Déjà vu in the BVI’s House of Assembly
I had the opportunity and privilege last Friday, December 13, of getting to sit in the House of Assembly.
No, not the House of Assembly of Bermuda, but the House of Assembly for the Virgin Islands. Located in the heart of Road Town, Tortola, this white building is the home of the duly elected legislative body of nine district representatives and four territorial representatives.
BVI has a unicameral Parliament, unlike Bermuda’s bicameral Parliament of two chambers.
For clarity, there are nine districts or, as we call them, constituencies; each having approximately 1,300 registered voters.
Additionally, there are four seats that are allotted to those who are elected in by persons from across the entire territory.
The speaker and the non-politically appointed Attorney-General sit in Parliament as ex-officio members. This gives a total of 15 seats in the legislature.
During their recent General Election, held on February 25, 2019, the Virgin Islands Party led by the Premier, Andrew Fahie, secured four district seats and four territorial seats.
This gives them a majority government of eight seats with the opposition National Democratic Party led by Marlon Penn holding three seats.
The Progressives United, led by Julian Fraser, holds one seat and the Progressive Virgin Island Movement, represented by Melvin Turnbull, holds one seat.
In another difference from Bermuda, the Speaker of the House is not an elected representative, but an appointed speaker, chosen by the majority of the representatives.
At present, Julian A. Willock sits as Speaker of the House.
As it so happened, last Friday was the day of debate for Budget 2020-21.
As I sat and listened to the debate from all members, I found myself feeling as if I was listening to the exact same points being raised in the House of Assembly here in Bermuda.
As prime examples, here are just some of the salient points raised:
•• External threats to the financial sector
•• Uncertainty with Brexit
•• Budget of $414 reduced from $427
•• Resident population of approximately 30,000
•• Falling revenues from the financial sector
•• 60 per cent of expenditures going on Civil Service
•• Need to increase tourism, specifically air arrivals.
•• Need to grow their hotel bed count
•• Need to diversify the economy
•• Need to get more persons starting their own businesses
•• Plans to introduce a regulated medicinal cannabis industry
•• Plans to grow digital economy.
It was interesting to hear that their national challenges almost mirror our challenges.
Therefore, some of our solutions or ways forward will be theirs and vice versa.
As British Overseas Territories, we share similar history with variations here and there.
Yet, our challenges going forward are almost identical.
It is imperative that we work closer together at legislative and governmental levels to share ideas and initiatives.
Equally as important would be for the people of each territory to get to know a bit more about our shared history and cultures.
During my visit, many persons spoke to me about their visits to Bermuda for business or pleasure.
All were impressed with multiple aspects of our island and wished to see the Virgin Islands follow our lead with some initiatives regarding traffic and waste management.
Hopefully, in coming months and years, we can see more interaction of elected representatives visiting each other’s Parliaments.
The day’s session ended at approximately 11pm, after which, in typical island fashion, there was the mixture of social and familial banter among all MPs.
That’s no different than any given Friday night here.
Thank you for the privileges extended, Speaker Willock.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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