By Zarrin Ahmed
ROAD TOWN (Reuters) -Dozens of activists in the British Virgin Islands held a rally on Wednesday calling for the overseas territory to retain its autonomy, following a report by a commission of inquiry that said it should be governed directly from London.
The report came the day after the arrest of former premier Andrew Fahie in Miami on drug and money laundering charges, leading him to be removed and replaced by his former deputy, Natalio Wheatley.
"The future of the Virgin Islands always has been and always will be in the hands of the people of the Virgin Islands," said Art Christopher, 47, a restaurant owner. "This is a long drawn-out struggle that we're going to be engaged in."
The commission of inquiry found that millions of dollars of state funds were spent each year by politicians and ministries in the territory of 30,000 people without proper process, along with serious dishonesty in relation to sales of public property and widespread abuse of appointments.
Wheatley has said the territory can address its problems without suspending the constitution and dissolving the assembly, as recommended by the commission's report - which was independent of Fahie's detention.
Amanda Milling, a British member of parliament and minister of state for Asia and the Middle East who visited the territory to speak with local leaders last week, said governance must improve.
Wheatley's cabinet on Wednesday submitted a plan to Milling that would implement the recommendations made by the commission of inquiry while maintaining local governance. Those proposals include ensuring that officials do not simultaneously serve on more than one board, as well as boosting the security of ports to reduce the flow of illegal drugs.
“I hope Minister Milling and the UK government will give due consideration to the proposal and not go down the path of direct rule,” Wheatley said in an address broadcast online.
The British Virgin Islands, for centuries the site of sugar plantations worked by slaves who were forcibly brought from Africa, gained autonomy from the United Kingdom in 1967 when it held its first elections.
(Reporting by Zarrin Ahmed; writing by Brian Ellsworth; editing by Richard Pullin and Leslie Adler)