The Caribbean Community expressed support for the Virgin Islands government last week, repeating claims that the United Kingdom’s Commission of Inquiry is interrupting “constitutional functions” here. (Photo: PROVIDED)

Heads of government from the Caribbean Community said last week that the organisation continues to support the Virgin Islands government as the United Kingdom-led independent Commission of Inquiry into possible misconduct forges ahead here.

Caricom held its 42nd regular meeting on July 5-7, with Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley representing the VI, which is an associate member of the grouping.

In a statement, the organisation said it “notes with concern some indication that the democratic political institutions in the British Virgin Islands have not been allowed to fully perform their constitutional functions.”

In February, Caricom also supported elected VI leaders when they complained that the COI was established without prior communication with them.

“As a region committed to democracy, transparency and the rule of law, the Caribbean Community salutes the full cooperation of the government of the BVI with the Commission of Inquiry,” according to the July 7 statement. “Heads of government urge that every effort be made to ensure that the constitutional functions to be carried out by the government can be undertaken without hindrance. They look forward to an early conclusion of a COI that will lead to a just outcome.”

HOA conflict

Though the statement didn’t explicitly state which constitutional functions Caricom believed to have been impaired, Speaker of the House Julian Willock has alleged that the inquiry conflicted with the House of Assembly’s work last month after he missed a June 14 hearing when the HOA was not sitting.

His attorney argued that Mr. Willock — who was attending a virtual session of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association that day — was not compelled to attend, but COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom thought differently.

“I appreciate that the speaker has other obligations and important obligations to the House of Assembly,” Sir Gary said at the time. “Those obligations are reflected in the Evidence Act, which means that he’s not compellable when the House is sitting. He is compellable when the House is not sitting, which means that he’s in wilful default of the summons today.”

Mr. Willock’s hearing was rescheduled for later that week.

The speaker also alleged that the commissioner scheduled hearings at the same time as planned HOA meetings.

“Mr. Gary Hickinbottom still violated parliamentary sovereignty, norms, traditions, convention and the rule of law by asking honourable members to appear before him on those dates despite being told about the schedule of sittings,” Mr. Willock said.

However, on June 14, Sir Gary claimed that he was not told in advance about the HOA sittings, even after meeting with members of the House earlier that month to determine when they would appear.

Mr. Willock nevertheless repeated his complaints, among others, in a letter on July 8 asking United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab for an investigation of the COI.

The commission did not respond to Caricom’s statement before the Beacon’s deadline on July 14.

Fahie heartened

Premier Andrew Fahie responded in a press release on July 7 that he was “heartened by the solidarity expressed by Caricom.”

“As the regional body that stands up for democratic values, human rights and the rule of law across the Caribbean and beyond, they want the BVI Constitution to be respected and for self-governance to be upheld and maintained,” Mr. Fahie said. “We will remain engaged with Caricom and keep them updated on our situation.”

In the same press release, Dr. Wheatley said Caricom also discussed several other regional issues, including the pandemic, tourism, financial services and other matters.

“It is a difficult time for the Caribbean, and we stand in solidarity with our neighbours as a part of the Caricom family, just as they are standing with us here in the BVI during our period of challenge,” he stated.