Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly (HoA) and Virgin Islands Party (VIP) At Large Candidate Honourable Neville A. Smith has expressed feelings of hurt and shame over what he described as a ‘spectacle’ created by his HoA colleagues in the House on April 15, 2023, during the debate over the Residence and Belonger Status Certificates of some 688 persons from the 2019 Fast Track Programme.
Speaking on the VIP ‘Let’s Talk show’ live-streamed on Facebook on April 16, 2023, Hon Smith said this behaviour was completely uncalled for.
“I felt so hurt…of the way that my colleagues behaved in the House of Assembly…I felt ashamed because we went to the House to do one thing…but it became a spectacle, it became a stamping ground and it was done on the back of the people. It bothers me because when you sit down and you listen to some of the fabricated stuff that came out of their mouths is what hurt the most; because no one broke the law…and the name calling that was happening- who did this and who- it was wrong.
“All we had to do was go to the House, ‘cause we found out what the problem was, it was identified by the AG and nobody is trying to blame anybody for anything but we know that something did happen, what wasn’t supposed to happen in terms of where something was missed out in terms of legal entity…,” he said.
Hon Smith added that while it is not about casting blame, the actions of some appear to be hypocritical as it relates to the issue.
“And the thing about it, the same people who found it, is some of the same staff who was there when it was done before…the AG Chambers has some of the same staff who were there when it was done before. So they had to be a part of the same conversation when the former AG was there doing this document as well. So it was clear that something did happen, let’s stop playing games,” he added.
Hon Smith stressed that the issue was neither about elections first nor garnering votes, since the Fast Track Programme had occurred months after the present Government took office in 2019.
Hon Marlon A. Penn of the National
Democratic Party (NDP), left, and Hon Melvin A. Turnbull of Progressive
Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM), right, particularly lambasted the Virgin
Islands Party (VIP) administration while in the House of Assembly.
VIP sought to address backlog of applications for Residency & Belongership- Premier
Premier and Minister of Finance Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) had also lashed out the National Democratic Party (NDP) and Progressive Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM) legislators, noting that they used the issue as a political football in the HoA while vilifying the VIP to score political points.
He said the programme was done to address a backlog of applications previously caused by the NDP.
Legislators were summoned back to the HoA on April 17, 2023, to address implications related to the democratic process of the upcoming elections.
This came on the heels of an announcement by Governor John J. Rankin, CMG on April 14, 2023, who stated his intentions to re-convene the House after an audit found that some 688 persons who were approved for Residency and Belonger Status under the Fast- Track Program, according to the law, should have been free of Immigration controls 12 months prior to applying.
The Governor has since assented to the Immigration and Passport (Validation) Act, 2023, allowing residents whose Belonger Status are now valid, an opportunity to exercise their franchise on Advance Polling Day, today April 20, 2023, and Polling Day on April 24, 2023.