FROM THE ARCHIVES, 1986: Governor dissolves LEGCO

The content originally appeared on: The BVI Beacon
On June 7, The BVI Beacon turned 40. To celebrate, it is re-publishing some of the biggest stories from its archives over the past four decades. The article below originally ran on March 7, 1985.

Governor Robert David Barwick in a surprise speech last Thursday, August 21, informed the people of the BVI that he had that day signed a proclamation dissolving the Legislative Council with immediate effect.

In his short speech, the governor stated that he “acted under the powers conferred by section 47(2) of the Constitution and after consultation with the Honourable Chief Minister [Cyril Romney].”

The chief minister and governor were reacting to a motion to be brought before the House by the opposition of the BVI government of “no confidence.” The chief minister, who had ignored earlier calls by the opposition for his resignation, would have been first given the chance to resign or, failing that, would have been asked by the governor to resign if the vote had passed Council. The LEGCO debate was to be held yesterday.

Dissolution of LEGCO was one of the ways to deal with the rising public sentiment against the chief minister’s connection with Financial Management and Trust.

FM&T was a BVI registered company whose managing director, Shaun Murphy, was arrested in April during an investigation into the laundering of organized crime money. Mr. Romney owned 99 percent of the shares of that company.

The governor also announced Thursday that general elections would be forthcoming in two months in accordance with the constitutional requirements. Election Day has been set for Tuesday, September 30, some 13 months before the regularly scheduled time, November, 1987.

Mr. Barwick explained that, “the step of calling for fresh elections has been taken after wide consultation and after long and earnest deliberation.” He did not, however, state with whom the wide consultation and long deliberation took place.

It is speculated that he may have consulted with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London and perhaps with select members of the BVI community. The governor’s statement continued, “The current political situation in the territory is such that it raises issues of great interest and concern both to persons who live in these islands and to many elsewhere.” He added, “In a democratic country like the British Virgin Islands, when issues arise in this way, the proper course is for the people to decide those for themselves.”

The governor then emphasised a serious implication of the dissolution of the Legislature. He stated, “In proceeding in this way, there will be no opportunity for debate in the Legislative Council on the motion lodged by the leader of the opposition.” He suggested, “The election campaign itself will, however, permit the widest debate on those very questions.”

Preceding this, the governor said, “It should be clearly understood that in making my decision I have in no way attempted to prejudge any of the issues themselves.”

Governor Barwick concluded his brief speech by expressing confidence that “the forthcoming elections (and the campaigning which precedes them) will as in the past, proceed in a calm and mature fashion so that the true will of the people will be determined after they have had an opportunity to know and assess all the facts.”

Three men, very knowledgeable in BVI political affairs, reacted to the dissolution proclamation very differently. H.R. Penn, former speaker of the House, and long-time legislator said, “The affairs of the country have been going wrong for a long time. This is one of the ways in which this could be changed. I hope the voters will have the good sense to elect the right people to administer the government of this country.”

R.T. O’Neal, member of the disbanded opposition, said he thought the governor was acting under instructions from the FCO. He pointed out that although the section of the Constitution the governor used said ‘after consultation with the chief minister,’ it does not mean that he had to follow the advice of the chief minister but that he talked with the chief minister about it. Mr. O’Neal expressed regret about the dissolution of the legislature. He stated, “I think it was a pity the debate was stifled.”

Viewing the dissolution as a positive step, Alban Anthony, candidate for election to the fourth district concluded: “It was the best action to take, really. It’s the fairest way of dealing and I think the governor was quite right in allowing the people another chance to decide who they want.”