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AG blasts biased CoI for blatantly misleading VI public

AG blasts biased CoI for blatantly misleading VI public

The Attorney General (AG) of the Virgin Islands (VI), Hon Dawn J. Smith, has blasted the United Kingdom (UK)-sponsored Virgin Islands Commission of Inquiry (CoI) for what she called a ‘misleading and damaging impression’ portrait by the CoI team against the Government and a sitting Minister.

The Attorney General, in a September 30, 2021, letter to Commissioner Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom, specifically addressed the handling of the hearing conducted on September 28, 2021, where Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, Hon Vincent O. Wheatley (R9) was questioned on the granting of Belongership status.

CoI created misleading impression - Hon Smith


According to Hon Smith, the hearing “has, wholly avoidably, created a misleading impression of the true situation relating to certain discussions of the Cabinet about a sensitive Belonger Status application, and which I consider to be damaging to the public interest.”

She said the issues were avoidable since the matter appeared to have been raised in a manner that not only violated the CoI’s own protocols and essential assurances on which confidential government documents are disclosed, but it also prevented the Minister from being able to present the facts on a matter that was bound to be of acute public concern.

She also disclosed that no permission was granted from Cabinet for the Minutes to be made public, in addition to Hon Wheatley having had no advance warning that he would be questioned in relation to the Minutes.

Minister was ambushed by CoI?


Hon Smith also detailed that the allegedly breached Minutes were not included in the advance bundle, and the minister was not handed a copy of it prior to the hearing.

“Criticisms were put to the minister in relation to the Minutes without having been included in his Warning Letter. No explanation has been given for why he was not so warned. On 17 September 2021, the COI Team requested a full copy of the Minutes (as the previously disclosed versions had some text cut off). No indication was then given that the Minutes was to be used at a public hearing,” she said.

Hon Smith further revealed that questioning was also unfair, “For example, the Minister was asked: "How is it that you cannot remember if you granted a rapist Belonger status or not?".

Situation was 'unfair in circumstance' to Minister


“Even allowing for a degree of forensic enthusiasm, this was unfair in the circumstances since the Minister had not been given the opportunity to remind himself of the facts and would obviously not want to provide evidence to the Inquiry that he had not verified, particularly on such a sensitive matter. Furthermore, the tone and manner of the questioning were prosecutorial and accusatory,” Hon Smith revealed.

This was not the first time the CoI has been accused of referencing documents not given to witnesses in advance.

House of Assembly Speaker Hon Julian Willock, when he appeared before the CoI as a witness on June 18, 2021, raised concerns over documents being omitted from his lawyer's bundle, to which the Commissioner downplayed the issue, indicating that the missing documents were 'not important.'

Hon Willock has also already slammed the Commission for allegedly blatantly disregarding the laws of the VI while hypocritically trying to point out perceived flaws in Government.

'Regrettable' that CoI had to be written - Hon Smith


The Attorney General said she regretted having to write to the Commission in this vein; however, she had recorded her concern at the violation of the Commission’s own protocols and assurances and the potential resulting damage to the public's interest.

Hon Smith further indicated that the manner of questioning implied, incorrectly, that the elected Government had acted irresponsibly regarding the security of the Territory by granting Belonger Status to persons convicted of serious criminal offences.

There continue to be concerns among the public that the CoI has a fixed agenda, that does not bode well for the Virgin Islands as it gears itself for the inevitable path of self-determination.

The Attorney General in a September 30, 2021, letter to Commissioner Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom specifically addressed the handling of the hearing conducted on September 28, 2021, where Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, Hon Vincent O. Wheatley (R9) was questioned on the granting of Belongership status.

This was not the first time the CoI has been accused of referencing documents not given to witnesses in advance. House of Assembly Speaker Hon Julian Willock, when he appeared before the CoI as a witness on June 18, 2021, raised concerns over documents being omitted from his lawyer's bundle, to which the Commissioner downplayed the issue, indicating that the missing documents were 'not important.'


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