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Premier pledges to demand Freedom of Information law

Premier pledges to demand Freedom of Information law

Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley has promised to deliver greater transparency as his Virgin Islands Party (VIP) government seeks to improve its image in the wake of some regrettable missteps during its previous term in office.
“One thing you have to do is trust your principles,” Premier Wheatley told reporters at a press conference recently. “So, you know transparency is key. So, you know that you can’t hide things from the public. Anything that you feel that you have to hide, you know it’s not the right thing.”

Even as he promised not to repeat mistakes of the past, Dr Wheatley suggested that full transparency and strengthening of the democratic institutions of governance will now be hallmarks of his administration.

“I’m going to go ahead and demand that we get that Freedom of Information Act to the people,” Premier Wheatley stated. The Premier did not give any indication at the time about who his demand would be directed towards.

Premier Wheatley made a similar promise last August but could not offer any timeline back then for the delivery of the legislation. “[It is] something that I am committed to, that the Virgin Islands Party administration committed to in manifestos in the past and in statements that we made to the press. We are in a reform frame of mind. I believe it is something that we have to deliver on,” Dr Wheatley said last year.

More good governance laws

In the meantime, Dr Wheatley referred to the whistleblower legislation passed under the Andrew Fahie-led government in 2021, pledging that an office will now be established for that Commission moving forward. The law in reference rewards as well as protects individuals for disclosing information about the corrupt practices of others once it is in the public’s interest.

He also reflected on the Integrity in Public Life Act — another Fahie-era measure that was put on the back burner after Fahie’s arrest — and asserted that the two-year-old law will now be enforced.

Under that law, the Commission will consist of a chairperson who is either a retired judge or a lawyer with at least 15 years of experience. The Governor and the Premier will agree on the chairperson’s nomination. Additionally, there will be one member nominated by the Governor, one by the Premier, one by the Leader of the Opposition, and one by the Christian Council.

And while acknowledging that democracy had been somewhat elusive in some of his government’s past decisions, Premier Wheatley commented that once there is greater collaboration and transparency, this will ultimately lead to better results.

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