Opposition Leader Julian Fraser said he has shared his proposal with United Kingdom (UK) Overseas Territories Minister, Lord Zac Goldsmith, that the BVI should have a bicameral legislature.
A bicameral parliament contains two separate assemblies that must both agree when new laws are made. The UK parliament is bicameral because both the House of Commons (the lower House) and the House of Lords (the upper House) are involved in making legislation.
Government not being held accountable
Fraser argued that it is not possible within the current unicameral system in the BVI to have the kind of dialogue and debate that allows the government to be held accountable.
“In our system, our configuration, our legislature is so small that we can’t do it. It’s impossible. If you look at the House of Assembly, the configuration of the government, the majority of the members in the government are ministers, and the ministers are the executive, and they’re right there sitting with us,” Fraser explained at a recent public meeting in his Third District.
In his proposal to the UK minister, Fraser said: “There shall be a parliament of the Virgin Islands
, which shall consist of His Majesty, a House of Representatives and a Senate. The House of Representatives shall consist of 13 elected members, one of whom shall be the Speaker.”
The Opposition Leader further explained that the Senate of the Virgin Islands
shall consist of a President and six other elected members. He said each House of parliament – the Senate and a House of Representatives – shall be equal in respect of their legislative role and noted that any member of either House can introduce a bill in their respective houses.
According to Fraser, within the new system, a bill other than a money bill can originate in either House. However, he said in order to be considered passed by parliament, it must be passed by both Houses except in certain instances.
He also pointed out that Bermuda, another UK overseas territory, also has a similar bicameral parliament in place.
In a position statement issued to the Commission of Inquiry
), then-Opposition Leader Marlon Penn had also supported the notion of a bicameral parliament for the territory.
He argued at the time that this would help to provide for greater scrutiny of bills and government policies. Penn said he felt this could lead to greater efficiency, effectiveness, and responsiveness as well as greater participation in the BVI.
The question of a bicameral parliament is one that is also expected to be explored during the ongoing constitutional review.