The Constitutional Review Commission’s report sheds light on rising support among the public for the introduction of District Councils as a solution to the underrepresentation of sister islands.
The report reveals that during the Commission’s meetings, participants displayed a growing openness to the concept of District Councils, particularly emphasizing their importance in local governance.
The report sheds light on the concerns raised by the public and highlights the need for effective mechanisms at the community level.
Participants at public meetings voiced dissatisfaction with the delivery of services and accountability at the local level, sparking a call for more effective governance. The report notes, “people were dissatisfied with the efficacy of district representatives, particularly where such representatives became Ministers.”
Issues such as the condition of roads, public buildings, waste management, and social support prompted calls for a separate representative for islands like Anegada and Jost Van Dyke in the House of Assembly (HoA).
The Commission acknowledged that the dissatisfaction resonated with broader constitutional objectives.
“The Commission considers that the establishment of local government with the power to address hyper-local issues such as the maintenance of roads and public infrastructure, care of the elderly and indigent, schools and community development may well address the concerns of these islands raised during the public consultation process. Therefore, the local government model should be given a fair opportunity to work and be evaluated prior to revisiting the issue of a separate representative”, the report stated.
The report references historical reports like the Renwick Report and the Duncan Report, both suggesting the potential for local government on Anegada.
The Commission highlights that these issues were not initially raised by Members of the House of Assembly (HoA) but gained attention through campaign statements by the Premier and a subsequent Cabinet decision in April 2023 to establish ‘District Councils,’ with the Permanent Secretary directed to draft legislation.
At the time, Premier and Minister of Finance Dr. the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley said, “The main features of the Virgin Islands District Councils Programme will be the establishment of district councils in each of the electoral districts across the Virgin Islands. District two will have two District Councils, including a District Council on Tortola and a District Council on Jost Van Dyke. District 9 will also have two District Councils, including a District Council on Virgin Gorda and a District Council on Anegada. To support the establishment of the District Councils, Cabinet decided that the Premier’s Office, in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders, now develop the policy to inform the drafting of legislation to establish District Councils”.
Drawing insights from various local government models globally, the report explores successful systems in the UK, its Crown dependencies, and other Caribbean nations. The report emphasizes the importance of elected councils and explores how such models could foster harmonious communities and civic engagement at the local level.
The Commission proposes a comprehensive framework for District Councils, providing options for consideration during the policy development process.
The recommended options for the establishment of District Councils include separate entities, heads of District Councils becoming ex-officio members of the HoA, or a head of District Councils becoming an ex-officio Member of the HoA with voting rights on legislation. The report suggests, “District Councils should be elected (at the local level), not appointed.”
The report underscores the need for clear legislation outlining powers, responsibilities, and accountability mechanisms for District Councils, with a dedicated budget from the central government. It proposes, “Significant public participation and consultation should occur prior to the preparation of the legislation”.
The Constitutional Review Commission recommends amending the Constitution to support the establishment, functions, and jurisdiction of District Councils.