Earnest pleas by Fourth District Representative Mark Vanterpool, warning against rushing a new bill through the House of Assembly (HOA) seemed to have found fertile ground yesterday when the HOA was abruptly recessed for the next two weeks.
The bill in question is the Register of Interests Act (ROIA) 2022 which serves to replace the existing law. When any new bill is introduced its goes through three stages known as ‘readings’ before it passes. These readings usually take place in more than one sitting to allow legislators to properly digest and debate the bill. But in an atypical fashion yesterday, the government decided to move the bill through the House by doing all three readings in one day.
But while debating the bill, Vanterpool made it clear that in his view the legislation needed public consultation before passing into law. He argued that there were items the bill contained that warranted not only more careful research by members but closer legal attention before it was rushed through the House.
“I am absolutely not in support of this bill being passed today without it having public discourse,” the Fourth District Representative said while offering his support, in principle, for the bill.
The veteran legislator said this rush of the ROIA is because of what he described as a “deadline story“ but noted that any apparent deadline could not be first met without due consideration.
Vanterpool was seemingly referring to a section of the Commission of Inquiry
) reform proposal recently agreed upon between the BVI government and the United Kingdom (UK), that the amended ROI Act will be passed by June 30 at the latest.
“A bill like this being passed in one day, in its three stages – first, second and third readings – is not fair to the public, not fair to those in here, not fair to those outside there, not fair to the public in general who need to be able to weigh in on the contents of this bill, even if we do changes in committee stage (the stage at which legislators gather to privately review the full bill and possibly make amendments),“ Vanterpool said.
He continued: “It cannot be passed today because of a deadline issue.”
“This whole issue of deadlines and binding the House of Assembly to conform to these deadlines begs the question to me as to what and where is the authority of the House of Assembly,” Vanterpool said. “Maybe that’s gone out the door, but it begs the question.”
The Register of Interests Act is a record kept of the financial interests of parliamentarians. Its purpose is to give them the mechanism to publicly declare any private interests which may conflict or may be perceived to conflict with their public duties.
The register became a focal point during the COI
as it was revealed that House members were in large part not complying with the requirements to file declarations of their interests annually and on a timely basis.