Make no mistake. The vast majority of Virgin Islands residents breathe easy these days because of the investigations driven by the Commission of Inquiry. There is a feeling that “This time things are different.”
One core reason for this general belief is the fact that this society possesses a culture where some believe that they are above the law. This idea springs from a culture of entitlement that states, “I can get away with murder owing to the fact I am from a certain family or otherwise well connected.”
Then here come a number of senior lawyers from the United Kingdom investigating governance in the Virgin Islands. And this is a fully independent commission with more bite than bark. It clearly has the sanction of the UK prime minister; the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; and the governor.
This writer does not see the need for a temporary takeover of the territory under the Turks and Caicos Islands model. The commission clearly has within its power, scope and expertise the authority to circumscribe and recommend prosecution.
Another matter: In any society where the rule of law is not paramount, a culture of criminality prevails.
Residents of that society live in fear of illegitimate pressure from both ends of the social spectrum: petty crime from the bottom of the social pyramid, and white-collar crime from the top.
‘Culture of silence’
A culture of silence becomes the status quo, and there may be actual collaboration between criminal elements at the top, middle and bottom of the social pyramid.
Consequently, the transparent and incisive investigations of the COI are a blessing for this territory.
Entitlement and conflict of interest are pillars of poor governance and have driven poverty and underdevelopment in the post-1950s Commonwealth.
This territory should have been much further ahead in terms of its social and economic development had it not been for the fact that past governments have ruled with impunity and without adequate checks and balances on their activities.
The COI is showing us all how an independent agency can effectively police and keep in check a ruling power. Indeed, the COI has been the most effective check on ruling impunity in 30 years.
The present model of a truly independent investigating body cannot be bettered. The VI and its residents should demand that we have the COI model as a permanent agency if we want to see true social and economic development, justice and equity in the land.
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