Corrupt elements have been able to find a foothold in many of the government agencies on the British Virgin Islands.
These were the findings of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into governance on the island.
The COI’s over 900-page report was compiled by retired British Judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom after hearing testimony and reviewing documents between April and November 2021.
Governor John Rankin published the COI report today, ahead of the June schedule, in an effort to clear up speculation that yesterday’s arrest of Premier Andrew Fahie, Managing Director of the British Virgin Islands Ports Authority, Oleanvine Maynard and her son Kadeem Maynard in Miami, Florida in a cocaine and money laundering bust were linked to the findings.
“The COI was not a criminal investigation into the illegal drugs trade. Nor I should stress was it an investigation into the BVI’s financial services sector,” Rankin remarked at a media conference.
The report contained 45 recommendations and four overarching recommendations, such as the partial suspension of the constitution, to restructure the BVI’s government and governance structures.
In presenting the findings Rankin said: “Overall, the Commissioner in his Report finds that the elected government, in successive administrations, has sought to avoid good governance. He says that in terms of governance the people of the BVI have been served very badly in recent years and that almost everywhere the principles of good governance such as openness, transparency and the rule of law are ignored.”
“He concludes that it is highly likely that serious dishonesty may have taken place across a broad range of government and that there is information that a substantial number of elected officials may be involved. He makes recommendations for further investigations and possible criminal prosecution in several areas.”
The governor highlighted that Fahie’s government reconstituted statutory boards when they took office in 2019 to effectively manipulate the functions of these independent agencies.
“He found overwhelming evidence that the independence of such boards has been ‘severely – and, at times, cynically and with apparent disdain – eroded’,” the governor stated.
Hickinbottom and his team were unable to conduct an indepth investigation into the operations at Her Majesty’s Customs but the governor said serious concerns were expressed by a number of individuals about its operations.
“The Commissioner concludes that in both HM Customs and the Immigration Department – but particularly in Customs – there is an environment conducive to corruption. He recommends independent vetting of all Customs and Immigration officers and that officers appointed by the Police Commissioner investigate possible corruption in Customs.”
The granting of residence and belongership on the BVI continued to be at the whim of cabinet ministers and it time when against the law.
The governor stated: “The Commissioner concluded that the Government’s application of a 20 year continuing ordinary residence threshold for belonger status, contrary to the 10 years stipulated in BVI law, was and is unlawful. He also found that in 2011 at least 224 individuals were granted belonger status outside of the framework of the law.”
“Rather they were simply added at Cabinet-level on personal recommendations by members of the Cabinet without any due diligence or process. And the Commissioner addresses more recent cases in which Cabinet has appeared willing to act in a legally arbitrary manner in relation to residence and belongership rights.”
The commissioner also found that there was corrupt officers in the police force, which falls under the governor’s office, but they were in the minority.
Rankin said he is working with Commissioner of Police Mark Collins to address the concerns.
The judicial system received praise for its independence but it was noted that the absence of processes to allow for witness anonymity severely undermines the criminal process.
Additionally, due to the small size of the jury pool, Hickinbottom recommended that consideration should be given to judge only criminal trials in certain cases.
Within the next few days, the governor will meet with the government, Minister for the Overseas Territories, Amanda Milling, and members of the legislature to discuss the report.