Without an enforcement mechanism ensuring that rules are followed by government officials, good governance is a mirage.
Virgin Islands residents are today witnessing the true meaning of the rule of law as it applies to the powerful. And we all understand that in the absence of enforcement mechanisms, any talk of transparency, accountability and justice by government leaders is just that: talk.
True accountability will only ever take place under conditions where the virtues of accountable and honest government are enforced by law. That is the very essence of the rule of law: that the law is supreme and no one is above it.
As residents observe the discomfort, irritation and nervousness of a number of high officials appearing before the Commission of Inquiry, it is clear and evident that the route to good governance runs through external oversight, and that the law is followed by those who make up the ruling government.
Now, good governance rests upon ethical and honest behaviour by the “high and mighty.” And history has shown that freedom and justice can only be protected by law. That means checks and balances. In the absence of checks and balances on ruling impunity, rulers tend to arrogate to themselves greater power and privilege to the clear disadvantage of the masses.
That is the singular reason modern western history is replete with narratives of the tug-of-war between ruled and ruler, and heroic attempts by the peasantry and working classes to fight against privilege and impunity by monarchs, feudal lords and tyrants.
It is indeed a paradox that a ruling power such as the United Kingdom has called for a Commission of Inquiry in one of its overseas territories to investigate governance.
However, it is worthy of note that the UK, despite its unwritten constitution and the customs and conventions that drive its own governance, is a model of checks and balances.
In the UK, the Crown, the Supreme Court, lords, opposition, and a military that is under the Crown act as effective checks on any UK government that attempts to usurp power and act unconstitutionally. A visit to the prime minister by “men in dark suits” is all that is required for a change of government in the UK if a prime minister acts outside his or her powers.
The value of the Virgin Islands Commission of Inquiry is in its sanitising effect. The inquiry forces the high official to look more closely at the ethics and rules he or she is expected to follow. It also offers residents insight into governance that would never be revealed under “normal circumstances.”
The very public investigation offers residents the what, where, when, how and why of governance matters. That level of transparency and insight would never take place under normal circumstances.
‘Steel into the rules’
After a full investigation, residents will then be offered a set of contemporary benchmarks, practically set in stone, in which to measure their governments now and future, and what to expect from their governments.
Consequently, the Commission of Inquiry is putting steel into the rules by which government operates. It is ensuring that the Constitution is followed to the letter and that those who go rogue feel the full force of the rule of law — in the full glare of the people who they supposedly govern.
Ultimately, the key beneficiaries of the COI are the rule of law and an informed public, which alone drives a safe, prosperous and just society.
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