British Virgin Islands

Tuesday, Aug 03, 2021

Must the evidence before the CoI be made public, or should it remain confidential?

In response to Premier Andrew Fahie’s call for hearings of the COI to be live-streamed, Sir Gary Hickinbottom claims that AG Dawn Smith, “on behalf of the Premier and other Ministers, has asked for the hearings to be held in private”.

Both Mr. Gary Hickinbottom and AG Dawn Smith are correct in their claims and wrong in their conclusion to hide the facts from the public.

The basic rule in a democracy is that all information - without exception - belongs to the public and not to any government officials. 

So any attempt to deny the public full transparency and access to this information is a breach of trust and abuse of power.

In a democracy, the public is the big boss which owns all the information. Officials such as the AG, the Judges and Ministers are merely servants of the public. No servant has any right to deny the landlords access to every part of their own properties. 

In fact, servants who do otherwise are effectively declaring a rebellion and taking step one towards a coup d'etat.

The information provided by government Ministers to the Commission of Inquiry (COI) belongs to the public and not to the Ministers, since they too are of similar standing to Mr. Hickinbottom and AG Smith. That is, in the case of Mr Hickinbottom, standing below the public as an immigrant worker coming in from outside, and, in the case of local AG Smith, standing equally with the public  but never ever above it.

The two extreme outcomes - full publicity on the internet or complete confidentiality - are bad alternatives, neither of which constitutes a solution that does justice to the BVI people.

The proper way to deal with this issue is to upload to a web server all the raw information obtained during the COI work, and allow completely free and full access, exclusively to those who pay taxes on the island. 

The public own this information; they paid for it with their taxes. Hiding this information from them, in whole or in part, is theft and betrayal.

Those who do not pay taxes on the island, and those who are not citizens of the island, should not be allowed access to all the information or even part of it.

The BVI, just like any other community, needs to fight corruption as if there are no secrets, and protect their external reputation as if there is no corruption.

Because the only legitimate goal of such an inquiry is to fix what is wrong, and not to commit institutional suicide by publicly shaming officials. Psychopaths believe in punishments. Healthy people believe in fixing what’s wrong.  Healthy and mature people know that no one can always be right.

A judge, or a minister or a prosecutor, who does not understand that they have no right to prevent full transparency from the public whom they serve as employees, is a crook. The public, as a result of paying their taxes, have completely free access to all the information that comes to officials by virtue of their position. Whoever attempts to conceal it is a traitor and a thief: their rightful place is in prison and not in any public office.

The public owns the information, in its entirety, and it owns everything that comes into the hands of judges, ministers and prosecutors by virtue of the role they perform as civil servants, and in exchange for the salary the public pays them.

This is the difference between democracy and colonialism.

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