British Virgin Islands

Sunday, Mar 07, 2021

Elected leaders were rendered “useless” after 2017 hurricanes

Elected leaders were rendered “useless” after 2017 hurricanes

Four years after the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, elected leaders are sharing how they felt when political power was snatched from them and placed in the hands of a governor who had only arrived in the BVI two weeks prior.

The leaders shared snippets of their experiences in the January 5 sitting of the House of Assembly in a bid to show that they agree with moving political control from the governor to the elected government during times of disasters.

Fourth District Representative Mark Vanterpool who was Minister of Works in 2017, recalled how Cabinet members lost control of their ministerial portfolios and were reduced to ‘information gatherers’ at meetings of the National Emergency Operating Centre (NEOC) which were led by Governor Jaspert.

“As a minister, you were useless. You weren’t consulted — you were informed as to what are the next steps. The civil servants were being directed not by the Premier of the country, not by the Minister of Finance, not by the Minister of Works. It took me about three weeks to realise that I wasn’t even responsible for Waste Management and cleaning up. I was just cleaning up,” Vanterpool explained.

Not informed about arrival of UK officials

Citing an example to show the extent to which political power was snatched from him, Vanterpool explained how unprepared he was to meet then-UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who visited the BVI after the hurricanes.

“When the present Prime Minister (Johnson) of the United Kingdom came with the BBC cameras and all kinds of things, I was there in my old jeans and my dirty t-shirt. The governor jumped out and took Mr Johnson to me and said ‘this is Minister Vanterpool’. In an old, dirty t-shirt cleaning up. But what Mr Johnson didn’t realise was that I wasn’t a minister, I was useless in this disaster. One man had the power! That cannot be!” Vanterpool said.

Governor shot down Fraser’s queries

Like Vanterpool, Third District Representative Julian Fraser shared his own experience when Governor Jaspert took power after Hurricane Irma. He said he was very disturbed when he entered a disaster management meeting and saw the newly-appointed governor at the helm of the table while then Premier Dr Smith sat in the second seat.

“It was really a shock. The governor had gotten to the territory 13 days before this happened … and yet my Premier and all the ministers allowed him to call all the shots in our territory. It seemed like they were alright with it,” Fraser remembered.

To make matters worse, Fraser said he asked a question in that same meeting and was met with an undesirable response from Governor Jaspert.

“Something came up and I asked a question. He, the governor said, ‘we’re not going over anything that was said before’,” Fraser explained.

He said the governor’s comment angered him but he was subdued by another elected leader who was sitting next to him.

“Who told him to say that? I was going for him because I had nothing to lose. But Ronnie Skelton was sitting next to me and he gave an elbow (nudge) as if to say, ‘we’ve been putting up with this and we got a plan for it’.” Fraser explained.

In order for the disaster management portfolio to be moved to local government, the Disaster Management Bill has to be approved by elected representatives. They are currently going through this process and all will be allowed to vote on the bill once it passes through committee stage.


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