As the Commission of Inquiry resumes hearings on Monday, the government should turn over a new leaf by quickly and completely producing all requested information so that the probe can come to a speedy conclusion.
So far, the COI has operated professionally and fairly, and it has shed new light on many instances of shockingly poor governance under both the current and former administrations.
Many of these examples — such as the pier park overruns, the BVI Airways fiasco and the Elmore Stoutt High School wall — were already public knowledge, having been exposed previously by the media, the auditor general, the complaints commissioner or other watchdogs. But the COI nevertheless uncovered new information in such cases by directly asking public officers and elected officials important questions that watchdogs had been unable to answer.
The COI has also exposed other governance failings that previously were not in the public domain. For instance, it revealed the internal auditor’s recent finding that government spent much of the $62.9 million Covid-19 economic stimulus package with an egregious lack of accountability and transparency. Because the internal auditor’s reports typically aren’t made public, this information probably would not have come to light in the absence of the COI.
But VI taxpayers have every right to know such details, and they have been left in the dark far too often in the VI.
We therefore applaud the COI for the revelations it has facilitated with its focused, efficient and thorough work.
But as the inquiry has proceeded, a problem has arisen. Again and again, government has failed to produce requested documentation in a timely manner.
Government representatives have offered various excuses, but their own testimony has showed time and again that many of them failed to take the COI’s requests seriously — if they read them at all.
In response, the COI provided several chances to provide the missing information. Then it asked the governor for additional time to carry out its mandate, convincingly blaming government’s delays.
This situation is most unfortunate, especially given that millions of taxpayer dollars have been paid over to a United Kingdom-headquartered law firm that is charged with helping gather and provide information to the COI.
We understand that government has faced challenges — personnel shortages and Covid-19 have been among the more formidable — but the revelations during hearings have undercut its excuses.
To make matters worse, the speaker and deputy speaker of the House are now using taxpayer money to fund a lawsuit that could stall the COI proceedings — without any potential benefits that we can see.
As the inquiry resumes, public officers and elected officials alike must provide all requested information as quickly as possible, just as Premier Andrew Fahie and his ministers promised when the inquiry launched.
Any further lack of cooperation increases the chances that the United Kingdom will seize control of the territory as it did in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009. This outcome would be a sad day indeed for the VI.
The government also must get to work quickly to rectify the shortcomings that led to the governance failings in the first place. Clearly, the current systems are not good enough, as we have argued on this page for decades.
In recent months, many residents rightfully have expressed fury over the COI’s revelations. They should be even angrier if government agencies continue to drag their feet when asked to provide information.
The COI has been shining a bright spotlight in some of the territory’s darkest corners. We are sad to say that its revelations to date suggest that it was badly needed.