British Virgin Islands

Friday, Jul 30, 2021

Gov’t concerned: Public officers working weekends to facilitate COI

Gov’t concerned: Public officers working weekends to facilitate COI

Public officers are being forced to work weekends and at “extraordinary hours” to meet the demands of the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (COI).

This is according to government ministers who have raised serious concerns about what they describe as a “large and growing diversion” of government resources to the COI.

“The accumulated strains on the public service of dealing with the COI’s requests for evidence and further demands for documents, often at very short notice, is untenable,” said the ministers who have doubled down on Premier Andrew Fahie’s call for a pause in the proceedings of the Inquiry.

In a statement released by the Premier’s Office this week, ministers complained that while the COI has indicated six general areas of inquiry, usually it only gives a week’s notice to the witnesses – many of whom are public officers – it would call.

It further said public officers have many other daily priorities so it is important to recognise that the limited human resources of the public service are supposed to serve residents.

The government said all these issues are compounded by the fact that the requests are made at a time when it is grappling with the most dangerous COVID-19 outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic.

COI says document requests made weeks ahead

But the COI said in an update issued Wednesday that their requests to the government were issued weeks before the recent rise in COVID-19 cases. The COI further said substantial documents it requested are still outstanding despite multiple extensions of deadlines previously granted to the government.

The Commissioner, Sir Gary Hickinbottom, said while he is sensitive to the fact that the current COVID-19 situation in the BVI now makes it more difficult for some government departments, it is vital that the outstanding documents be provided as soon as possible to enable focused hearings to resume.

The COI said it will not hold hearings in August.

The government said it hopes requests for affidavits and additional information from ministries is also halted while the COI adjourns for “summer holiday”.

“The halt would have indeed put already overwhelmed public officers and all officials in a better position to put their full attention in dealing with containing the spread and spike of COVID-19 in the Virgin Islands,” the government has said.

And as the COI has been extended for an additional six months, the government has called for “a clear structure and timetable for the hearings, with notice of the subject matter for those hearings set out well in advance, so that the government can plan its resources and the time of public servants accordingly”.


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