Complaints commission making steady progress

Wednesday, 10th September 2014 by BVI Beacon

In its first five years, the Complaints Commission has done excellent work advocating for good governance in the Virgin Islands.

Cake

In its first five years, the Complaints Commission has done excellent work advocating for good governance in the Virgin Islands.

Now that Elton Georges, the territory’s first ombudsman, is preparing to step down in November, it is critical that a suitable successor be appointed to take up the post without interruption.

The new appointee will have big shoes to fill. Since it was established in 2009, the commission has worked diligently to fulfil its duties under the 2007 Constitution.

Besides providing a listening ear to many people who had nowhere else to turn, the commission has completed more than a dozen in-depth investigations.

In the process, it has exposed instances of injustice, politicisation, poor practice, and other problems in the civil service. In many cases, the commission’s findings have shed light on systemic failures that hitherto had been kept hidden from public scrutiny.

Unfortunately, however, senior public officers and elected leaders alike often have failed to act on — or even respond to — the commission’s recommendations for improvement.

Given the strength of the commission’s advice, this is extremely disappointing, though it is not entirely surprising.

As Mr. Georges has stressed, improving governance is a slow and often arduous process. Many of the problems that the commission has discovered are so deeply entrenched that they are not easily rectified.

Considering the historical lack of transparency in the VI — to say nothing of the unfortunate reality of political victimisation — there naturally will be resistance to change.

Nonetheless, change appears to be coming anyway: In spite of challenges, Mr. Georges says that the public service has made notable progress in some areas, and he has seen a growing willingness to cooperate with his office.

This is good news indeed, and we hope that all elected leaders and public officers will heed the commission’s inquiries and advice in the future.

The private sector also should take note of the agency’s example. For instance, Mr. Georges recently bemoaned the number of complaints he hears about attorneys in the territory. However, because these complaints typically do not involve the public service, the commission’s hands are tied.

Residents soon may have a new recourse in this regard: The proposed Legal Professions Act would tighten regulations, providing a comprehensive and legally binding system of handling complaints against attorneys. After years of delays, we hope that this bill will be passed as soon as possible, as advocated by Mr. Georges.

Professional organisations in other fields could push for similar legislation, or establish their own internal system for handling complaints against members.

Also welcome in the VI would be an organisation akin to the Better Business Bureau, a United States non-profit that gives customers an outlet for grievances. The Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association might consider advocating for a similar agency here.

Clearly, the Complaints Commission is doing important work. Moving forward, we trust that Governor John Duncan will proceed apace with consultations leading to the appointment of a successor who is ready and able to follow in Mr. George’s footsteps.

In an increasingly globalised world, it is imperative that the territory do everything it can to improve governance here at home.