The UK is extremely concerned about the state of good governance in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
A consistent and deeply troubling array of concerns have been put to the Governor by local institutions and the community. The Governor has set out these concerns to me, they include, but are not limited to:
- Allegations of political interference and coercion in relation to appointments in the public service and statutory boards, the criminal justice system and individual criminal cases;
- Claims that people in public service, media and community leaders have been intimidated to such a degree that they describe living in a climate of fear;
- Allegations that funds set aside for struggling families during the pandemic may have been re-allocated to political allies;
- Concerns around spending on Government contracts without any proper procurement process;
- Misuse of taxpayers’ money on infrastructure and transport projects.
Against this backdrop, we are also concerned about the potential vulnerability of the islands to serious organised crime. The scale of this was made clear in November 2020, with the seizure of more than two tonnes of cocaine, worth just under £190 million.
Successive attempts have been made to address these concerns through local institutions, many of which have done commendable work to bring them to light. However, the scope and seriousness of the concerns are now beyond local capacity to address.
The UK Government is responsible for ensuring the security and good governance of BVI. We have a constitutional and moral duty to protect the interests of the people of BVI. We cannot ignore such serious allegations.
With this in mind, on Monday 18 January, the Governor of BVI, supported by the UK Government, announced an independent Commission of Inquiry.
The Commission will inquire into whether there is information to substantiate claims that corruption, abuse of position and serious impropriety has taken place in public office in recent years, and it will make recommendations. The Commission will be led by the Right Honourable Sir Gary Hickinbottom, who will have the powers of a High Court Judge within the territory with respect to gathering evidence. The BVI Commission of Inquiry Ordinance makes provisions for the scope of the inquiry to be adjusted or extended should it prove necessary.
The Government expect the Commissioner to deliver his report to the Governor within six months. At this point, we hope that the UK and BVI will be able to consider the recommendations together in a constructive manner that best serves the people of BVI.
This Government’s aim is to build stronger governance for the people of BVI and uphold our commitment to our Overseas Territories and their people.