The Virgin Islands economy sits on a platform supported by international companies and investors. Financial services have kept this territory alive through the many months of pandemic and the collapse in Caribbean tourism.
And the men and women who own these businesses and who navigate global markets with a view to placing their cash in the most secure and favourable jurisdictions are watching the Commission of Inquiry with a “shrewd eye.”
Investors do not like uncertainty and poor governance. And the fact that a COI has been commissioned and is investigating matters of governance in the territory is viewed very favourably by these investors.
The Crown is the one true check on ruling power and executive impunity in the overseas territories. And the court system over the decades has been largely inactive as an institutional check on the executive branch.
In the Westminster System of parliamentary government, when a political party commands a majority — the first past the post — the ruling party is all powerful. It is very difficult to circumscribe a government that acts unconstitutionally under the UK system of government. The term is a parliamentary dictatorship.
Consequently, the one check in place when an OT government oversteps its bounds is the reserve powers of the governor that reside in the Crown through common law and UK convention. And in the UK, the final check on executive overreach is the Privy Council.
A look across the spectrum of countries that became independent of the UK following the rise in nationalism of the 1950s tells a troubling tale. The lack of any check on the powers of the executive branch has led to one-party rule, dictatorship, and horrific governance in most post-independence states. It has been a sad tale of tyranny, war and corrupt governance, leading to poverty and permanent economic depression.
Islands that depend on tourism and financial services for the revenues that drive their economic engines cannot afford to frighten away foreign investment and international investors through a lack of transparency, accountability and honesty.
Consequently, UK oversight in resilient institutions, such as the legal framework that can swiftly intervene when matters begin moving in the wrong direction in an OT, is a major benefit for residents and foreign investors alike.
Countries that lack any check on the executive branch could wake up one morning and see the whole treasury suddenly disappear, as has happened in a number of Commonwealth states without the requisite checks and balances on the ruling power.
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