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The Commission of Inquiry: The silver lining

-Global markets & investors may be happy with the Commission of Inquiry in the Virgin Islands
Dickson C. Igwe. Photo: VINO/File
By Dickson C. Igwe

Now, international companies and investors are the platforms upon which the British Virgin Islands economy sits. Financial Services have kept this country alive through the many months of pandemic and the collapse in Caribbean tourism.

And the men and women who own these businesses and who navigate global markets with a view to placing their cash in the most secure and favorable jurisdictions are watching the Commission of Inquiry (COI) with a ‘’shrewd eye.’’

Investors do not like uncertainty and poor governance. And the fact that a COI has been commissioned and is investigating matters of governance in the territory is viewed very favorably by these investors.

The one true check on ruling power and executive impunity in the Overseas Territories of the UK is the Crown. And the court system over the decades has been inactive as an institutional check on the executive branch.

In the Westminster System of Parliamentary Government, when a political party commands a majority – First Past the Post- the ruling party is all powerful. It is very difficult to circumscribe a government that acts unconstitutionally under the UK System of government. The term is a parliamentary dictatorship.

Consequently, the one check-in place when an OT government oversteps its bounds is the Reserve Powers of the Governor that resides in the Crown, through the Common Law, and UK Conventions and Customs. In the UK the final check on executive over-reach is the Privy Council.

And that is what is taking place today.

A look across the spectrum of countries that became independent of the UK post the nationalism of the 1950s tells a troubling tale. The lack of any check on the powers of the executive branch has led to one-party rule, dictatorship, and horrific governance, in most post-independence states. It has been a sad tale of tyranny, war, and corrupt governance, leading to poverty and permanent economic depression. 

Islands that depend on tourism and financial services for the revenues that drive their economic engines cannot afford to frighten away foreign investment and international investors through a lack of transparency, accountability, and honesty.

Consequently, UK sversight resident in resilient institutions, such as the legal framework that can swiftly intervene when matters begin to move in the wrong direction in an OT, is a major benefit for residents and foreign investors alike.

Countries that lack any check on the executive branch could wake up one morning, and the whole treasury suddenly disappears, as has happened in a number of Commonwealth states, without the requisite checks and balances on the ruling power.    

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