Acting BVI Premier Urges Cooperation, Mutual Respect, to Address Leadership Crisis

In 2019 Natalio Wheatley was sworn in as BVI Deputy Premier, pictured here with Andrew Fahie and former Governor Augustus Jaspert. He also held the post of Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture. (Image from BVI Government House)

The British Virgin Islands officials who recently stepped into the territory’s leadership role called for better relationships with Great Britain in light of its current leadership crisis. Acting BVI Premier Natalio Wheatley spoke Tuesday at a public event that was more in line with his previous post as minister for education, culture and youth affairs.

Wheatley was chosen to lead in the place of BVI premier Andrew Fahie by members of the Congress of the Virgin Islands following Fahie’s April 29 arrest in Florida on drug-related charges. The vote taken on May 1 made Wheatley the political head of the BVI Congress, and with that also came the title of acting BVI premier.

At a track and field meet held Tuesday, the acting premier acknowledged that relationships between the territory and British authorities were strained. Wheatley said he hoped the current situation involving an apparent failure of leadership will lead to “greater engagement, greater understanding, (and) greater positive developments between the British Virgin Islands and the United Kingdom.”

The BVI is one of 14 British Overseas Territories worldwide, and since 2002 its citizens have held full British citizenship.

Shortly after Fahie’s arrest and that of BVI Port Director Oleanvine Pickering Maynard, the territory’s appointed governor released a report recommending that the territory’s constitution be suspended and that London take direct control.

That recommendation was based on the findings of an ongoing Commission of Inquiry, led by Governor John Rankin. The report examined the performance of the BVI government and instances of alleged corruption and was supposed to be released in June. But Rankin chose to make the findings public just after Fahie’s arrest.

Public protests over the recommendation erupted earlier this week. Leaders of other Caribbean asked British officials to avoid a BVI government takeover. But by Tuesday, Wheatley said constructive engagement over the territory’s shortcomings could produce a good result.

But with Rankin seated in the front row of the opening ceremony of the event called the Queen’s Baton, the acting premier called for mutual respect between the territory and its parent nation.

The Queen’s Baton is a qualifying event where local athletes compete for spots in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, being held from July 28 to Aug. 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 on now can propel us to a better and brighter future, and a relationship of mutual respect in which both parties can truly be proud of the relationship. I’m committed to this, I know the Virgin Islands community is committed to this, 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 perform in the role as BVI premier in order to administer the report’s recommendations. UK Minister for the Overseas Territories Amanda Milling issued a statement Wednesday about that report. Because Wheatley is currently serving in an acting role; an unconfirmed report says Congress party leaders are also seeking Fahie’s official resignation.