Speaking at a press conference at Government House this morning, Governor John Rankin noted that, among several other things, COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickenbottom investigated the policy adopted by the current government to revoke the entire membership of statutory boards and have them reconstituted.
“The Commissioner concludes that there was overt manipulation by the executive of institutions which are established by the legislature to perform public functions as independent bodies. He found overwhelming evidence that the independence of such boards has been “severely – and, at times, cynically and with apparent disdain – eroded,” Rankin stated.
Rankin said the Commissioner also noted the challenges in policing and law enforcement in the territory.
“Responsibility for the Virgin Island Police Force rests with me. The Commissioner notes corruption in the police force among a minority of officers but welcomes the commitment of the current Police Commissioner to tackle corrupt conduct, with full support from me,” the Governor added.
Although the COI did not conduct any in-depth investigations into Her Majesty’s Customs, the report did note several serious concerns expressed by individuals about its operation.
“The Commissioner concludes that in both HM Customs and the Immigration Department – but particularly in Customs – there is an environment conducive to corruption,” the Governor said.
“He recommends independent vetting of all Customs and Immigration officers and those officers appointed by the Police Commissioner investigate possible corruption in Customs,” he added.
Governor Rankin stated that the government’s application of a 20-year wait for Belonger status is contrary to the 10 years stipulated by Virgin Islands law and, therefore, unlawful.
“He also found that in 2011 at least 224 individuals were granted Belonger status outside of the framework of the law,” Rankin added.
The Governor noted that Commissioner Hickenbottom found that at the Cabinet level, personal recommendations by Cabinet members were the main reason for granting these Belonger statuses and it was done without any due diligence or process.
“And the Commissioner addresses more recent cases in which Cabinet has appeared willing to act in a legally arbitrary manner in relation to residence and Belongership rights,” Rankin said.
During the press conference, Rankin also disclosed that the Commissioner found that with limited exceptions, governance in areas under the control of government ministers is, at best, very poor.
“Principles such as openness and transparency are not simply absent, but positively shunned. Proper procedures, checks and balances are absent, or patently inadequate, or ignored or bypassed,” he added.
The Commissioner also inquired into the disposal of Crown land by the government and in particular the granting of one lease. According to the Governor, Commissioner Hickenbottom concluded that serious dishonesty may have taken place which requires further investigation.
In the meantime, the governor said any investigations resulting from the report would be led by locals.
“People will see [from the report] recommendations for an audit to be carried out and I hope that it will primarily be led by BVI’s Auditor General, using her resources and any further resources she would need to help her work. Let me repeat, that is a recommendation, and we wait for any decision to be made. Otherwise, I also hope — as and when criminal investigations are needed — they will be led by the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force,” Rankin said.
Rankin noted that notwithstanding the report, he believes the vast majority of the public service are “good and honest people”.
Below is a copy of the COI report.
COI Report Print Version