British Virgin Islands

Sunday, Dec 05, 2021

No constitutional breach in not assenting to Disaster Mgmt Act

No constitutional breach in not assenting to Disaster Mgmt Act

Governor John Rankin has concluded that no constitutional breach arises from him not giving assent to the government’s Disaster Management Act.

The Act was passed in the House of Assembly (HOA) in January 2021 but both Rankin and his immediate predecessor Augustus Jaspert denied assent, stating that parts of the legislation impinged on the constitutional duties of the Governor’s Office.

During an appearance before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) yesterday, October 19, Governor Rankin said moving policy direction away from the governor to a government minister would not be in the interest of furthering disaster management in the territory.

He further asserted that the previous governor, who was still in office when the Act passed in the House, was not consulted in any detail on the legislation and said the issue – which should be coming up for constitutional review soon – is not a discussion that should be rushed.

“The new legislation involves a wholesale transfer of that responsibility from the governor to the relevant minister. So, Director of Disaster Management would fall under the policy direction of the minister rather than the governor,” stated Governor Rankin, whose office is also responsible for national security.

“And that transfer of direction, means those elements of disaster which relate to security and external affairs – for which the director is carrying out day-to-day responsibilities – would be placed under the policy direction of the minister,” he added.

Governor Rankin said he has seen nothing to suggest that the position taken by himself and his predecessor, Jaspert, is unconstitutional, further arguing that the issue is essentially centred around a policy discussion.

“My view is that disaster management so greatly involves responsibility for security and external affairs that, for the time being, it should remain the responsibility of the governor,” Governor Rankin said.

A partnership approach needed for disaster management


Describing the issue as an ‘unfortunate debate’, Governor Rankin further offered that both himself and his predecessor were committed to a partnership approach in disaster response.

“Indeed, the current structure of the national disaster management committee provides for that partnership approach which is jointly chaired by myself and the Premier, and involves a host of government departments – many of which the governor does not have responsibility for – including Public Works, for example, health and fire and safety,” Governor Rankin said.

Pointing to the inadvertent release of prisoners and rampant looting of businesses following hurricane Irma, the governor further argued that disaster management indeed involves security issues.

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