While the bill was passed with the overwhelming support of legislators in the House, Attorney General (AG) Dawn J. Smith, in explaining the reasons for the amendments to the original 2006 Act, said the moves come as part of the Inquiry Response Until (IRU) mandate to ensure full compliance with the CoI by the VI Government.
“The IRU is an independent unit, which supports the Attorney General in ensuring that the Government provides the fullest possible corporation while ensuring the laws of the Virgin Islands and the legal duties and legitimate interest of the Virgin Islands (VI) Government are upheld,” she said.
According to Smith, CoI Secretary Steven Chandler issued a request to HoA members, seeking consent to allow the Registrar of Interest to provide the Commissioner Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom with a copy of pages from the Registry of Interest, including a request for members to provide information on their declarations.
However, according to the AG’s interpretation, the request by the CoI falls outside of the Act, given the Register of Interest can only be inspected based on certain limited circumstances.
These include for the purposes of a criminal investigation, an order of the Court in any legal proceeding, and finally on the written request of a member.
She said the Registrar, therefore, cannot disclose information relating to any declaration in the register, outside of the limited circumstances as outlined in the act.
And since the CoI is neither a criminal investigation nor a court order it cannot access the files. Smith said HoA members are also prohibited from taking copies or extracts from the register. In addition, there is no provision for members to give consent to provide copies of pages to a third party.
As part of the amendments by the Government, the act will now have an expressed statutory provision that will allow the register to be opened to inspection on the written request of a Commissioner of Inquiry.
“The amendment would also expressly enable the registrar, to provide relevant copies or extracts of the register. This is subject to safeguard that the registrar is only to provide those parts of the register that in her opinion, are strictly necessary to fulfil requests and upon such considerations and conditions as to preservation of confidentiality after their purpose has been exhausted as she shall deem appropriate,” Smith said.
More amendments to the 2006 act will also replace the term 'Legislative Council" with "House of Assembly" for 2021, where the AG has affirmed the government's policy of full transparency and support of the Inquiry.
Premier Andrew A. Fahie (R1), who seconded the motion for the Second Reading of the bill said the action of the house to amend the bill is from his Government in the spirit of cooperation.
He said the Government has created the IRU to ensure that proper and accountable standards are upheld in the government's cooperation with the Inquiry and that the Government of the VI makes a constructive contribution to the process.
Meanwhile, 9 legislators voted to place on record their support for the amendment. Four legislators were absent at the time of the vote.
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