Both men were asked the question several times by reporters at a joint press conference on Monday, but refused to give a direct answer. When asked about the issue, Bellingham said, “…there is no question of us [UK] trying to micro manage. We work together and we share information. We don’t want to micro manage the budgets of Territories but we do expect to share information, we expect to know what’s going on and that’s very important.”
When questioned if this was different from the situation in the Cayman Islands where that government has to send their budget to the UK for pre-approval, Bellingham said that, unlike some countries, the UK does not have a one size fits all for Territories.
“We don’t micro manage, we actually believe in working in partnerships, we believe in building up trust and the trust we’re building up between our two governments is manifest… and we have every confidence that information will be shared in the future,” the UK minister explained.
Late last year, the BVI received a proposal from the UK to vet the Territory’s budget two months prior to it being tabled in the House of Assembly. Since then, the request from the UK has sparked heated debates among government officials, the opposition political party and residents, who voiced their disapproval for such a proposal.
Meanwhile, in commenting on the financial situation in the Territory, Bellingham said, “When the premier [Dr. Smith] came into power, he found that the finances of this country have been badly stretched, he found commitments made that needed to be honoured, so the incoming government did what any responsible incoming government would have done and that is putting measures in place to face up to those fiscal challenges and I have every confidence that the premier is doing that.”
Bellingham went on to note, “I have great confidence in your premier and his team. He inherited a tough situation… there were some challenges that he had to address and I do believe that the action he has taken has given confidence to the wider markets. Any government that takes action to address deficits and potential problems with its finances is going to command respect and so I think the measures that the premier is taking are doing exactly that. The essence of our relationship is based on trust and partnership.”
The UK minister stated that the BVI is a huge success story, since it is a small country that has achieved a lot. “…Really it is nothing short of remarkable, and that success is something we are very proud of. We want to work with you in partnership to guarantee and protect that success going forward.”
Bellingham said, “What you have is a world class financial service center here and that can be complemented by fiscal management that is responsible and fit the purpose, I think that is going to give the BVI even more priority.”
Financial protocol signed
Additionally, Governor Boyd McCleary, Premier Smith and Minister Bellingham signed a new fiscal protocol for what has been described as a new partnership that includes information sharing as it relates to the Territory’s finances.
Under the new protocol, the BVI commits to transparency in the management of the public finances, and to ensure that it is consistent with the highest standards of governance and democracy.
Based on the protocol, the government of the British Virgin Islands recognizes that the Public Finance Management Act 2004 in its role to adhere to these standards is limited in its scope and mandated requirements, and hence will amend its provisions to ensure that it is fit for purpose, by mandating strong provisions in an enhanced Public Finance Management Act.
The ‘Enhanced Act’ is to provide for medium term planning, transparency through regular reporting in the House of Assembly on fiscal and economic matters, measurements of fiscal and economic performance with timely and accurate statistical data.
The government has also committed to take into account value for money through recognized and standardized procedures and the application of objective and credible assessments for project development, procurement and implementation.
This is Bellingham’s first visit to the BVI and the first visit to the Territory by a British government minister since April 2009. While in the Territory, Smith and Bellingham were due to discuss a range of topics, including BVI’s financial strategy, the forthcoming Overseas Territories White Paper, the Territory’s involvement in the celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.