The Commission of Inquiry is right to allow a government attorney to cross-examine Governor John Rankin and possibly his predecessor Gus Jaspert.
If the attorney asks good questions, the exercise should help the COI deepen its investigation beyond the many local governance failings already aired and probe the colonial system that has allowed such issues to fester for decades in plain sight.
With that in mind, here are a few questions that that we would put to Messrs. Rankin and Jaspert.
• When exactly was the decision made to launch the COI, and who provided input on it? Who knew of the decision before it was announced publicly in January?
• Why was the COI suddenly deemed necessary, given that successive governors have known about the territory’s governance failings for decades because of their position as chair of Cabinet and because of the many damning reports from the media, the auditor general, the complaints commissioner, and other government watchdogs? What exactly was the tipping point? What other options were considered first?
• Have you discussed with any United Kingdom officials the possibility of suspending parts of the territory’s Constitution and implementing direct rule as was done in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009? Has your predecessor to your knowledge? If so, when were these discussions held, and what prompted them?
• Have you discussed with UK officials the possible COI outcomes and planned a tentative response to each? If so, what COI outcome would trigger a TCI-style response? What other possible outcomes were considered, and what response would each trigger?
• If such discussions weren’t held, why not? Wouldn’t it have been wise to start considering possible outcomes and responses starting when the COI launched?
• Who took part in any related discussions? Were any VI officials included? If so, who? If not, why not? And why wasn’t the VI public brought into the loop? Can you not give any hint of the likely result of different COI outcomes, given the importance of the issue for the people of the VI?
• In 2012, the UK and the VI agreed to the Protocols for Effective Financial Management. With the apparent tacit approval of the UK, the previous VI government administration subsequently violated the protocols by proceeding with a proposed airport expansion project without completing and publishing a full business case as required. Why did the governor and the UK decide to look the other way on this important requirement so soon after signing the protocols?
• Many VI governors have rightly criticised the VI government’s perennial lack of transparency. But governors’ discussions with VI leaders also tend to take place behind closed doors. Do you believe such discussions are sufficiently transparent, given that there is no freedom-of-information law in the territory through which the public can seek information about them to better understand how decisions are made in the VI?
• Do you believe there are steps that a governor or the UK could take to facilitate greater transparency in this regard or otherwise? What are they?
• Does the UK share culpability for the decades of VI governance failings that have been aired during the COI? If not, who is to blame?
• In your view, why have such governance failings been allowed to continue for decades even though reports by the media and government watchdogs meant that they were widely known by governors, the UK and VI governments, and the general public?
• Are sufficient mechanisms in place for the governor to respond to such governance failings? If not, what tools are needed to allow governors to more effectively carry out their own watchdog role?
• Is the current system of VI government sustainable for the long term? If not, why not?
• If you are unable to answer any of the above questions, why not?
We expect all these questions would help the COI accomplish its mandate and more fully probe the deeper issues that led to the launch of the inquiry in the first place. We hope that government will put the opportunity to good use.