Inquiry commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom answers questions during a Jan. 22 press conference. He and his team recently departed the territory, and they plan to return from the United Kingdom before April 4 if not delayed by Covid-19 travel restrictions. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

Thirteen days after Sir Gary Hickinbottom was sworn in to head the commission of inquiry into alleged corruption in the territory, he and his secretary returned to the United Kingdom last Thursday, promising to return before April 4.

“The commissioner and the secretary are returning to the UK to consult with the recently appointed counsel to the commission to consider the initial wave of information the commission has received,” inquiry secretary Steven Chandler wrote in a press release issued the day the team left. “With counsel to the inquiry, the commissioner will then decide how best, and from whom, to seek further information.”

The commission, which was announced on Jan. 18 by former governor Gus Jaspert, has six to nine months to gather evidence and compile a report for current Governor John Rankin.

“Given that timeframe, it is essential that the inquiry team uses its time as efficiently as possible, which can only be achieved by splitting the team’s time between BVI and the UK,” the press release states.

Though based on Tortola during its time here, the team also visited Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada, and on its return it plans to hold any necessary oral hearings by the end of May, the release adds.

Mr. Chandler said their first trip to the territory had proved productive.

“This visit has been extremely useful in identifying the areas and issues on which the commission will focus its initial attention,” he wrote. “The commissioner is extremely grateful for the information that has been shared to date, and for the cooperation and constructive engagement he has received during his visit.”

The commission’s counsel, Bilal Rawat, was appointed by Attorney General Dawn Smith on Sir Gary’s recommendation, according to the press release.

Mr. Rawat specialises in inquiries and civil and public law. He has been a member of the Bar of England and Wales since 1995. He will assist the team with conducting witness examinations at the oral hearings and provide advice on procedural issues, with the help of a soon-to-be-appointed solicitor to the inquiry.

Though the team is in the UK, it is still requesting that anyone with evidence of misconduct in the territory get in touch as soon as possible. The commission recently publicised new ways to get in contact remotely.

Anyone interested in providing evidence can access a secure online portal at bvi.public-inquiry.uk. Information can also be sent through WhatsApp at 44(0)7832111254; through email at contactcoi@bvi.public-inquiry.uk; or through the post to The Secretary, BVI Commission of Inquiry, Room RB 1.11, 22 Whitehall, London SW1A 2EG, United Kingdom.

The inquiry website notes, “Any information submitted is security protected and will be treated in strictest confidence by the inquiry team.”

Mr. Chandler explained in an email to the Beacon that the commission will do its best to accommodate all requests from people wishing to give evidence, who will have opportunities to meet in person after the team returns.

“The commissioner completely understands that some individuals may be hesitant, anxious or afraid about contacting or speaking with him or members of the inquiry team,” he wrote. “To help alleviate this, the commission has provided a number of different and secure ways for individuals to share information.”

Mr. Chandler added that the team will also provide updates through a Facebook page.

When Mr. Jaspert announced the inquiry on Jan. 18, he pointed to longstanding concerns about poor governance in the territory as the reason for investigating potential corruption, political intimidation and abuse of public funds, among other issues.

Sir Gary was sworn in as the independent commissioner leading the investigation on Jan. 22.


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