For all the talk about transparency that has come out of the Governor’s Office in recent years, we were disappointed by Governor John Rankin’s decision not to release the Commission of Inquiry report to the public immediately after receiving it on April 4.
Instead, he said he needs time to review it and discuss its findings with Virgin Islands political leaders, who have not yet received a copy either.
Mr. Rankin did, however, say he shared the report “in confidence” with UK Minister for Overseas Territories Amanda Milling, and he added that he hopes to publish it in full after assessing “whether it is in the public interest to do so.”
We can give him a much quicker answer: Of course it is in the public interest to publish the full report — and to do so now.
The COI’s findings are of pressing concern for everyone in the VI community, and taxpayers’ money funded the inquiry and millions of dollars in related expenses.
Redactions and adjustments should not be needed: The government and other COI participants have already had a chance to redact any evidence that they submitted.
Indeed, COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom himself has expressed strong support for publishing the full report and supporting documentary evidence — all of which he said he presented “in a form which he considers can be published at large.”
Withholding the report even for a few weeks creates the appearance that the governor and the UK will be working secretly with VI leaders to quietly make decisions that affect the entire territory.
Perhaps we would feel better about this arrangement if history had shown that the UK has always had the territory’s best interest at heart. Unfortunately, history has shown nothing of the kind. And we frankly do not trust elected VI leaders to make impartial decisions about a report that doubtlessly includes criticisms of their own actions over the years.
Withholding the report also carries other risks. Once Mr. Rankin discusses it with VI leaders, information about its contents will surely leak out through political filters, and unsubstantiated rumours will abound.
The governor did not provide a timeline for a decision on publishing the report, but he did say he would not make further statements on the matter until “shortly after Easter.” If he continues to withhold the full report any longer than that, residents should march to his doorstep and demand that he turn it over.
Members of this community — many of whom are surely mentioned in the document — have a right to read the commissioner’s findings in full and to come to their own conclusions. They don’t need UK or VI leaders to act as a filter, or to treat them as if they are on a need-to-know basis.
As we’ve said before, the COI is a golden opportunity to bring about many needed reforms in the territory. But full transparency is essential. Sir Gary understood as much, and he rightly acted accordingly by holding his hearings in public and releasing transcripts and dozens of other key documents during the proceedings.
Now the governor should follow suit. To practise the transparency that he and his predecessors have preached for decades, he should release the full report without further ado.