BVI Governor Calls For Police Investigations In Latest Quarterly Review

[The Virgin Islands Consortium] The BVI’s quest towards reforming its system of governance to protect its residents from corruption, waste and mismanagement in the public sector, as recommended in Lord Gary Hickinbottom’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) report, is making slow progress, says UK-appointed Governor John Rankin in his third Quarterly Review of the government’s progress in implementing the COI recommendations. 

“Overall progress has been far from satisfactory,” Governor Rankin wrote in his review published earlier this month. “Many of the recommendations delivered to date pertain to the ordering of reviews and audits, many of which were received several months ago.”

The Auditor General’s Special Report on Assistance Grants, for example, was completed in December 2022 but only tabled in the House of Assembly in March of this year. While the Governor was pleased to note that five COI recommendations had been completed since his last review, he cautioned that the government had not yet gotten to the meat of the reform process. “A ‘plan’ for implementation does not in itself constitute the actual change,” Governor Rankin wrote. “The adoption of a protocol does not necessarily improve practice; and the appointment of an agency to conduct vetting is only the first step towards reducing the risk of corruption within law enforcement agencies.”

With a mandate from UK Overseas Territory Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith that the BVI’s governance reforms must “take root” by May 2024 so that the pending Order in Council which would temporarily rescind BVI’s self-governance might be lifted, Governor Rankin expressed concerns that the government was dragging its feet on substantive action.

For example, a comprehensive review of the territory’s system of benefits and grants has not yet been made public, despite having been in the government’s possession since prior to Governor Rankin’s previous quarterly review published in February. The government has also requested an extension to the rollout of a new public benefits scheme, which would push back the scheme’s launch until the end of May 2024. The BVI governor expressed concern that “these reforms will not be able to take root in line with the expectations of the UK government.”

The Assistance Grants Audit itself, Governor Rankin noted, contained “deeply concerning” findings, including that then-Premier Andrew Fahie’s Office accounted for almost half (47%) of the $23 million in assistance grants awarded by the government from 2019 and 2022. The grants, rather than mitigating “any socio-economic deficiencies,” were instead “largely utilized to satisfy individual wants and desires,” with the programs operating “unabated at the whims and pleasure of elected officials”, according to the audit. Permanent Secretaries, other senior public officials, and their family members were among those who applied for – and received – public funds under the assistance programs. One official and members of their immediate family received over $200,000 in grants over the 3-year period.

Apart from the published audits of the Covid-19 border security contracts, public contracts issued to Claude Skelton Cline, and the review of the Fast Track Residency and Belongership program, several other outstanding audits are scheduled to be completed in mid-July with more to come thereafter, the governor reported. Several of those already received have been forwarded to the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecution, and the police, to determine whether the government should pursue civil recovery proceedings in relation to the contracts, and/or criminal charges against individuals suspected of committing offenses. “Investigations are underway,” the governor reported. 

Another area in which progress has been slower than anticipated is with the review of all of the BVI’s law enforcement agencies, including HM Customs, Immigration Department, Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, Financial Investigation Agency, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Attorney General’s Chambers, and Prison Service. The delays in this area, Governor Rankin says, are due to the appointed investigating agency, the UK’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, having previous commitments in other UK territories. However, the UK Home Office’s International Policing Assistance Service (IPAS) has since taken on a leadership role in the process. Investigations are already underway into possible corruption within the territory’s Customs department, Governor Rankin reports.

The Commission of Inquiry said its report and recommendations were completely unrelated to the arrests of former Premier Fahie, the former Managing Director of the BVI Ports Authority Oleanvine Maynard, and her son Kadeem. However, the trio’s alleged crimes took place against the backdrop of a political and governance system plagued by – as described by the COI report and evidenced by the published audits – an extreme lack of regard for best standards and practices in governance.

The governor’s third quarterly review was published prior to the latest developments in the United States government’s case against Fahie and the Maynards. However, Oleanvine and Kadeem’s guilty pleas in the matter allege that they and the former premier were prepared to bribe or otherwise influence several other public officials to facilitate the safe passage of thousands of kilograms of cocaine through BVI waters onwards to destinations in the US.

Maynard, in her plea deal, admitted to being present in a meeting with Fahie and a confidential source of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, where the former premier discussed revenue coming from the deal. Fahie reportedly allocated 2% of his $7.8 million cut for bribes, including of port and airport officials.

Many BVI residents are now pondering if, given the responsibility of carrying out comprehensive investigations into various law enforcement and border security agencies, the distinct government officials implicated in the U.S.’s criminal indictment against their ex-Premier and his accomplices will be identified and rightfully prosecuted.

There has been no public statement by the RVIPF on the current state of the investigation into the claims raised by the U.S. prosecution of Fahie and the Maynards. However, last October, Najan Christopher, the former director of the International Affairs Secretariat, was arrested and charged with breach of public trust, after issuing an unauthorized diplomatic note requesting that Fahie be released from custody in Miami, where he was being held in a federal detention center following his arrest.

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