British Virgin Islands

Saturday, Jul 31, 2021

CoI document reveals ‘turf war’ between Ex-Governor Jaspert & VI Gov’t

CoI document reveals ‘turf war’ between Ex-Governor Jaspert & VI Gov’t

While there have been many speculations as to the reason behind the calling of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into governance in the Virgin Islands by former governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert, a position statement by Ministers of Government on governance submitted to the CoI has shed some light on the possible motive.

The 33-page statement, which was shared with our newsroom by senior sources within the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), disclosed what most in the public knew all along, that there was tension between Mr Jaspert and the democratically elected government.

Mr Jaspert was accused of resisting and frustrating the efforts of the Premier Andrew A. Fahie-led government that was committed to asserting and achieving greater autonomy and self-government for the Virgin Islands.

More concerning was that Mr Jaspert continually ignored or violated the Virgin Islands Constitution Order of 2007.

Basic level of trust & respect was lacking

According to the statement, it is critical to the success of the form of government adopted by the 2007 Constitutional Order and to good governance in the Virgin Islands that the relationships among those who hold, pursuant to Chapter 4 of the Constitution, the shared responsibility of government should function with at least a basic level of trust and respect.

“Recently, that has not always appeared to be the case in the Virgin Islands.”

It said, in a constitutional order in which the Governor maintains special responsibility for a range of matters (ss. 47, 60, 92 of the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007) that often closely overlap with the interests of the elected government, including the management and effectiveness of the Public Service, and a power to override the Public Service Commission in respect of appointments within the Public Service (such as permanent secretaries in each ministry) it is essential that the elected Government should feel that the Governor is willing to understand its point of view, however dissonant from that of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and to discharge his vital counterbalancing function.

Breach of constitution by Jaspert

According to the statement, it is also essential to good governance that respect for the 2007 Constitutional order and a scrupulous adherence to the respective roles and responsibilities assigned by it to each of its component institutions are observed from the top down.

“Yet, the elected Government believes there to have been many instances of a failure by the previous Governor to respect the standing and scope of authority of the elected institutions conferred by the Constitution, even to the extent of openly undermining them, and these have been a further source of controversy and distrust.”

Listing an example, it said the Constitution provides, ‘Proceedings in the Cabinet 49.—(1) The Governor shall, so far as practicable, attend and preside at meetings of the Cabinet. (2) In the absence of the Governor there shall preside at any meeting of the Cabinet the Premier, or in his or her absence, the Deputy Premier.’

“However, since the election of the Government on 25 February 2019, on each occasion on which the former Governor was absent, and despite that clear and unqualified constitutional intention, he refused to allow the Premier to preside over a Cabinet meeting and purported to delegate that responsibility to the Deputy Governor instead, pursuant (it is said) to his general power to delegate his functions by instrument under seal conferred by s. 39 of the Constitution. The elected Government believes there to be no respectable argument for that position as a matter of law.”

UK Gov’t upheld Jaspert’s breach of VI constitution

According to the statement, the continuing refusal by Mr Jaspert to recognise the express and specific rule set out in the Constitution had been a source of concern to the elected Government, not least because it appeared at odds with the UK Government’s professed policy of fostering local democratic institutions and promoting self-government and must have been expected to inflame relations with an elected Government committed to that goal.

It said, on September 30, 2020, the Premier wrote to the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Baroness Elizabeth G. Sugg, requesting her intervention to resolve the dispute, without success.

“If the UK Government, and the former Governor whom it has appointed, are unwilling, when it concerns the Overseas Territories, to adhere to the rule of law, it is reasonable to ask, what example does that set?”

‘Turf War’

According to the statement, other contentious issues arose after the elections of February 25, 2019, which it said can be characterised as a turf war between the Governor and the elected Government over who had the right to initiate and lead on policy in specific areas.

It said the elected Government wished to assume greater autonomous responsibility for the affairs of the Virgin Islands where the Constitution permitted it, even if that meant a change in the status quo.

“The Governor invariably resisted.”

Giving an example, it said the elected Government took the view that Disaster Management should properly be a matter that lay predominantly within the area of responsibility of the democratically elected institutions since the development and organisation of the response to a disaster would require a cross-government approach, with each ministry and department involved in planning and preparation.

It said government sought appropriate legal advice from which it concluded there was no constitutional objection to a change and expressed that it wished to introduce legislation to amend the Disaster Management Act 2003 to situate the overall responsibility for disaster management with a Minister.

“The former Governor disagreed, arguing that although ministers must be and were involved, the Governor should remain in overall charge. He invoked section 60 of the Constitution, arguing that the legislation affected internal security and threatened to withhold assent.

Heated disputes

“Sometimes, regrettably, the disputes became heated.”

According to the statement, on January 8, 2020, at a Cabinet meeting, the former Governor made remarks that to those present appeared to make imputations about the integrity of the elected Government.

It said the Premier wrote to the former Governor to protest. He said ‘Your statements during that historical Cabinet Meeting on Jost van Dyke are consistent with a pattern of behaviour that I have observed from you towards my Government since the initial weeks of my Government's tenure when I requested time to analyse and consider the conditions proposed by the UK Government with respect to its offer of Loan Guarantees for Hurricane Recovery, more so since my Government proposed a smaller revised Recovery and Development Plan based on practical considerations.’

He continued, ‘If you have evidence of corruption in Government, especially post-25 February, 2019, then I invite you to bring it forward so that it can be investigated and firmly prosecuted by the appropriate authorities - the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Commissioner of Police…’

Is Fahie-led Gov’t the only target of CoI?

Prior to February 25, 2019, there were allegations of misconduct in Government affairs with respect to the activities of the previous administration. These included the $7.2 million BVI/BV Airways deal; the $1.6 million Elmore Stoutt High School perimeter wall project, which saw individuals inflating their costs by an average of 65 percent, as much as more than 150 percent of the true value of the work done; and the more than $50 million in cost overruns at the Tortola Pier Park project.

The Premier wrote: “These were drawn to your attention and to the attention of your predecessors. There was no action by your office to meaningfully deal with these matters.”

Where such a division exists, it also creates an inevitable and undesirable uncertainty in the minds of public officers about to whom they are accountable and whom they serve, which leads to understandable reluctance to take the risk of being seen to give advice that might conflict with the perceived interest of one or other “side”.

The statement also mentioned the overreaching into the public service by Mr Jaspert and that, once again, the FCDO did nothing to address the concerns when informed.

Jaspert; however, got ‘the last lick’ when, unknowing to the VI government, he planned with the FCDO to call a CoI in the VI and also ensured that the international press had the information even before the local government and press.

More and more; however, the motives of the CoI continue to be revealed, causing many to now question the integrity of the CoI.

According to a position statement by Ministers of Government on governance submitted to the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), the United Kingdom Government supported the breach of the Virgin Islands Constitution by former governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert.

Ex-Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert got ‘the last lick’ when, unknowing to the VI government, he planned with the FCDO to call a CoI in the VI and also ensured that the international press had the information even before the local government and press.


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