Minister for Natural Resources Honourable Melvin Turnbull has detailed the government’s intentions to reestablish the board of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund which was wrongfully revoked in 2019.
While issuing a public apology to the members affected by this move, Minister Turnbull said his government plans on righting the wrongs which have hindered the progress of the Trust Fund, adding that it is their hope to put the Trust Fund back on a path to success.
“The board was highly energised, all members were qualified, hardworking, committed, passionate and high performing. Revocation of their appointments was not only counter-productive and wrong, but unlawful.”
The Minister listed the affected members as follows:
Edward Childs – Chairman & Representative for Any Sector Responsible for making contributions to the Fund
John Klein – Deputy Chairman & Representative for the Tourism Sector
Dr. Katherine Smith – Representative for an Academic or Research Organisation
Dr. Shannon Gore – Representative for a Non- Governmental Organisation or Community based Organisation
Shelly Bend – Representative for the Financial Services Sector
Ronnie Lettsome – Representative for an Individual or Ordinary Resident of the Territory.
Turnbull noted that in their short time serving on the board, the members went above and beyond in their service, and in some cases went as far as donating their own money for the Trust’s use due to the absence of seed funding.
Their revocation, he said, plunged the Trust into an immediate phase of dormancy.
“The decision of April 24th, 2019 immediately halted the urgent and critical work that was to be completed by the Trust Fund, and it remained dormant for over 3 years. So we find ourselves in an unfortunate position, set back several years. As the Commissioner summarised in his report, any momentum that the board had made in obtaining international funding or indeed any funding at all has been lost. A great disservice has been done to the people of this Territory and a great wrong to the members who served faithfully on the Trust Fund Board with the highest levels of commitment, enthusiasm and integrity,” he explained.
Though admitting that the decision of the then administration to revoke the board’s membership was not in line with the law, Turnbull said that the move was part of a plan that was intended to move the Trust Fund into the next phase of progress.
“Following the process outlined in the act, the first board of trustees was appointed in July of 2017. On the 24th of April 2019, as part of its blanket policy to revoke and re-constitute membership of all statutory boards, the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands at the time decided to revoke the membership of all non-government members of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund Board. This decision was in direct contradiction to the Law which is in Section 16 of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Funds Act. As Advised by the Attorney General of the day, and substantiated by the Commission of Inquiry Report, it is important that I highlight the Cabinet’s decision came at a critical stage in the life of the Climate Change Trust Fund, aiming to transition it from a legal entity merely on paper to a functional entity, achieving its objectives just prior to the elections of 2019. The former administration has substantially paved the way for the trust fund to access a portion of the environmental and tourism levy as seed funding to support its enactment”, he further explained.
These moves were ultimately intended to better equip the entity to perform its purpose. A purpose which the minister said was imperative to the territory’s ongoing transition into energy independence and security through large-scale transitions to green and renewable energy, and its adaptation and response to the effects of climate change.
He said, “The resources pooled in the climate change trust fund can support investment in schools, health facilities, ports, roads, other infrastructure and facilities that are hurricane and flood resilient. It opens room for innovative opportunities like financing programs for home and business owners to make their own properties resilient. This trust fund is the best hope for protecting our low-lying coastal communities from sea level rising stronger from storm surge by restoring and protecting our coral reefs and mangroves.”
Tying the great significance of the Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund to the urgent need to re-establish the Trust Fund Board, the minister invited the members whose appointment was revoked to return to serve again with a reset of their terms of appointment.
Turnbull said that he is hopeful of the members being willing and able to serve again, but should this not be the case, any vacancies will be filled by way of the open, transparent, public process outlined in the act.