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COI expresses concern about gov’ts ‘parallel’ internal review

COI expresses concern about gov’ts ‘parallel’ internal review

The transcript for the first hearing of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) has been released and the document reveals that Attorney General (AG) Dawn Smith was asked to respond to a number of issues raised by counsel to the COI, Bilal Rawat.

The concern that appeared most worrying and contentious to the COI was the matter of a request by the government to carry out its own “objective internal review of all aspects of the governance of the Virgin Islands”.

An announcement of the government’s “parallel” review, as Rawat describes it, was made in a statement released in late April. The review is expected to be carried out by Queens Counsel (QC) Sir Geoffrey Cox, whose law firm the government has acquired to represent them in the Inquiry.

The concerns

The government’s review is quite likely to be done simultaneously with the Commission of Inquiry and, as a result, likely places the Inquiry’s outcome in question.

Rawat, the COI attorney, expressed concerns that the public has been given the “unequivocal impression” that it was the Attorney General who ordered the internal review. This is based on the fact that AG Smith — though acting on the government’s instruction at the time — was the actual person to ask Sir Geoffrey to conduct the review.

“The Attorney General, as she eloquently explained, is the law officer for the whole of government. And that [role], under the Virgin Islands Constitution, includes the Governor. The BVI public may consider it a strange turn of events for the Governor to seek an internal review, having established this Commission of Inquiry [in the first place],” Rawat reasoned.

‘Very unhelpful indeed’

Meanwhile, COI Commissioner, Sir Gary Hickinbottom said it would be “very unhelpful indeed” if the report of government’s review were to be produced the same day as, or even a day after the COI’s report is released.

He stated: “The integrity and timing of the Commission of Inquiry, which is vital to me, is potentially adversely affected by some of these issues, and that is a great concern.”

In the meantime, Attorney Rawat noted that the internal review includes areas of government’s activity the COI have addressed. He further questioned the level of independence of the government’s review, as well as its terms of reference and its likely date of completion.

He also said that the Commission is likely to want to hear from Sir Geoffrey, given that his review is expected to reach conclusions on the governance of the BVI.

Questions about conflict of interest

“Will the conclusions of Sir Geoffrey’s review be published or otherwise put into the public domain?” Rawat asked the Attorney General.

He also asked AG Smith whether there was an inherent conflict of interest in her appearance in the matter.

The AG, while stating that she did not have advanced notice of the questions, agreed to submit her responses in writing at a later date.

Her responses have not yet been made public.


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