The Constitutional Review Commission has requested and received a six-month extension beyond its original June deadline to produce a report, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said recently in the House of Assembly.
The extension, he explained, was needed. Since January, the commission — which was appointed in July 2022 — has reviewed more than 460 comment submissions and has met 15 times, according to the premier.
“I understand that most of these were in the form of all-day workshops where, on occasion, the CRC has also invited persons to address it, particularly where further clarification may have been needed to an earlier submission that persons made to the CRC,” he told the House on Sept. 7.
Those meetings, he added, included an in-person July 24 session with Sir Dennis Byron, a former chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and a former president of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
“He has been with the commission from its launch and took a keen interest in the views of the public that were captured earlier,” Dr. Wheatley said.
“During his in-person meetings, however, commissioners were able to have free and frank discussions with him and to call on his immense wealth of knowledge and experience to help confirm its research in some cases or, in other cases, to elaborate on that research before taking decisions on some of its work.”
Dr. Wheatley explained that the commission also faced delays shortly after it was launched last year due to “additional requirements” for getting “fully resourced.”
“Thus, in order to compensate for the setback, the CRC asked for, as was recently granted by Cabinet, an extension of the time within which to submit its report — from June 2023 to December 2023,” he said, adding, “I have been assured that the CRC is very optimistic that it will have a draft report concluded ahead of the extended deadline.”
He also stressed the importance of the exercise.
“In our case in the Virgin Islands, our Constitution, which takes the form of an order that is approved by the United Kingdom Parliament, sets out very critical parameters for the relationship between the Virgin Islands and the UK,” he said.
“It sets out the functions of government that are delegated and devolved to the locally elected government, and those that are reserved for the UK’s representative in the office of governor.”
The next constitution will be in place for several years, he pointed out, noting that the current one took effect in 2007.
“Given the interventions of natural disasters and the pandemic over the recent years, it was not realistic for this review to be launched before and closer to the 10-year anniversary of the Constitution in 2017,” he said.
However, he added that he was glad for the level of public participation in the exercise this year.
“In particular, the CRC’s willingness to facilitate private sessions with individuals or groups proved to be very popular, with 27 such private sessions being facilitated versus 12 town hall public ones,” he said.