The Social Development Department will be solely responsible for the distribution of assistance grants, a change that removes elected representatives and ministries from providing such services.

This decision follows Recommendation B7 from the Commission of Inquiry Report where Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom recommended a total overhaul of the BVI welfare benefits and grants system, including House of Assembly Members’ Assistance Grants and Government Ministries’ Assistance Grants.

He advised that the new system move towards an open, transparent and single system of benefits, based on clearly expressed and published criteria without unnecessary discretionary powers.

Speaking on the subject on Tuesday, Premier and Minister of Finance Dr. the Honourable Natalio Wheatley said that his National Unity Government will be moving away from the previous hybrid system to one which is managed by the Social Development Department.

He said, “As you know, for many years, we have operated a hybrid social assistance system here in the Territory. The public assistance programme ran by the Social Development Department has operated alongside the House of Assembly assistance grants programme and the provision of Ministry assistance grants. While these arrangements were originally established to assist persons in need in our communities, the socio-economic challenges of the Territory have grown beyond the ability of the current system to address.”

“We are at the stage where we must transition away from the current hybrid social assistance system, to a central-standardized-institutional system of support through which persons who genuinely need social assistance can receive it. The Social Development Department will be the primary vehicle through which this happens, but with added capacity and resources,” Dr. Wheatley further explained.

Transition already commenced

Premier Wheatley said the transition has already commenced, adding that persons who are presently receiving benefits through the current hybrid system will not be affected.

“We have initiated this transition, which will be led by Honourable Penn, Minister responsible for Social Development who will be updating the public further in due course. The Government of National Unity will ensure that as this transition takes place, persons currently receiving critical social assistance will not be adversely affected by the changes being made. I also want to reassure you, and anyone who wishes to apply for social assistance in the future, that every effort will be made to maintain your confidentiality under the new system,” he stated.

He added, “To be clear, we are transitioning away from your elected representatives and Ministries providing social assistance to this function being done primarily by the Social Development Department.  We will ensure that those in need, persons with disabilities, our golden gems, and others, will not suffer while the new system is being formulated and implemented.”

Election reform is next on the agenda

The premier also said that his government’s next area of focus will be election reform.

“I want better for us and I know you desire the same. We have a collective responsibility to strengthen and improve our democracy. That is why the approach of the Government of National Unity is to go further in some instances than the COI Report recommendations call for. For example, we will be proceeding with election reform to address issues such as campaign finance to ensure the integrity of the electoral process is as high as humanly possible,” he explained.

Premier Wheatley said a further update on election reform will be forthcoming very soon.