The Register of Interest Act (2022) was read for the first time in the House of Assembly on June 30, 2022. According to the Order Paper for the meeting, it was the government’s intention to fast-track the legislation and have it passed in one single sitting.
VICSA noted if it was not for the strenuous objection by some members of the House, the aim would have been achieved.
“Prior to the bill being introduced on 30 June 2022, the public service, a body with a membership of more than 2,500, was not informed or consulted on its provisions. As drafted, the Act, if passed, will influence the private lives of public servants who will be required to disclose for placement in a public register the financial interests of themselves, their spouses, partners, and close friends at the same level as the elected official,” the Association noted.
“While we accept that the constitutional right to privacy is not absolute, it is our view that the Act is an unnecessary encroachment on the constitutional right to privacy of public officers and is not reasonably necessary in a democratic society,” it added.
VICSA mentioned that during an extraordinary public service meeting held on July 7, the Association was informed that the government intends to have the Act apply to all public officers.
“Many of the questions of public officers and their concerns went unaddressed and we do not consider that meeting to be meaningful consultation. We were promised individual meetings for further discussion, and none have yet been afforded to us. However, we note that the HoA is expected to resume deliberations on this bill on 14 July 2022 with the intention of passing it. We believe that public officers, as citizens and residents of the territory, have a legitimate right to expect good governance from the Unity Government and we do not believe that their actions in relation to this Act, as far as it purports to extend to the wider public service, represents good governance,” VICSA said.
The Association added it believes good governance requires that people be meaningfully consulted on legislation that is intended to bind them before it is passed. VICSA said this has not been done yet.
“We also note that the inclusion of senior public officers in the Act currently is outside of the scope of the Commission of Inquiry Recommendations (“COI Report”) and the Framework for Implementation of the Recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry Report and Other Reforms (the “Framework”) of the Government of National Unity of the Virgin Islands,” VICSA said.
“The COI Report only required that the current register of interest, which currently binds the elected, be made public. The Framework, which we see as the Manifesto of the Government of National Unity, only committed to making said current register public. As such, we consider that the passage of the Act in its current form, is a breach of the Unity Government’s promise to us and the wider public on the way it would govern and implement the COI Recommendations,” it added.
The Association said considering its concerns on the lack of good governance demonstrated, the unjustified erosion of public officers’ constitutional rights to privacy, and the lack of consultation on the Act, it has written to Deputy Governor David Archer, currently Acting Governor, and have copied all elected representatives to advise them on VICSA executive’s position on the matter.