Lawmakers in The British Virgin Islands (BVI) have chosen a new premier to head up a unity government to fight off any plans by Britain to suspend the archipelago’s constitution in the wake of the arrest of former premier Andrew Fahie on suspected drug trafficking charges and a British-ordered study which has exposed poor governance practices and alleged widespread corruption.
Natalio Wheatley, former deputy prime minister was sworn in late Thursday after the local house of assembly had voted unanimously to approve a no confidence motion in disgraced former head of government, Fahie. They had asked Fahie to resign but he had not done so apparently before house took the vote.
Fahie, 51, along with ports authority head Oleanvine Maynard and her son, Kadeem, were nabbed by federal agents in Florida last week after a lengthy sting operation in which the ex-premier had allegedly promised to make the BVI a safe haven for Mexican drug cartel cocaine shipments. Fahie pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance on Wednesday and was released on bail.
Their arrest had prompted the early exposure of a commission of inquiry report on governance in the islands. It basically concluded that accountability systems had broken down while recommending that Britain suspends parts of the constitution dealing with internal self governance and revert to direct daily rule for two years.
To counter that recommendation, a number of small parties which were in government and legislators from the opposition have formed a unity government to show London that they are willing to tackle the governance issues as a collective. One lawmaker, Julian Fraser will remain on the opposition benches to help keep former colleagues in check.
Premier Wheatley told the house that Fahie had not resigned as requested, noting that “charges and the ongoing investigations and trial will undermine the international confidence and reputation of these Virgin Islands. He has not stepped down as premier and remains in custody outside the Virgin Islands and unavailable to perform his functions and lead the government,” the motion stated.
As the government got down to work on Friday, Governor John Rankin said that London had not as yet decided to act on the direct rule recommendation. Overseas Territories Minister Amanda Milling had returned home to brief foreign office officials in the coming days.
“Minister Milling made clear on her departure from here that she was here to listen and learn. Decisions have yet to be made on the final recommendation of the commission of inquiry report. But for the time being I acted in accordance with the constitution,” Rankin told BVI news. “I am looking forward to working with the new government.”