The government is questioning the recent three-month extension given to the Commission of Inquiry (COI) to produce their final report, labeling the main reason cited for the delay as puzzling.
This is according to a statement issued by the Premier’s Office on Wednesday January 5, which said the statement was a response on behalf of the BVI Government on the further extension given to the COI.
The COI was scheduled to submit their final report of their investigations by January 19, 2022 after they were given a six-month extension last year.
However, just a few days ago, Governor John Rankin indicated that he had given the COI an additional three-month extension, after Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom had requested for more time to submit the report.
According to a published press release by the COI, the issue of redaction of information from some documents continues to be a major hindrance in them being able to complete the report by the January deadline.
The COI said this was due to ministers failing to make the necessary applications to the Commissioner to have documents redacted in a timely manner.
Responding to the accusation, the government said it was puzzled by the Commissioner’s claim that an issue of redaction was the main factor behind the delay of the report.
Government said there was no need for redaction for the report provided to the Governor as he has the privileges to view the report in its purest form.
“It is puzzling that the main reason cited by the Commission for delaying submission of the report to the Governor is the need to decide which parts of sensitive documents should be redacted (withheld from publication). All documents provided by the Government to the Commission are accessible by the Governor in unredacted form and could be supplied by the Commission to the Governor immediately and without change,” the government explained.
No requests received by COI for redacted documents
Government also claimed that it was the COI who said they would reach out to the ministers to query on whether they would want certain documents redacted.
However, they say to date, no such requests were received by any of the ministers from the COI.
“It is understandable that the Commissioner wishes to prepare a report in publishable form, but it is also surprising that the Commission should complain about delays in Ministerial indications about which parts of thousands of pages of documents should be withheld for good reasons such as national security,” the government stated.
They added, “The Commissioner himself said on 22 October 2021 that, recognising the scale of the task, he would let Ministers know which documents in particular he would quote or rely on in his report. Despite requests from the Attorney General on 25 November 2021 and 2 December 2021, as well as on 30 December 2021, this has yet to be done.”
If redactions were the issue, it could have been resolved in time
The government took it a step further to claim that if the issue of redaction was the main hindrance in delaying the report for a further three months, that could have been resolved if the COI had requested redactions on the date of their January 4 press release.
Government said had such been done, the redactions would have been completed to allow for the submission of the report in time for the original January 19 deadline.
They said, “The Ministers are anxious to enable as full and fast publication of relevant documents as possible and expect, as they have already promised, to be able to obtain Cabinet consent for any redactions which are needed within 10 days of being informed by the COI which documents they should be looking at.”
“Therefore, if this is really the only issue causing this delay, then notification by the Commissioner about those documents on 4th January, 2022 would still enable the Report to be published by the previous 19 January 2022 deadline,” the government added.
In the meantime, the government said this further delay will continue to cause strain on public officers who will be tasked with managing the work requested by the COI, coupled with their daily tasks.
Government says along with the strain, further unnecessary harm may continue to be done in the meantime to the reputation of the territory.