The success of the ongoing commission of inquiry depends heavily on the trust and support of the Virgin Islands community.
For this reason, we are glad that COI members have returned from the United Kingdom, and we urge them to remain here for the duration of their investigation and to meet periodically with the press and otherwise be as transparent as possible as the coming hearings get under way.
When the commissioner and his team announced in early February that they had left for the UK, we were disappointed. They had said nothing at the inquiry launch 13 days earlier about conducting part of the probe from abroad, and we felt strongly that their mission to gather evidence would be more successful if they were here in the territory.
That said, we are glad the commissioner and two other COI members have now returned, and that others are on the way this month. They should stay here until the inquiry is completed even though their recently published rules have rightly provided for the option of remote hearings.
Also as part of efforts to gain the public trust, Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom should hold periodic press conferences to provide updates and answer residents’ questions about the coming hearings and any related matters.
So far, the commission has done a good job of communicating through regular press releases — and it has been quick to answer questions from the Beacon — but many community members nevertheless are likely to be nervous about coming forward. Knowing more about the process — and hearing directly from the commissioner himself — likely will ease their concerns.
Similarly, the hearings themselves should be as transparent as possible, as we have argued in the past. We understand that certain segments of the proceedings will need to be held in private, particularly when victimisation is likely to result from a public appearance. But in most instances, we hope the hearings will be broadcast online as Premier Andrew Fahie has recommended.
Ultimately, the inquiry is very much a collaborative process, and greater transparency will make the community feel a greater stake in the probe and its results. The public support sure to follow will be invaluable not only during the ongoing investigation, but for any related proceedings that follow it.
In other words, the commission needs community members’ help. And for that, it needs their trust. Full transparency is the best way forward.