By British Virgin Islands Government
British Virgin Islands (BVI) – In response to a question in the House of Assembly, premier Andrew A Fahie gave details on the scale of response from the government of the Virgin Islands to the Commission of Inquiry (COI) which was launched on January 19.
In an overview of activity undertaken to date, premier Fahie said that the manner in which the COI had been announced had caused unjustified harm to the reputation and image of the Virgin Islands, but expressed hope that with the return of the Commissioner to the Territory there may be greater clarity on the focus of the COI going forward. During his statement to the House, he made it clear that the determination to dispel this incorrect perception of the BVI was the driving force behind the considerable efforts undertaken by the government.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, premier Fahie said that, as with other countries, there were areas of policy and government that could be improved, but that “The very broad, indeed the breath-taking scope of the COI could only have been justified if there had been a systemic breakdown in governace and of law and order in these islands, …, there has been no such breakdown.”
Premier Fahie went on to say, “The government’s view is that the only way in which this shadow can now effectively be dispelled is by facilitating and helping the Commission of Inquiry to do its work objectively – so that the independent Commissioner can form a fair, balanced and transparent picture of the situation in the Virgin Islands and of its governance.”
The premier thanked the hard work of public officers including implementing the processes required and making arrangements for the government’s IT services to deal with the secure handling of documents. He detailed the scale of the task in recent weeks, explaining that to date the Inquiry Response Unit (IRU) – set up under the attorney general to deal with the COI – had responded to 51 requests for information and disclosed 3,977 official documents to the COI, consisting of 72,902 pages.
The breadth of data requested has to be noted for public expenditure purposes and needs to be accounted for.
Premier explained that in addition to volume, submitting this documentation has been time-consuming due to information sharing obligations. All official documents are subject to strict conditions and it has been the government’s duty to ensure that it understands and has a record of the material it is allowing out of its possession and sending to the COI. This is particularly true in requests where confidential information is concerned, such as details of medical treatment and financial circumstances of individual Virgin Islanders who had applied to the government’s Hardship Payments Scheme set up in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma and, latterly, the coronavirus pandemic. In these instances, private information was not legally justified, has been redacted to protect individuals’ right to privacy.
He further explained that in contrast, information from the COI has, to date, been limited. The government of the Virgin Islands remains uninformed of the focus of the Commissioner’s interest and has been unable to assist in providing any additional material or contextual information.
Looking towards future engagement with the Commissioner, premier Fahie said: “The Commissioner, whom we welcomed again to these shores recently, indicated last week, by the publication of new rules and procedures, how he will shape the future of his Inquiry. I very much hope he will have regard to achieving the maximum possible transparency in this next stage.
“The IRU, acting under and on behalf of the attorney general, will remain vital in helping to ensure the public interest of the Virgin Islands in an efficient, fair and balanced process is upheld.”