HE Governor Martyn Roper has weighed in on the news today that a UK-government-backed Commission of Inquiry has been launched by his colleague Governor of the British Virgin Islands into serious allegations of corruption in that UK Overseas Territory.
A press release on Monday from the Governor Office here about the BVI inquiry stated:
“It has been announced today that the Governor of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) – with the full backing of the UK Government – has called a Commission of Inquiry to investigate concerns around poor governance in the Islands including allegations that point to possible corruption and other criminal activity.”
This launching of the inquiry is one of the last acts of outgoing BVI Governor Gus Jaspert who is due to leave office shortly.
“The scale of criminality was laid bare by the recent seizure of two tonnes of cocaine on BVI, with a street value of just under £190 million,” the press release stated.
Commenting on the development, Governor Roper remarked, “This is a serious matter underlining the UK’s strong adherence to good governance in the Overseas Territories.”
The press release from Government House in Cayman which came as the story was being picked by the UK and international media said: “The allegations that have prompted this action are wide-ranging.”
It lists several serious allegations including, “political interference and coercion in relation to appointments in the public service and statutory boards, including the criminal justice system and individual criminal cases.”
The inquiry will also investigate “claims that people in public service, media and community leaders have been intimidated to such a degree that they describe living in a climate of fear.”
It also speaks of “allegations that funds set aside for struggling families during the pandemic may have been channelled to political allies; concerns around spending on Government contracts without proper procurement process; and misuse of taxpayers’ money on infrastructure and transport projects.”
The Government of the British Virgin Islands is headed by Andrew Fahie whose Virgin Islands Party took power in elections in 2019.
His administration is known to have had a rocky relationship with Governor Jaspert who is due to leave office this year.
It was announced last September that he would be replaced in the BVI by the previous Governor of Bermuda, John Rankin, who’s tenure there ended last year.
Mr Rankin arrived in the BVI on January 14th and will be sworn-in after he completes the required 14-day quarantine.
The statement announcing the BVI Commission of Inquiry said: “As those responsible for ensuring the security and good governance of the BVI, the Governor and UK Government, could not stand by amid such serious allegations which also raise concerns about the potential vulnerability of the islands to serious organised crime.”
Looking at the situation in Cayman in light of the development in the sister Overseas Territory, Governor Roper stated:
“I am proud of the good governance mechanisms in the Cayman Islands, which are enshrined in our constitution. The Auditor-General, the Ombudsman and Independent Commissions such as the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Commission for Standards in Public Life all continue to perform valuable work which underpins our democracy and good governance. I have every confidence that they will continue to do so.”
The BVI Commission of Inquiry will inquire into whether there is information to substantiate claims that corruption, abuse of position and serious impropriety has taken place in public office in recent years, and it will make recommendations.
It will be run by a senior independent UK judge, the Right Honourable Sir Gary Hickinbottom who will have the powers of a High Court Judge to collect evidence and summon any person in the BVI to give evidence.
The final report is expected within six months.
According to the release, “at that point, the UK and BVI will be able to consider the recommendations together in a constructive manner that best serves the people of the BVI.”
The British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, issued a statement on the matter on Monday announcing the inquiry.
“Successive attempts have been made to address these concerns through local institutions, many of which have done commendable work to bring them to light,” Mr Raab said.
“However, the scope and seriousness of the concerns are now beyond local capacity to address.
The Foreign Secretary, whose portfolio includes the Overseas Territories stated: “The UK government is responsible for ensuring the security and good governance of BVI. We have a constitutional and moral duty to protect the interests of the people of BVI.”
A BVI Government statement on Monday said it welcomed a “transparent” Commission of Inquiry and referred to inquiries it had made to Governor Jaspert “concerning the steps to be taken in an effort to clear the names of accused persons” regarding three major local investigations.
“As stated on numerous occasions by the Governor, a Commission of Inquiry would only be conducted based on facts and not rumours and unfounded allegations,” the government said.
Just last December the British Virgin Islands government announced that it was introducing draft Integrity in Public Life legislation which it said “supports good governance by providing a buffer against corruption in public affairs.”