Although many see the BVI as not having much power without the United Kingdom (UK), former Executive Director of BVI Finance, Lorna Smith said persons shouldn’t underestimate Virgin Islanders’ ability to successfully represent and negotiate opportunities that advance the territory.
Smith was speaking at a recent panel discussion on diplomacy that the BVI London Office held to mark 20 years of operation in the UK. She said Virgin Islanders are trailblazers who have used diplomacy to better the territory and even secured opportunities for other overseas territories in the Caribbean.
As an example, Smith said it was the BVI’s efforts to become associate members of CARICOM and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) that created the pathway for Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos to join these bodies as well.
She said the negotiation to join the two regional bodies was completed solely by Virgin Islanders. Once they completed the rigorous process, the UK gave an official “sign-off” but had only one request:
“We were very capable of negotiating on our own but the UK got involved because we couldn’t sign treaties and so on without the UK’s agreement. The one thing they insisted on was that the rest of the overseas territories — Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos — also become associate members,” Smith said with a smile.
She added: “We were quite pleased to be trailblazers in getting these other countries associate membership. There is that level of maturity.”
Smith said that those successful negotiations led the United Kingdom to devolve more responsibilities to elected leaders, especially where diplomatic relations with the neighbouring US Virgin Islands (USVI) and financial services are concerned.
“In section 64 of the constitution, you will see that there are certain areas that are delegated by the Governor to the Premier and that includes regional relations including the USVI and financial services. We negotiated that in 2006 because we wanted it to be spelt out so that there would not be any misunderstandings,” Smith explained.
Those present at the panel discussion highlighted the positive role that diplomacy of the BVI London Office has played in maintaining the territory’s image and helping students and other Virgin Islanders to settle in the UK.