“There was some information which suggested interference with appointments; but the most striking evidence of political interference concerned the policy of the current [Virgin Islands Party] administration to revoke the whole membership of all statutory boards (except ex officio members) with a view to reconstituting those boards later with individuals committed to their policy programme,” the CoI report stated.
The CoI report stated that although not in the VIP manifesto, immediately upon assumption of office in 2019, the Premier established and the Cabinet adopted a policy that the entire membership of all statutory boards would be revoked, and each board reconstituted
The report points out that there is no document setting out the rationale for the policy, assessing its pros and cons, but on March 27, 2019 Premier Andrew Fahie presented a paper to Cabinet seeking approval in principle to pursue a policy to revoke all members of all boards, or at least those in the Premier’s portfolio.
In particular, the report notes, this was evident at the Tourist Board and the Ports Authority, two statutory boards in respect of which there are no express provisions for the removal of members.
Overall, the CoI noted that the long-standing approach and practice of the public service and successive governments in appointing members of statutory boards has been the use of an informal process with no written guidance or policy covering recruitment, selection and appointment of the members of statutory boards, including in relation to potential conflicts of interest.
Further, there are no written criteria by which potential candidates are assessed to see if they are of good character and a fit and proper person.
The CoI report revealed that the informal process appears to have been universally adopted until 2021.
However, on 6 April 2021, a brief Information Paper for Cabinet was prepared by the Acting Permanent Secretary (PS) Premier’s Office, and approved by the Premier that day, indicating that a new policy was being developed under which the public would be informed one month before any statutory board member’s tenure was coming to an end so that anyone who wishes to register an interest to serve could do so as well as current members having an opportunity to express a wish to continue.
The report took note that while PS in the Premier’s Office Carolyn O'Neal-Morton's said that the 2021 policy decision applied to all Ministries, no other public officer, who gave evidence on the topic of statutory boards, referred to the existence of such a policy.
“That this initiative has not progressed beyond the Premier’s Office and that the informal process, therefore, operates at least in all other Ministries, is illustrated by the evidence to the COI of other Permanent Secretaries,” the CoI Report held.
Sir Gary Heckingbottom is the Sole Commissioner in the CoI recommended that there be a review of all statutory boards.
“I recommend that consideration is given by the Governor (and any independent investigator he might appoint to consider this matter) as to whether it is necessary for any appointments to statutory boards made since 2019 to be revoked to enable appointments through a more open and transparent system to be made,” the report states.
As part of the proposed Constitutional Review, the CoI report recommends that consideration is given to establishing a Statutory Boards Commission, which would be responsible for the process of selection and revocation of statutory board membership, and monitoring the internal policies and procedures put in place by statutory boards, such as declarations of interests and conflicts of interest, at least pending overarching provisions intended to strengthen good governance.
Whilst this Commission could have representatives appointed by the Governor, Premier and Leader of the Opposition, the CoI recommends that it has a majority of members appointed from BVI civic society.
Those appointments should, of course, be the subject of an open and transparent process.