ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands, CMC – Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders have expressed “deep concern” with the United Kingdom-backed Commission of Inquiry into allegations of corruption in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), listing among their concerns the “lack of transparency.”
Earlier this year, the Governor of this British Overseas Territory, John Rankin, announced he had granted the Commission of Inquiry a second extension to complete its final report.
The Commission, headed by retired British judge Gary Hickinbottom, has until April to submit its report with the Inquiry citing delays in getting required information from the BVI government as the cause of the delay.
Former governor, Augustus Jasper, established the Commission of Inquiry nearly a year ago to look into allegations of corruption and abuse of office by elected and statutory officials. The Commission is also mandated to make recommendations on local government operations including the territory’s law enforcement and justice systems.
In a statement issued after their 33rd Inter-Sessional summit in Belize, the Caricom leaders “expressed deep concern about the lack of transparency and the manner in which the United Kingdom-backed Commission of Inquiry into the British Virgin Islands was called and is operating without having obtained all the legally required approvals.
“Heads of Government reiterated their call for the constitutional position of the duly elected Government to be respected and for self-governance to be upheld and not impeded.”
The regional leaders called for the implementation of the United Nations (UN) resolution on the question of the British Virgin Islands adopted by the 76th UN General Assembly on December 9, 2021, which calls for self-governance and self-determination in the Virgin Islands to be respected.
“Heads of Government agreed to adopt a unified position at the relevant UN decolonization fora in support of the self-determination of the British Virgin Islands.”
Hickinbottom initially was required to deliver his report to Governor Rankin in January this year, following an initial extension from July 18 last year.
The Commission secretary, Steven Chandler, said in a statement that while several documents had been received from the BVI government, they were produced “often in very poor order,” adding that BVI elected officials had failed to take “timely advantage of opportunities” to recommend which documents “should not be disclosed to the public.”
He insisted that Hickinbottom had conducted his probe in an “open and transparent manner,” and urged Governor Rankin to publish both the findings and evidence.
But the Andrew Fahie-led government has refuted the reasons for the delay, calling it “puzzling.”
In a statement, it said that all documents provided by local officials to the Commission are readily accessible by Rankin in unredacted form and could be submitted “immediately and without change.”
“It is understandable that the Commissioner wishes to prepare a report in publishable form, but it is also surprising that the Commission should complain about delays in ministerial indications about which parts of thousands of pages of documents should be withheld for good reasons such as national security,” the release said.
The government said that despite three requests between November 25 and December 30 last year, Hickinbottom has not told them “which documents in particular he would quote or rely on in his report,” and that “ministers are anxious” to share relevant documents “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 Commission which documents they should be looking at.
“It is regrettable that this further delay in the process, which already consumed very considerable amounts of government time and resources in 2021, means that there will be further calls on these well into 2022 — and further unnecessary harm may continue to be done in the meantime to the reputation of these islands,” the BVI government statement added.