There are growing sentiments in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) that the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), which concluded last year and has already missed two report submission deadlines, could set the country back at least twenty years.
Already, many are not confident that the overdue report will be unbiased, especially towards the Hon. Andrew Fahie administration, agreeing on the view that it was established on the basis of undermining their duly elected government.
In January 2021, former governor Augustus Jaspert, launched the Commission of Inquiry into concerns about poor governance, potential corruption and alleged serious dishonesty.
However, the Fahie administration, and a large chunk of the British Overseas Territory citizenry, blasted the former governor for relinquishing his role to investigate the allegations, rather than to what they described as prematurely going public.
Some members of the public said Jaspert called the Commission of Inquiry as an insulting parting shot to the people of the BVI, because he was held-bent on sullying the name of the tiny territory.
The Commission of Inquiry was issued on January 19, 2021, to probe whether corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty may have taken place amongst public, elected and statutory officials in recent years; and to make appropriate recommendations as to governance and the operation of the law enforcement and justice systems in the BVI.
The report was scheduled to have submitted in April of 2021, but an extension was Granted to up to January 2022. However, that deadline was missed by the Commission also, forcing Governor John Rankin to give another deadline of three months, which would go into April.
“I have today informed the Honourable Premier that in discussion with the Commissioner, Sir Gary Hickinbottom, I have granted a further three-month extension to the COI, to April 2022, to enable the Commissioner and his team to prepare and deliver his final report,” Rankin said in a news release early January.
“I believe it is right that this process is completed carefully and methodically and to ensure that a complete report is delivered into the areas of concern that the Commission is addressing. Good Governance is paramount to the success of any country, and I remain committed to supporting the Commission of Inquiry in helping to achieve this for the Virgin Islands,” Rankin further explained.
The COI complained repeatedly last year about issues with receiving documents on time in a usable manner.
However, unit staff refuted claims about its failure to supply evidence, describing the challenges of providing thousands of pages of documents across numerous platforms while dealing with tight deadlines and lacking resources.
Elected ministers, including Cabinet members, were accused by the Commission of not submitting their redaction requests in a timely manner despite the commissioner’s directions.
“Had such applications been made in a timely way, the commissioner could and would have been able to have published the documents already, which would have helped the BVI public to understand the issues as they arose,” a release from the Commission stated.
However, the Fahie administration hit back, accusing the Hickinbottom-led Commission of being less than truthful with its allegation.
The government recalled that Hickinbottom, had said on October 22 that in recognising the scale of the task, he would let ministers know which documents he would quote or rely on in his report.
The government explained that despite requests from the Attorney General on 25 November 2021 and 2 December 2021, as well as on 30 December 2021, no courtesy was granted.
“The ministers are anxious to enable as full and fast publication of relevant documents as possible and expect, as they have already promised, to be able to obtain Cabinet consent for any redactions which are needed within 10 days of being informed by the COI which documents they should be looking at,” the government said.
The government added: “Therefore, if this is really the only issue causing this delay, then notification by the Commissioner about those documents on 4th January 2022 would still enable the Report to be published by the previous 19 January 2022 deadline.”
Many of the citizens and political and social commentators fear that the BVI might end up like the Turks and Caicos Islands where, after its 2008/2009 commission of inquiry, the constitution was pulled, the elected government kicked out and direct rule was instituted from the United Kingdom through the governor.
During the interim administration rule of that sister territory, the British Government crafted its own constitution much to the chagrin of the general populace. Most of the Ministers were charged with corruption, and after 10 years of being charged, majority of the cases are still ongoing in the courts.
As a result, more than $100 million from the public purse have already been expended, most to pay the British instituted Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT).