The apparently flustered Commission vehemently denied that it was responsible for the leak, saying its inquiries with the CoI team during its short lunch break was satisfactory, but has pointed fingers to others and has ordered that the Attorney General provides some answers by 9:00am tomorrow, June 17, 2021.
The CoI specifically took issue with the portion of the article that said the document was shared with our newsroom by senior sources within the Commission of Inquiry (CoI).
The article on the leaked document had revealed that Ministers, in their position statement on governance, were of the view that ex-Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert fought against the Virgin Islands Government’s agenda aimed at achieving greater autonomy and self-government for the Virgin Islands.
It had also accused Jaspert of breaching the Virgin Islands Constitution and that the United Kingdom (UK) did nothing to intervene despite being informed of Jaspert’s alleged actions.
The revelations further lend to assertions that the CoI was only called because Mr Jaspert was aggrieved he was unable to get his way with the elected government of Premier Andrew A. Fahie (R1).
Counsel to the Commission, Mr Bilal Rawat, who is being accused of operating illegally in the VI in his capacity with the Commission, raised the matter with the Commission, stating that the 33-page position statement was filed and served with the CoI on behalf of elected Ministers on June 1, 2021.
Rawat claimed that prior to that date the document had been shared by 2 members of the House of Assembly (HoA) who are represented by Silk Legal.
“It has not yet been published by the CoI, save for one exception…it has not otherwise been provided to any other participant or individual or body. What has occurred and this was with the agreement of the Attorney General, was that you directed that the position statement be shared with the Governor’s Office.”
Bilal said this was because the content of the position statement raised issues that firstly required obtaining further disclosure from the elected ministers, but also putting those who were the subject of their criticism on notice of the content of the document.
“All those who received documents from the CoI in the accepted manner are bound by a duty of confidentiality to you as Commissioner. In so far as it needs to be that has been made explicit in the CoI rules but it is in anyway a convention by which all legal representatives are used to operating in any forum.”
Noting that himself and the Commissioner have discussed the contents of the article, and its position statement emanating from senior sources within the Commission of Inquiry, Bilal said: “If I may clear, leaving yourself aside, commissioner, the CoI team here numbers 5 people, including myself. Inquiries, therefore, have been made of all members over the lunchtime adjournment and I am satisfied and Commissioner I believe you are also satisfied that this document did not emanate from within the CoI or indeed any source; however, senior or junior.”
Commissioner Gary R. Hickinbottom said he wanted to make it clear that the substance of the leaked document will be the subject of the CoI.
“In the document, the Ministers make serious allegations that Governor Jaspert and the United Kingdom Government have acted improperly, unconstitutionally, and illegally in the sense they have acted against international law in respect to matters of governance.
“Contrary to speculation in the media and indeed by some of the participants in this inquiry of course I will investigate such criticisms, but the criticisms that have been made have to be investigated in the proper way.”
The Commissioner noted that the Attorney General and the seven ministers who have signed the position statement have confirmed that they have no redactions that they would wish to make prior to its publication.
“I stress that this document will be published with any appropriate redactions as soon as I have received submissions in respect of what redactions that need to be made. The position statement contains various personal information which the Attorney General has a duty to protect as do I as Commissioner.”
Hickinbottom also claimed that the leaked document contains information that the Attorney General has said may be confidential “and she has indicated that those who may have the benefit of that confidence include the Governor and the United Kingdom Government.”
He said that is why “I have directed that the position statement and its appendices be sent to the Governor’s Office so that he may make any submission that he wishes to make in respect of redactions, both of personal data and other confidential information that he considers should be made prior to a determination by me and then publication of this document.
Hickinbottom also said he has directed the Attorney General for legal submissions on the criticisms made; however, he is yet to receive them.
Meanwhile, Hickinbottom said during the lunch adjournment he and Rawat caused inquiries to be made of the small CoI team here.
“They were relatively easy inquiries to make because the entire team, save for the secretary who is working literally next door, are here in the hearing room.
“I have received comfort as have you that the leak did not emanate from anyone in this team. To that extent, this article is simply wrong. But that means that the leak must have come from somewhere else and it must have come from someone who owes a duty of confidence to me as Commissioner in this Inquiry. I take that extremely seriously.”
Hickinbottom then directed that the Attorney General and the Governor’s Office write to him by 9:00am tomorrow, June 17, 2021, with the list of every single person who has had access to the document and identify inquiries that they have made to ascertain who may have leaked the document.
“I will, once I have received those letters, make any further inquiries that I consider appropriate, but this Commission of Inquiry will be conducted on the basis of proper confidentiality with all of the participants and all of those who are engaged in this process complying with their obligations of confidentiality to the full. This inquiry simply can’t be conducted under any other basis.”
Hickinbottom said an order will follow later today.
“The direction of course will include any individuals who have had access to it, have disclosed information. It will in that sense have a waterfall effect,” Hickinbottom said.
Persons speaking to this newsroom on condition of anonymity said the CoI is wasting time with trying to find out who leaked the document as most of what was revealed were already public knowledge and that the Commissioner has already claimed he is committed to transparency but is yet still trying to hide public documents.
Further, some speculated that the CoI may just be seeking to intimidate the media, particularly Virgin Islands News Online, which has been exposing the CoI as possibly flawed, hypocritical and imperialist.