Amid recent reports that his office has received a litany of complaints regarding lack of transparency in government, outgoing governor, Augustus Jaspert today announced he has decided to issue a Commission of Inquiry (COI), in accordance with BVI’s Commissions of Inquiry Act.
The Governor’s announcement was made via Facebook and doesn’t appear on the BVI Government website.
A Commission of Inquiry is a body that can look impartially into matters of public concern.
“The Commission will look into whether corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty in relation to officials — elected, statutory or public — may have taken place in recent years. If so, it will consider the conditions which allowed this to take place and make independent recommendations for improvement,” Governor Jaspert said.
The governor said he’ll be hosting a press conference later this week to set out more details about the COI. He will host the conference with the judge appointed to lead the inquiry.
Who will lead the commission?
According to Governor Jaspert, the COI will be an entirely independent process led by a senior impartial judge coming from outside of the territory, the Right Honourable Sir Gary Hickinbottom.
“This will help the Commission reach fair unbiased conclusions under local law. Furthermore, the judge will have powers under the Commission of Inquiry Ordinance to collect evidence and summon witnesses in a way that our local institutions cannot,” the Governor said.
In his statement, he also specified the complaints that his office has received that have led to the Commission of Inquiry.
“First, there are wide concerns over the lack of transparency when it comes to spending public funds, particularly those relating to COVID-19 economic stimulus support,” Jaspert explained.
“Second, there are wide concerns over the possible mismanagement of some public projects. Successive audit reports have set out practices of political interference, inflated pricing and conflicts of interest. These may have cost the public purse millions of dollars in recent years, with no sign of improvement,” the governor added.
He continued: “Third, and linked to the previous points, there are concerns over the lack of transparency relating to Government contracts. Key concerns include a lack of fair and open competition, conflicts of interest and a lack of value for money. We need to know how individuals are getting work so we can ensure equal opportunities for all.”
“Fourth, there are allegations of some political interference occurring in some statutory bodies. A number of officers from our bodies have come to me with concerns about individuals being replaced by political allies and officers being coerced into circumventing protocols and taking improper practices.”
“There are similar allegations relating to the public service and serious allegations of attempts of interference in the criminal justice system.”
“Finally, there are wide concerns about intimidation taking place across our society, public services and the media with many describing ‘a growing culture of fear’ in BVI.”
“In addition to these allegations, there is growing evidence of serious organised crime infiltrating BVI. This was made clear in November, when 2,300 kilos of cocaine, with a street value of at least $250 million, was smuggled through our borders.”
“Now let me be clear about the fact that these are allegations. However, they cannot be ignored and I must fulfil my Constitutional role to support the people and to uphold the peace, order and good governance of the Virgin Islands,” Governor Jaspert said.
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