Inquiry says the British Virgin Islands should be temporarily returned to UK rule 2022-04-29 20:20:00

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MIAMI (Reuters) – A report highly critical of British Overseas Territory governance released on Friday said the British Virgin Islands’ constitution should be suspended and its elected government and effective rule dissolved from London.

Queen Elizabeth’s representative on the island, Governor John Rankin, had ordered the inquiry in 2021 to investigate “corruption, abuse of office and other serious disinformation” in the territory’s governance.

Its report found that millions of dollars in state money are spent every year by politicians and ministries without proper procedures, along with serious dishonesty regarding the sale of public property and widespread abuse of appointments.

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The report is not directly related to the arrest in Miami of the islands’ Prime Minister-elect Andrew Fahey on Thursday on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to import cocaine. But British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the arrest showed the importance of the investigation. Read more

The investigation was led by British Judge Gary Hickenbottom.

“He has concluded with a particularly sad heart that unless the most drastic and urgent steps are taken, the current situation with elected officials who willfully disregard the principles of good governance will continue indefinitely,” Rankin told a news conference.

He noted that the people of the British Virgin Islands deserved better, and that the UK government owed them a duty to protect them from such abuses and help them achieve their aspirations for self-government as a modern democracy.

Any decision to suspend parts of the constitution rests with London, which has said it will send a minister to the British Virgin Islands before announcing the plan next week.

Truss said in a statement that the report “clearly shows that significant legislative and constitutional change is needed.”

But the islands’ acting prime minister, Natalio Wheatley, said a suspension of the constitution was not necessary.

The report said principles of good governance were ignored throughout Fahey’s administration, witnesses feared progress, and government disclosures were “shameful”.

“With limited exceptions in terms of governance… BVI residents have been poorly served in recent years. Really very bad,” the executive summary said.

If London accepted the survey’s central recommendation, one of more than 40 in the 946-page report, Rankin – a career British diplomat – would take over the day-to-day administration of the BVI.

Rankin is appointed by the Queen on advice from the British Government, and in normal times his role is small.

Hickenbottom recommended that the new administrative arrangements should last for two years, but also that ministerial government should be resumed as soon as practicable.

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(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth, William James and Zarine Ahmed) Writing by William James; Editing by Kevin Levy

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