appointing Deputy Premier Natalio Wheatley to act and replace the disgraced former head of government.
His arrest along with Port Authority Head Oleanvine Maynard and her son Kadeem, followed a months long undercover federal operation to stem plans by senior government officials to allegedly set up some of the archipelago’s islands as transshipment points for cocaine shipments to the US. The local cabinet has already asked Fahie to formally resign to make way for Wheatley and to allow for continuity in administrative affairs.
Fahie, 51 is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday but his legal team dropped a judicial bombshell this week, filing documents pleading diplomatic immunity for Fahie and contending that he cannot be charged for any offense as he was on official duties in the US.
In the filing, his attorneys stated that “his invocation of all rights of and to immunity under international and domestic law, as the duly elected and sitting head of government of the Virgin Islands, a British Overseas Territory, including but not limited to immunity from arrest and detention, entitling him to immediate and unconditional release from detention,” the document stated.
His arrest along with the two others triggered the early release into a British government-ordered report into governance and alleged widespread corruption in the BVI. One point in the report stated that the 35,000 people in the BVI had been “very badly served” by their elected government as it noted “appalling failures” in systems. The report recommended direct rule from London for two years then fresh elections to pick a new administration.
More than a decade ago, similar complaints about maladministration and the illegal sale of crown lands to enrich the political class had led to the suspension of the constitution in the nearby Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) also a British colony in the region along with Bermuda, The Cayman Islands and Montserrat. Premier Mike Misick was arrested in Brazil and returned to the TCI to face corruption charges. The BVI is an associate member of CARICOM.
But opposition to the move is beginning to simmer and daily protest actions are being are being led by acting Premier Natalio Wheatley. He described the move as appalling.
“We have the strong belief that the people of the Virgin Islands are capable of working collaboratively with the United Kingdom to implement agreed recommendations of the inquiry report,” Wheatley said in a social media posting at the weekend. “We are preparing proposals towards this end. The report makes a number of recommendations aimed at reforming and strengthening the systems of government in the Virgin Islands. In my view, this can be achieved without the partial or full suspension of the constitution in which direct rule would apply.”
On Monday, dozens of protestors took to the streets in Tortola to protest the recommendation to suspend the constitution and impose direct daily rule from London. Those included several cabinet ministers, religious leaders and activists.
Local Bishop John Cline said opposition to British direct rule will continue because “they want to tell us that we are not capable and that we do not have the necessary competency to run our country. We are saying that we will not surrender our rights,” Cline told a rally.
London has already flown Overseas Minister Amanda Milling to the country to investigate the latest developments as several town hall meetings to review the latest issues have sprung up, most protesting against any imposition of direct British rule.