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A NEW DAY IN THE BVI

Address by Chief Minister Honourable Dr. D. Orlando Smith, OBE
Ceremony to Celebrate the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007
Central Administration Complex
Tuesday, 3 July, 2007
10:00 a.m.

A NEW DAY IN THE BVI

Your Excellency the Governor Mr. David Pearey and Mrs. Pearey
Ministerial Colleagues
Leader of the Opposition Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal
District Representatives
Members of the Constitutional Review Commission
Members of the Negotiating Team
Residents from our sister islands
My fellow BVIslanders at home and abroad
Ladies and Gentlemen:

We gather today under the beautiful Caribbean skies to celebrate a moment that is long in coming. We are here today to bear witness to the end of a long and challenging process and to usher in a new day of unity and pride for our community.

We are gathered together to give thanks to all those throughout this Territory – in this generation and in generations preceding – who have made this day possible. Most of all, we are gathered today to give praise and thanks to God who guided us, and protected us, and brought us to this dawn of a new era.

Ladies and Gentlemen: There are a handful of moments in history that capture a great cause and define an entire era. Sometimes these moments are clear for the world to see and understand as they are happening:

The March in Washington, D.C. and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. The day the Berlin Wall fell and half a continent was liberated. The day Nelson Mandela walked out of Robben Island Prison a free man and ushered in the re-birth of a free South Africa.

Other moments of history are less clear – their meaning only understood after the passage of time has demonstrated their significance. For us in these Virgin Islands, this is one of those times.

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We are gathered this morning as witnesses to history and the formal introduction or rather celebration of a new constitution – some 31 years since the last Virgin Islands Constitution Order was adopted in 1976.

Undeniably, our Territory has made significant social, economic and political advancements since 1976 and we should all be pleased that the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007, which we are heralding in today, is reflective of these very important advances.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have had several amendments to our Constitution since 1976 but the year 2004 will go down in history as the birth of the new Constitution that we celebrate today. Even since our last Constitutional Review in 1993, our Territory has made enormous strides socially, economically, and politically.

This new Constitution was achieved in recognition of the progress that we have made over the years. And this new Constitution gives more responsibility to the elected representatives with more accountability to you the people we serve.

Ladies and gentlemen: It was in recognition of our deepening institutional stability, and that of our fellow Overseas Territories, that in 1999, the Partnership for Progress and Prosperity White Paper was drafted. This was in keeping with the British Government’s idea of partnership and prosperity for a relationship dependant on the Territory’s development.

And even today, the British Virgin Islands continues to uphold the White Paper’s principles of self-determination, mutual respect for rights and responsibilities, and the continuation of strong democratic institutions.

It is because of those realities that we were able to obtain a new constitution that gives more responsibility to your elected representatives in addressing the unique needs of our Territory. As such, ladies and gentlemen, it has also given you greater direct control over the shaping and implementation of policies that determine how your Territory is administered.

As a consequence, I encourage all of you to embrace and take full ownership of this new constitution because it says that we have come-of-age as a more mature people. The new constitution also establishes the foundation on which you can hold your elected representatives more accountable.

This Government continues to be a strong advocate of BVI Pride and I know such Pride is real and growing because I felt it at my back everyday that I led the Constitutional Negotiating Team in our talks with the United Kingdom.

Every time the UK team wanted us to concede on a critical point, we recalled that we were acting upon the express will of the people of the BVI and our spirits were strengthened, our backs were stiffened, and our heels dug in.
Ladies and gentlemen: I must reiterate that a Constitution is the very foundation of our entire society. It is the most visible and fundamental expression of who we are as a people and it is also a clear and unmistakable indicator of where we are going.

My friends, I am aware that this Constitution that we gather today to celebrate has been the topic of conversation and debate in our community for many years. Seven years ago there was even a Committee set up to assess the cost of independence.  But we know and you know that we are not yet ready for independence.  And   this was not sought during the negotiations.

Perhaps for some of us, the issue no longer has the excitement it once did – the topic is no longer new, or fresh. Yet I submit to you today that when the history of the BVI is written – when the grandchildren of our grandchildren look back upon the evolution of our community – they will think of this day and this Constitution as a pivotal moment.

For in this Constitution we have captured the true essence of who we are as a people as you heard so eloquently portrayed by the Elmore Stoutt High School Drama Society. The clarified definition of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in this Constitution says that we are a people prepared to handle the difficult issues of identity and legal status.  

The redistribution of power between the crown and our local Government in this Constitution says that we are a people ready to confidently assume the duties of self-determination.

The establishment of a cabinet system of Government under this Constitution says that we are a democracy in which the fundamental ethic of accountability before the people is deeply embedded in our traditions and values.

And perhaps above all else, the Human Rights Chapter of this Constitution says that we are a people devoted to the cause of liberty and zealous in the defense of our basic freedoms. You heard our young people ––the future leaders of the BVI–– echoing our new rights which truly makes this Constitution a symbol of empowerment for all our people.

This Constitution – in its every word, its every clause, its every paragraph – rings out the essence of the BVI. And that is why I stand here today confident that this new Constitution is not simply a legal document – it is rather a singular and defining moment in the long history of our people. And so I say to you today, my people, that this is our moment!

This is the BVI’s day! This day shall echo across oceans of time – across generations and across ages – and it shall proclaim the arrival of a modern, prosperous and proud BVI.

So let it be known throughout the world that on this day we proclaim that we have built a modern, thriving community out of the rocky soil of these islands.

Let it be known that on this day we proclaim that we have built a prosperous economy and a free and accountable Government in our corner of the world. Let it be known that on this day we proclaim that we have built a community and an identity that defines the essence of who we are as a people. And let it be known that on thi s day we consecrate a Constitution that reflects our community.

That is what I truly believe.

When I read this Constitution – I don’t hear boring, technical legal words. Rather, when I read this Constitution I hear the sound of fungi bands. When I Read this Constitution I hear the sounds of waves lapping the beaches of Jost Van Dyke.

When I read this Constitution I see the boulders of Virgin Gorda. When I read this Constitution I taste the salt water air of Anegada. When I read this Constitution I feel the majesty of the hilltops of Tortola.

My friends, when I read this Constitution I see between the lines the very heart and spirit and soul of the British Virgin Islands. And let me tell you, it is a beautiful thing. It is a beautiful thing because it is ours. Nobody gave us this Constitution. It was not a handout. It was not a gift. It was not an act of charity.

This Constitution was born from the sweat of the brows of BVIslanders of every generation past. This Constitution belongs to the first Africans brought over to these islands in chains. This Constitution belongs to the ancestors who struggled for freedom and emancipation. This Constitution belongs to the great grandparents who hacked their survival out of the rocks and out of the seas.

This Constitution belongs to the grandparents who carved roads through the hills. This Constitution belongs to the heroes who stood up for our right to self-determination and laid the foundations for our free and modern community. H. Lavity Stoutt our beloved first Chief Minister and the father of our modern BVI; Mr. Theodolph H. Faulkner, I. Glanny Fonseca and Carlton L. DeCastro who marched through the streets of Road Town leading 1500 people to demand the basic right to “decide our local affairs and our own selves;”

The heroes of the Positive Action Movement who stood up proudly in defense of our people’s heritage and the late Standford Connor who was without a doubt one of the BVI’s Constitutional experts.  

This Constitution belongs to us – to all of us.

It belongs to our fine Constitutional Review Commission who took such pains to cross the length and breadth of this Territory to learn the people’s will.
It is only fitting that at this juncture I recognize the tireless work by attorney Gerard Farara, QC, and the other members of the team for their commitment to country and to this great cause. Please stand as I call your name:

1.    Mr. Gerard St. C. Farara, QC – Chairman
2.    Mrs. Joanne Williams Roberts – Member
3.    Mr. Edison O’Neal
4.    Mr. Vance Lewis
5.    Ms. Persia Stoutt
6.    Mr. Elihu Rhymer
7.    Mr. Audley Maduro
8.    Mr. Carvin Malone
9.    Mr. Stuart Donovan

Ladies and gentlemen, they deserve a round of applause.

This Constitution, ladies and gentlemen, belongs to the Negotiating Team that held strong in our views because we knew that behind us stood the unified people of the BVI. It would also be remiss of me to proceed without acknowledging the diligent efforts of every member of our Negotiating Team, who has played a part in bringing us to our new Constitution and this day of celebration.  I ask that they too stand and be recognized as I call your name:

1.    Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Finance Honourable Ronnie W. Skelton
2.    Leader of the Opposition Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal
3.    Representative for the Seventh District Honourable Dr. Kedrick Pickering
4.    Representative for the Third  District Honourable Julian Fraser
5.    Mr. Gerard Farara, Q.C.,
6.    Mr. Elihu Rhymer

Resources persons included:
7.    Former Attorney General Cherno Jallow
8.    Permanent Secretary Mr. Clyde Lettsome
9.    Director of International Affairs Secretariat Mrs. Lorna Smith
10.    Deputy Director of International Affairs Secretariat Ms. Elise Donovan

And above all else, this Constitution belongs to the people of the Virgin Islands. For it is only thanks to your support, your strength and your prayers that we did not waver.

When our counterparts from the UK tried to bend us to their will – we did not break. We dug in our heels, we stiffened our spines and we stood strong.  We held our ground because it was sacred ground – it was made sacred by the will of the people. We could no more abandon it than we could sell our own birthright.

And when our counterparts looked across that negotiating table and saw that they were not dealing with men and women who were about to be pushed around – that is when we were able to get down to business to hammer out the Constitution that we now gather to celebrate.

The negotiation with the UK was not always easy. And there were moments when it was a true battle of wills.

But at such moments I was reminded of the words of another son of the UK – the great playwright William Shakespeare who wrote of a king speaking to his soldiers on the day of another great battle. And the king said to them: “He who hath no stomach for this fight, let him depart…[for] he who lives this day and sees old age will stand a tip-toe when this day is named…we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”  

My friends, in our negotiation that is truly what we were – and that is what we are today: a band of brother and sisters.

We are one people. One community. One family. And as a family we mourn our losses. We share our hurts. And yes, we sometimes argue and disagree. But above all else, we stand beside one another and we stand up for one another. We cheer each other’s successes and we contribute to each other’s achievements. Together, we are far mightier than any of us could ever be individually. And together, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.

That is the true essence of what it means to be a Virgin Islander. That is the true spirit of this Constitution. That is the true meaning of this day. And so that this lesson never be forgotten, I am announcing my intention to bring forward a resolution in the first sitting of the new House of Assembly to proclaim July 3 Constitution Day in the BVI.

On this day, we shall gather together as a people and the spirit of community and family shall be rekindled in our hearts. Long after you and I and all who are gathered here today have departed this Earth and generations of BVIslanders shall gather on this day to pay honour – not to us as individuals, but to the spirit of our age.

They will raise their glasses to toast those men and women who at this moment in history – at the dawn of our young century – stood together and took a great leap in our long journey forward. They will celebrate that in this moment we did not falter or fail. That we were not afraid. That we took on the hardest issues and the greatest challenges.

They will celebrate the vision of our people and the dedication of our public servants. And they will know that the prosperity and strength that shall be their birthright was won through the dedication of those who came before.

This is our generation’s legacy to the future. It is noble. It is righteous. It is good. It is worthy of our community. And so let us celebrate. May this be a day of happiness and joy – of singing and dancing – of feasting and toasting – a day of togetherness – a day of prayer and thanksgiving.

This is a wonderful day. I feel blessed to be here with you to share it. Thank you all. God bless you all. And may God forever bless the British Virgin Islands.  

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