The Commission of Inquiry (COI) report “firmly” concluded that “not only is there information that serious dishonesty involving officials may have taken place here in recent years, but it is highly likely that it have taken place”.
Speaking at a press conference at Government House this morning, Governor John Rankin noted that, among other things, COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickenbottom had investigated the policy adopted by the current government to revoke all members of the statutory councils and have them reconstituted.
“The Commissioner finds that there has been manifest manipulation by the executive of institutions that are established by the legislature to perform public functions as independent bodies. He found overwhelming evidence that the independence of these boards has been “severely – and, at times, cynically and with apparent disdain – eroded,” Rankin said.
Rankin said the commissioner also noted the policing and law enforcement challenges in the territory.
“The responsibility for the Virgin Island Police lies with me. The commissioner notes corruption in the police force among a minority of officers but welcomes the current police commissioner’s commitment to addressing corrupt behavior, with my full support,” the governor added.
Her Majesty’s Customs
Although the COI has not carried out any in-depth investigation into Her Majesty’s Customs, the report noted several serious concerns expressed by individuals about its operation.
“The Commissioner concludes that both in Her Majesty’s Customs and the Immigration Department – but in particular in Customs – there is an environment conducive to corruption,” the Governor said.
“He recommends independent verification of all customs and immigration officers and officers appointed by the Commissioner of Police investigate possible corruption in customs,” he added.
Governor Rankin said the government’s enforcement of a 20-year wait for membership status is contrary to the 10 years stipulated by Virgin Islands law and, therefore, illegal.
“He also found that in 2011, at least 224 people were granted membership status outside of the law,” Rankin added.
The Governor noted that Commissioner Hickenbottom found that at the Cabinet level, the personal recommendations of Cabinet members were the primary reason for granting these membership statuses and this was done without any due diligence or process.
“And the commissioner addresses more recent cases where the Cabinet seemed willing to act in a legally arbitrary manner with respect to residency and membership rights,” Rankin said.
During the press conference, Rankin also revealed that the commissioner found that, with few exceptions, governance in areas under the control of government ministers was, at best, very poor.
“Principles such as openness and transparency are not simply absent, but positively avoided. Appropriate procedures, checks and balances are absent, or blatantly inadequate, or ignored or circumvented,” he added.
The Commissioner has also investigated the disposition of Crown land by the government and in particular the granting of a lease. According to the Governor, Commissioner Hickenbottom concluded that serious dishonesty may have taken place, which required further investigation.
Locals will conduct any investigation arising from a conflict of interest
In the meantime, the governor said any investigation resulting from the report would be led by residents.
“People will see [from the report] recommendations for an audit to be carried out and I hope it will be primarily led by the Auditor General of the BVI, using her resources and any additional resources she may need to assist her in her work. Again, it’s a recommendation, and we’re waiting for a decision. If not, I also hope – as criminal investigations become necessary – that they will be carried out by the Royal Virgin Islands Police,” Rankin said.
Rankin noted that notwithstanding the report, he believes the vast majority of the public service are “good, honest people.”
Below is a copy of the COI report.
Printed version of the COI report
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