Government is working on making the Register of Interests declarations by legislators a public document, but will be bringing forward two options to the House of Assembly (HOA) to best choose from.
This is according to Premier Andrew Fahie who made the statement before the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (COI) recently.
He said the amendments to the existing legislation is in a very early stage but revealed his government will be presenting to the House the options of whether to make the Register of Interests a public document or make it publicly accessible.
A public document can be accessed by anyone who chooses to request the respective document while a publicly accessible document has several instituted protocols that must be followed to successfully gain access to the relevant document.
These protocols may include the individual having to provide information to explain why they may need the requested document.
The premier said the decision to make the document public when the Act first came into effect in 2008 was unpopular, however, since then the minds of many legislators have evolved.
He said, “As time passed even before becoming premier, I saw the need for it to be reconsidered in my mind’s sight, which is something that we are working towards, to give the House of Assembly in the near future two options. One whether it should be a public register or if it should be publicly accessible. Given the reason that we wanted to stay parallel with what we believe for the financial services, should it be a public register? Or should it be a publicly accessible register?”
He added, “That is the concept we’re bringing forward. As you know we already started to do the revision of the Register of Interests Act and it has not reached Cabinet as yet but there have been some trends of thought about it before it reaches into Cabinet. And even when it goes to Cabinet and when it gets to the House, I can’t say what it will end up to be because you know the House of Assembly does have the final say and the final vote. But those are the two areas that we’ll be bringing to put forward to members.”
Safety nets needed to protect legislators
The premier also stressed on why a need for safety nets on such pivotal documents is needed.
Using the small population size of the BVI as reference, he said legislators’ lives can be put in danger if such information reaches the wrong hands.
“We live in a very small community and you have to see through our lens where everyone knows each other. You’re talking about 30,000-35,000 persons unlike in terms of the UK where they’ll be about 67 million persons and you do not want to put whether elected officials or senior public officers live in danger of the same mind set of what I said with financial services with the vulnerable, of persons who just would go and look and you don’t know what they would do to you or your family,” the premier stated.
“So you also have to look at it from a security point of view. You can’t just look at it that you’re elected so everything needs to be open. But if it is publicly accessible and persons who go to it can explain why they’re coming to it, what they want it for and also explain in terms of what they’re going to do with the information so that they’re safety nets for whoever is elected,” the premier further explained.
Since the advent of the ongoing COI, a greater emphasis has been placed on the Register of Interests in the BVI after it was found that the majority of past and present legislators were in breach of the Act.