In his findings, Sir Gary Hickinbottom, who led the COI, recorded that it was never intended that the inquiry would conduct in-depth financial investigations into particular projects, programmes, people or even to “chase“ bad money.
According to Sir Gary, this was not required or expected, given the terms of reference for the inquiry. He said the time and resources he had were tailored accordingly as a result.
Apart from his terms of reference, Sir Gary disclosed that two other factors mitigated against focusing on dishonesty in the form of public officials obtaining direct personal financial benefit from their office.
Calling it a substantial challenge, he said potential witnesses feared that by giving information to the inquiry, they would face discrimination or other adverse consequences and therefore were not prepared to come forward at all.
Some of those who actually did come forward, Sir Gary said, made it clear that by speaking with the COI they firmly believed that they and their families would suffer such adverse consequences.
“There is no doubt that these fears were sincerely and firmly held,” the Commissioner related. “There was evidence of people, immediately upon leaving a meeting with members of the COI team, being questioned as to what was discussed at the meeting and what they had said.”
The Commissioner said while some were willing to speak, they were only doing so on the basis that their evidence would not be used by the COI unless it was used in such a way that they could not be identified.
The second factor that prevailed, according to Sir Gary, is that documents and information disclosed by the government were received in such a shambolic state that even after careful analysis and oral evidence from relevant public officials, it was difficult to put together what had actually happened.
It was a consistent theme that the COI referred to and it often meant protracted delays in the way in which hearings were held as a result.
The Commissioner said it was often impossible to even ascertain why a course of public action had been taken, with the documents not reflecting the evidence of public officials or public officials being simply unable to explain why particular steps had been taken.
In light of his findings, Sir Gary recommended that one or more independent units be established to conduct the much needed financial investigations and said steps should be taken to ensure that any appropriate measures are used to secure money, land or other assets; pending the outcome of criminal or civil recovery or confiscation proceedings.
The Commissioner said the independence, impartiality, and integrity of any such unit will be crucial and suggested steps should be taken to ensure that it is properly resourced so the people of the BVI will have confidence in it.