Dozens of activists from the British Virgin Islands staged a rally on Wednesday calling for the overseas territory to retain its autonomy, following a report by a commission of inquiry that it should be governed directly from London. The report came the day after former prime minister Andrew Fahie was arrested in Miami on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, which led to him being removed from office and replaced by his former deputy, Natalio Wheatley.
“The future of the Virgin Islands has always been and always will be in the hands of the people of the Virgin Islands,” said Art Christopher, 47, a restaurateur. “It is a long-term struggle in which we will engage.” The commission of inquiry found that millions of dollars of public funds were spent each year by politicians and ministries in the territory of 30,000 people without proper procedure, as well as serious dishonesty concerning the sale of public property and a widespread abuse of appointments.
Wheatley said the territory can resolve its issues without suspending the constitution and dissolving the assembly, as recommended by the commission’s report — which was independent of Fahie’s detention. Amanda Milling, a British MP and Minister of State for Asia and the Middle East who visited the territory to speak with local leaders last week, said governance needed to improve.
Wheatley’s cabinet submitted a plan to Milling on Wednesday that would implement recommendations made by the inquiry while maintaining local governance. These proposals include ensuring that officials do not simultaneously serve on more than one board of directors, as well as strengthening port security to reduce the flow of illegal drugs. “I hope that Minister Milling and the UK Government will give the proposal due consideration and not go down the road of direct authority,” Wheatley said in a speech streamed online.
The British Virgin Islands, for centuries the site of sugar cane plantations operated by slaves forcibly brought from Africa, gained autonomy from the UK in 1967 in its first election.
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