British Virgin Islands

Monday, Oct 25, 2021

Gus strikes back! Announces Commission of Inquiry aimed @ elected Gov't

Gus strikes back! Announces Commission of Inquiry aimed @ elected Gov't

Already accused of trying to bully the democratically elected government of the Virgin Islands and sabotaging the economic advancement of the territory by refusing to assent to bills designed to introduce new revenue streams to the territory, controversial outgoing governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert has seemingly hit back with the announcement that he has issued a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into Good Governance.

Governor Jaspert's move to launch a CoI comes even after Premier and Minister of Finance, Hon Andrew A. Fahie (R1) recently reiterated his Government's commitment to having the Integrity in Public Life Act 2020, brought to the House of Assembly in 2021.

In December 2020, Premier Fahie had said his administration remained serious about ensuring that the Integrity in Public Life Act and the Code of Conduct are put in place as well as all the necessary foundations to support the legislation.

The Premier had then reiterated this government's intention as recent as January 12, 2021.

Today, January 18, 2021; however, Governor Jaspert, who had angered sections of the Virgin Islands over what many deemed as insensitive and even racist statements over reparations and preserving names of landmarks in honour of perpetrators of chattel slavery, announced in a press release that he has issued a Commission of Inquiry over unfounded allegations of corruption and discrimination in the public service.

Commission of Inquiry


"You will recall that in early December, I spoke openly with the public about the growing number of concerns and allegations relating to the standards of governance in BVI. These concerns were put to me by individuals across the community - including senior business leaders, public officers, community groups, media and others. Cumulatively, they paint a worrisome picture.

"In the past months, the community has had many open and honest conversations about this. For the first time, many have felt confident to raise their voice. This is an important conversation for us to have, albeit difficult as those who speak up are too often silenced. However, we must continue to do so in order to protect the values of our Constitution and democracy in BVI."

According to Mr Jaspert, who it is alleged had refused to undergo a 14-day quarantine after returning from the United Kingdom over a week ago, he has been speaking with his colleagues in the Governor’s Group, including the Deputy Governor, the Auditor General, the Police Commissioner, the Registrar of Interests and others and they share responsibility for ensuring good governance and "are concerned by what we have seen in our roles and the allegations put to us."

Concerns & Allegations


The Governor then sought to set out his "concerns and allegations", which he said date back a number of years.

"First, there are wide concerns over the lack of transparency when it comes to spending public funds, particularly those relating to COVID-19 economic stimulus support.

"Second, there are wide concerns over the possible mismanagement of some public projects. Successive audit reports have set out practices of political interference, inflated pricing and conflicts of interest. These may have cost the public purse millions of dollars in recent years, with no sign of improvement.

"Third, and linked to the previous points, there are concerns over the lack of transparency relating to Government contracts. Key concerns include a lack of fair and open competition, conflicts of interest and a lack of value for money. We need to know how individuals are getting work so we can ensure equal opportunities for all.

"Fourth, there are allegations of some political interference occurring in some statutory bodies. A number of officers from our bodies have come to me with concerns about individuals being replaced by political allies and officers being coerced into circumventing protocols and taking improper practices."

Alleged attempts of interference in criminal justice system


According to the Governor, there are similar allegations relating to the public service and serious allegations of attempts of interference in the criminal justice system.

He said there are also "wide concerns" about intimidation taking place across our society, public services and the media with many describing ‘a growing culture of fear’ in the VI.

Organised crime claim


"In addition to these allegations, there is growing evidence of serious organised crime infiltrating BVI. This was made clear in November, when 2,300 kilos of cocaine, with a street value of at least $250 million, was smuggled through our borders.

Mr Jaspert said while the issues are just allegations, they cannot be ignored and "I must fulfil my Constitutional role to support the people and to uphold the peace, order and good governance of the Virgin Islands."

Robust & impartial intervention


The Governor claimed that local institutions responsible for good governance feel hindered and unable to act without the laws and frameworks of Good Governance in place.

According to him, the state of governance in the VI requires robust and impartial intervention now.

"Therefore, I have decided to issue a Commission of Inquiry, in accordance with BVI’s Commissions of Inquiry Act. A Commission of Inquiry is a body that can look impartially into matters of public concern. The Commission will look into whether corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty in relation to officials - elected, statutory or public - may have taken place in recent years. If so, it will consider the conditions which allowed this to take place and make independent recommendations for improvement."

Sir Gary Hickinbottom the CoI Judge


Mr Jaspert said the CoI will be an entirely independent process led by a senior impartial judge coming from outside of the Territory, the Right Honourable Sir Gary Hickinbottom. This, he said, will help the Commission reach fair unbiased conclusions under local law. Furthermore, according to the Governor, the Judge will have powers under the Commission of Inquiry Ordinance to collect evidence and summon witnesses in a way that local institutions cannot.

The Right Honourable Sir Gary Hickinbottom, Mr Jaspert said, brings with him more than 45 years of judicial experience, including 20 years as a judge. Most recently he worked as a Lord Justice of Appeal in the UK and also served as a Supreme Court Judge in the Falkland Islands and worked on a number of Caribbean legal cases throughout his career.

Mr Jaspert said later this week he will be hosting a press conference with Judge Hickinbottom to set out more details.

"I will also be speaking to Public Officers with the Deputy Governor. We know that values of integrity, transparency and dedication run deep in the Public Service and that officers will continue to operate at the highest standards in support of BVI."

CoI has full support of John J. Rankin, CMG- Jaspert


Governor Jaspert said he hopes the Premier, Ministers and all Elected Members can and will fully support the CoI.

"I am acting in full accordance with the Commission of Inquiry Act passed by Honourable Members of the House of Assembly in support of the public whom we all serve. It also has the full support of my successor."

Further, Governor Jaspert said he knows some people will oppose the Commission. "To those people I ask, why do you oppose getting to the truth? If you are honest – which I know, the vast, vast majority of people in BVI are – you have no reason to oppose it. It is a chance to clear names and end the allegations of corruption which threaten to plague our community."

He added that he believes issuing this Commission is the right decision and I hope in future will be seen as a positive moment for the VI.

"It will enable BVI to carve a clear path to better governance and greater self-determination. We want BVI to remain one of the safest places in the Caribbean, underpinned by an effective public service, strong rule of law and internationally successful industries. Through this Commission, we can take stock of where we are and give the people the power to say where we go next. It is inspired by the people and will deliver for the people and is one of the greatest levers under local law designed to ensure public welfare."

Governor Jaspert even dared to end his statement with a quote by the late Chief Minister, H. Lavity Stoutt.

"I will close by drawing on one of the great Hamilton Lavity Stoutt’s favourite quotes. It says, 'where there is no vision, the people perish.' So I ask the people of BVI, what is your vision for our beautiful Virgin Islands?"


Governor Jaspert's move to launch a CoI comes even after Premier and Minister of Finance, Hon Andrew A. Fahie (R1) recently reiterated his Government's commitment to having the Integrity in Public Life Act 2020, brought to the House of Assembly in 2021.

Premier's prediction?


Premier Fahie, during the January 5, 2021 sitting of the Virgin Islands House of Assembly (HoA), had stated that the forces opposing his unconventional government have been planning continuously to smear his government and thwart their efforts.

Further, he had warned that the UK has a history of trying to dismantle a government they do not like by painting them as corrupt.

Notably, the Virgin Islands Party Government, along with the Opposition, has been singing a chorus of independence and has accused the UK of trying to hinder the territory from achieving it, while at the same time neglecting its needs.

Ironically, H. Lavity Stoutt, whom the Governor quoted, was one of the founders of the Virgin Islands Party (VIP), which has traditionally pushed for more autonomy and opportunities for Virgin Islanders.


According to outgoing Governor, Augustus J. U. Jaspert, the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into Good Governance will be fully supported by his successor, Mr John J. Rankin, CMG.


The Virgin Islands Party (VIP) Government, along with the Opposition, has been singing a chorus of independence and has accused the UK of trying to hinder the territory from achieving it, while at the same time neglecting its needs.

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