Sir Hickinbottom completed the CoI and delivered it to Governor John J. Rankin, CMG; the CoI is now dangling over the VI and its people like the Sword of Damocles. The CoI created domestic, regional, and international interest and concerns, and its findings and any executed recommendations can have effects locally, regionally, and internationally. As such, the CoI will perhaps reveal the facts and truths about the alleged corruption, so I will reserve any further comment about it. Nonetheless, in this commentary, I will take a peek at the UK, the Administering Power, the responsibilities for VI governing, and did it fail the VI?
The UK has had complete uninterrupted control over the VI since 1672 after the outbreak of The Anglo-Dutch War. Over the years, the VI has cycled through being a colony (1960), a Dependent Territory (1981, British Nationality Act), and today, an Overseas Territory (2002, British Overseas Territory Act). Further, in 1872, the VI formally became part of the Leeward Islands Federation as a Presidency under the Governor of the Leeward Islands (located in Antigua). The Leeward Islands Federation disbanded in 1956, and the position of Governor was abolished in 1960, clearing the way for the VI to become a separate colony. Moreover, the VI, one of the few remaining remnants of the fading British Empire (Britain has a renewed push to be a primary world leader---Global Britain), is currently 1 of 17 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGT), with the UK as the Administering Power from a United Nations list of 72 in 1946. Consequently, as the Administering Power, the UK has the obligation under the United Nations Charter to bring the people of the VI to a full measure of self-governance, including independence, free association, or integration.
The VI Colonial Legislature was suspended in 1901 and reinstated in 1950 after the Great March of November 24, 1949. The VI has had four constitutions in the modern era, i.e., 1950, 1967, 1976, and 2007. The 1967 constitution ushered in the ministerial system of governing and a small measure of self-government. Further, an adage asserts that those who wear the gold make the golden rule. Another saying says that they with power determine the who, what, where, how, and when. Moreover, the 1999 Partnership for Progress and Prosperity first principle is: "Our partnership must be founded on self-determination." However, the focus regarding the UK's former colonies, most of whom are independent (pushed into independence impoverished), and the VI's sister regional countries was on independence, not the other self-determination options.
Moreover, the VI self-governing model is based on a dependency model, not the ideal, preferred self-governing model. It shares governing with the UK with the UK-appointed Governor and de facto head of state having responsibility for a) external affairs, b) defense, c) internal security (including police), d) administering the courts, and e) administering the civil service; the VI, remainder, including finance. And not much power is devolved to the VI. Even the delegated devolved power is easily reversible, i.e., the suspension of the Turks and Caicos' constitution in 2009, assuming direct rule. And though the VI is promoted as having self-government, it is an apparent mirage, for the UK, through its appointed Governor wields almost unilateral power.
The Governor, under the premise of Order in Council and consistent with the constitution, has final decision-making power in a) retained functions, b) special responsibilities, c) reserved powers, and d) the power to not assent to bills passed by the duly elected House of Assembly. Though permitted in the constitution, the power to use the assent to avoid the rollout of bills is rather interesting. The last time the Monarchy refused to assent to a bill in the UK was way back hundreds of years, during the reign of Queen Anne in 1708, i.e., the Scottish Militia Bill. Moreover, some actions employed by the UK are unilateral, disadvantaging to the VI people and government.
For example, the local government and people must comply with the appointed Governor's actions and has little to no recourse for redressing issues of concern. Pursuit of redress often falls on tone-deaf ears. Further, the VI people have no say in who the UK selects as Governor to ship to VI supposedly to represent them. The VI has no representative in nor has no input to Parliament, yet whatever bills are passed and assented to the VI must comply with the laws and regulations.
The UK is the Administering Power, and the VI constitution dependency model positions it as the Superior and the VI as the Subordinate. Its unilateral power evidence this. The Governor chairs Cabinet meetings and delivers the annual Throne Speech (State of the Territory). Former Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert delivered a Throne Speech weeks before leaving for the UK. I will take a wild guess and assume that the Guv would not have given a speech that had significant errors and omissions. If he were to, that would be lacking professionalism, integrity, and honesty.
The bottom line is that the Administering Power should have/must fulfill its obligation by providing coaching and internal management control(s) to the VI as needed to keep it within the guardrails and from going off the cliff. Nonetheless, I find the process and timing of the CoI curious and interesting, for it appears as if the former Governor commissioned the CoI as he was exiting the territory. Was it a parting gift to the VI?
Another curiosity is that the VI has had 12 Presidents (1833-1887, Fredrick Augustus Pickering was the last President (1884-1887)), 12 Commissioners (1889-1956), 4 Administrators (1956-1971), and 12 Governors (1971-Present); yet to date, even by accident, none of the officers have been a person of African descent or a woman. Why? Did the CoI allegations appear like a bolt from the blue, or was there knowledge of, if any, by an officer(s) and swept under the rug or just overlooked altogether? Moreover, I'm assuming that as a standard leadership and management practice, the UK-Local Government has had periodic non-adversarial performance reviews and feedback sessions. Additionally, it seems to have been friction between some high-ranking officials and the local government. In late 2020, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force made a major drug bust of approximately $250M. And supposedly, before any pictures were released to the local media, they interestingly showed up in some selected UK press where the VI was mercilessly and embarrassingly raked over the coal as a corrupt drug haven, perhaps for political mileage and other reasons. As noted in the introduction, the CoI perhaps will unearth the facts and truth, but something seemed rotten in the state of Denmark. Did the UK fail the VI, and did the VI get a fair shake?
A public sector commission of inquiry (CoI) is a valuable mechanism for investigating matters of the public interest outside of a court setting. A CoI must be for a just cause and must be fair, reasonable, and balanced to achieve confidence and credibility in the outcome regardless of whom commissions it, meeting the spirit and intent. Too often, CoI(s) may reflect or support the purpose of whoever commissioned it. VI CoI(s) may not have always been fair, reasonable, and balanced. One such example of a CoI was the Batehill-VI Government's egregious and overly generous agreement that Administrator Martin S. Stavely probably engineered to give away 85% of Anegada, and Wickham Cay and reclaimed land for a whopping and eyepopping 199 years.
The Wickham Cay Ltd and the Development Corporation of Anegada were companies entailed in the lease to Batehill for 199 years, $30K per year rent, exempted from taxes on profit, income, and capital for 199 years, etc. Protests led by Noel Lloyd and Positive Action Movement led to the UK commissioning a commission of inquiry into the agreements; Sir Derek Jakeway led the CoI. However, despite the deals' egregious, shameful, disrespectful, and one-sided nature, Sir Jakeway's findings were highly favorable to Batehill. The government protested, and the Foreign Office did not concur with Sir Jakeway's conclusions. It is important to note that at the time, the UK was also embroiled with Anguilla seceding from the St Kitts-Anguilla-Nevis alliance. The UK government loaned the VI government $5.8M to buy out Batehill.
Moreover, as a courtesy, the government should have been allowed to respond to the current CoI findings before forwarding it to Governor John Rankin.
The VI/Virgin Islanders have had a rich, illustrious, and enviable history of protest, agitation, and resistance for change for the public good of VI and Virgin Islanders. Examples include a) Christopher Fleming Long Look protest (1890), b) Theodolph Faulkner-The Great March of 24 November 1949 (1949), and Noel Lloyd and Positive Action Movement protest against the epic giveaway of the VI birthright and land--Wickham Cay and 85% of Anegada—to British company Batehill (1968).
Nevertheless, in recent years, the courage to protest publicly and without fear to redress concerns has waned. Something has changed. Instead, VI residents employ Sambo-like behaviour to address their concerns and grievances. This behaviour is reflective of the Slave era. Slavery and VI history are inseparable. Moreover, the VI is a representative democracy, and it must create a culture where residents are free to protest without fear of retribution peacefully.
The current culture war and anti-wokeness trend are to pretend that slavery didn't happen, or it was not so horrible as if ignoring the facts means that it didn't exist. Well, slavery was real and horrible and applied to the VI present-day situation. Slavery was one of the greatest genocide, terroristic, subjugation, and forced-migration acts of one people against another in history. Colonialists exploited and expropriated land and slave labour to create wealth, resources, power, control, special privileges, and entitlements. The slave trade and slavery created the "sugar islands," the most profitable islands in the British Empire, creating wealth, building the UK’s economy, and earning a preferential monopoly status. Dr Eric Williams, former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, in Capitalism and Slavery, noted that the slave trade and slave labour fueled British commercial capitalism, which in turn fueled the industrial revolution. And ironically, industrial capitalism killed commercial capitalism and its monopoly, and slavery. Sustaining the colonialists' action plan entailed dehumanising, brutalising, and treating slaves as an inferior species.
Additionally, slaves were deprived of worldly possessions, freedom, hope, basic education, and healthcare and kept non-competitive, powerless, and in servitude. The legacy of slavery lingers on to this day. Moreover, with sugar prices collapsing, together with competition from beet sugar, hurricanes, revolts from former slaves, etc., the planter class bolted from the territory, leaving the former slaves to fend for themselves.
Moreover, like a sphinx rising from ashes, the VI left as only good as a bird sanctuary, the poor house of the West Indies, and as a little backwater struggled. Nevertheless, the people persevered, and today it (VI) can boast of having one of the highest standards of living, quality of life, and per capita income in the Caribbean/West Indies region. This VI progress and success have changed attitudes toward it; gentrification/regentrification is increasing.
Further, Black advancement has always posed a threat and fear for the dominant group that controls most of the wealth, power, and government support and resources. For their advancement, disprove the lie about their inferiority. This situation may be true in the VI. There may be a tinge of jealousy of the VI people's progress. Some say aloud what many whispers in the secure backrooms that they live in cold flats in the UK and Virgin Islanders live in mansions with breathtaking views on the hills. Here is a news flash for Virgin Islanders. Beware of some people you think are into you; they are not. Your way forward is to cooperate and collaborate with one another, unite, practice group economics, and develop a self-empowerment plan as the way forward.
With the CoI dangling over the head of the VI like the Sword of Damocles, speculations are running high and wild that the UK will suspend the VI constitution and employ direct rule as it did in 2009 with the Turks and Caicos Islands, the VI sister Caribbean/West Indies Overseas Territory. Instead of suspending the VI constitution and employing direct rule, the UK, as the Administering Power under the UN charter, should be working close-up and supporting the VI in its continued progress towards self-determination, including independence, free association, or integration. The UK should devolve more power and provide more self-governing autonomy to the VI. Did the UK fail the VI?