By Caribbean News Global contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, TCI – The similarities between the commission of inquiry ongoing in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the one that took place in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) some 13 years ago bares many similarities with one glaring exception.
The Commission of Inquiry launched in the TCI had the support of a wide cross-section of the islands business and civil society and included the opposition party, but in the BVI no local support existed for the inquiry before the announcement.
The Commissioner, who was also appointed, without local consultation is trying his best to urge witnesses to make statements to support the process underway.
In a press release posted on the website of the inquiry led by the sole appointed Commissioner, Gary Hickinbottom, said:
“The Commissioner is extremely grateful for the information that has been shared to date, and for the constructive engagement he received during his visit to the Islands in January/February, and for the information which continues to flow in. The next stage of the Inquiry, expected to last several months, will involve seeking further information and documentation predominantly from public officials, including elected and statutory officials. The Commissioner has been informed and welcomes that it is BVI government policy that all ministries, departments, statutory bodies and government-owned entities provide appropriate and timely cooperation with the Inquiry. He also understands that the attorney-general, assisted by Withers Solicitors, will coordinate the implementation of that policy”.
In TCI, the outcry and calls for a commission of inquiry was very loud and clear from all segments of society including many of The People’s National Party (PNP) supporters and former officers. Visits were made to the territory by the foreign affairs committee, which called for the inquiry into the TCI; compared to a sole governor who had a history of a tense relationship with local officials who took issue with his personality.
The governor resigned and as a parting gift made seemingly “very serious allegations” against the people of the territory.
Another marked difference in BVI compared to TCI is the question of who pays for the inquiry. The BVI inquiry is being paid for by British taxpayers. This could run into profoundly serious sums if the course of TCI is followed. That inquiry and subsequent investigations and trials have cost the TCI taxpayers over US$50 million in direct costs and unknown hundreds of millions in investment deferral as a result according to some estimates by persons familiar with the episode in TCI.
What is very common amongst both inquiries is that; it is being led by outsiders to the Caribbean region. Gary Hickinbottom, the sole commissioner, along with a cadre of staff have already started racking up the bill on the British taxpayer who is unaware of the profound negative consequences of the inquiry.
The inquiry is problematic for the British government as it has to give account to the UN Committee of 24 on how it is preparing BVI for self-determination. The very common theme amongst TCI and BVI though is that both premiers, at the time, had been calling for a review of the option of Independence for their citizens and invited the Committee of 24 to visit the territory on a fact-finding mission.
Premier Fahie has been characterized as a no-nonsense leader who understands the wishes of his people and was at the forefront in the march against British imposition of open registers of companies in the BVI. Still, to prove that he has nothing to hide the premier of BVI passed an amendment to the register of interests kept by the local parliament to allow the Commission of Inquiry and their sole Commissioner Hickinbottom to get to the bottom [no pun intended] of interests held by current and former members of parliament.