Premier Fahie said these documents included medical diagnosis and other supporting documents for their application for help via the government’s hardship payments scheme, created following the 2017 hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This request appears to have been made under the misapprehension that Honourable Members were themselves paid the money for distribution to their constituents since it sought details on when and how the funds were transferred to a member. In fact, the monies were disbursed by the Ministry of Finance on the basis of a standard form written application with supporting documents and information attesting to the particular hardships suffered by individuals,” Premier Fahie said during the Seventh Sitting of the Third Session of the Fourth House of Assembly at Save the Seed Energy Centre in Duff's Bottom on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
He said, “Even where information has raised possible issues of confidentiality, legal professional privilege or public interest immunity, the government’s default position has been to waive those considerations and only to seek ffrom the commissioner clear assurances as to the future secure and confidential treatment of those documents, these it has received.”
He explained that this was the position because the assistance came from public funds. Despite this, there would be need for “proper and rigorous justifications” for the information otherwise, these sensitive information would have been revealed unnecessarily.
According to the Premier, the Inquiry Response Unit (IRU) and the Attorney General's Chamber suggested that only the names and contact details, along with the sums that the successful applicants received, should suffice.
He said the “reply was at first discouraging, but the IRU informed the Commissioner’s team that it would only provide the sensitive information of individual Virgin Islanders if a legal justification was given. At that point, I’m glad to say the Commissioner’s team agreed — for now — to accept the IRU’s proposal and withdraw its request for the indiscriminate disclosure of the hundreds of personal and human tragedies that we know Irma and coronavirus have caused the people of the Virgin Islands.”
Premier Fahie also stated that to date, 3,977 official documents consisting of 72,902 pages have been submitted by the IRU on behalf of the government to the CoI.
The IRU was established by the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands on February 5, 2021, to ensure full cooperation with the Inquiry and facilitation of the Inquiry process, while upholding the legal duties and legitimate interests of the Government.
The Commission of Inquiry was announced on January 18, 2021, by controversial former Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert to look into whether corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty may have taken place amongst public, elected and statutory officials in recent years in the [British] Virgin Islands.