Allowing Corruption and Dodging Accountability

The Negative Consequences of the Westminster System and Partisan Media in Small Caribbean States

In: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids
Joseph Gascoigne University of York York UK

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Public investigations can be important fact-finding mechanisms empowered to scrutinize instances of government corruption. But in the small states of the Anglophone Caribbean, the opposite is true, and these institutions can become political tools used to avoid accountability. By concentrating unchecked discretion in the prime minister, the Westminster system empowers governments in small states to establish controlled investigations lacking essential investigative powers. Meanwhile, the public’s understanding of the resultant investigation can be influenced by a highly partisan media, largely controlled by the government. In such circumstances, public investigations can be used to insulate governments from accountability and allow corruption to go unpunished while giving the superficial appearance of transparency and accountability. These strategies were successfully used during the 1987 Nedd Investigation into alleged corruption surrounding the redevelopment of Antigua’s airport in 1986. Manipulation of public investigations is another damaging consequence of the Westminster system being used in small, polarized states.

Public investigations have become markers of good governance and accountability. They are seen as the “gold standard” in objective fact-finding and reconciliation, uniquely qualified to hold people and institutions—particularly governments—to account. However, when not backed up by rigorous statutory powers, public investigations in Caribbean states can have the reverse effect; they can be used as political tools by governments as a means of avoiding scrutiny and dodging accountability. This article analyzes the 1987 Nedd Investigation into Antigua and Barbuda’s runway scandal—a case of political-financial corruption during the renovation of Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport in 1986. In doing so, it explores the strategies governments can use to manipulate public investigations when they are not established on a clear legal foundation. These strategies are not unique to the Anglophone Caribbean, but they are particularly damaging in small and politically polarized states. This is because the Westminster system, when used in very small societies, concentrates power in the cabinet, giving prime ministers unchecked discretion to manipulate public investigations for their own interests. Also common to these states is a deeply partisan national media, much of it controlled by the governing party. This provides governments with the capacity to influence the public’s access to information, guiding how large sections of the public comprehend and respond to allegations of corruption and investigation reports. It will be shown in the analysis of the Nedd Investigation that the Westminster system, together with a partisan media, can create an environment in which governments can use a range of strategies to shape public investigations in their favor.

In the Caribbean, public investigations like the Nedd Investigation are distinct from commissions of inquiry. Commissions of inquiry, in the Anglophone Caribbean, are legally constituted bodies established under laws that give them specific and essential investigative powers such as the authority to summon witnesses and administer oaths of honesty. By virtue of these powers, commissions of inquiry have the potential to be effective fact-finding missions. In the Caribbean they have, in some cases, led to significant outcomes such as the Seaby Inquiry, which ushered in a period of police reform in Trinidad and Tobago (Pino 2021:4). Similarly, Jamaica’s Simmons Inquiry into the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incident led Prime Minister Holness to issue a formal public apology in parliament. Public investigations, in contrast, are established and empowered at the discretion of a minister or prime minister and lack this statutory reinforcement. The Nedd Investigation shows that without statutory powers, public investigations may be little more than show trials called for partisan purposes and subject to overriding political interference and control. Whilst acknowledging that commissions of inquiry are an imperfect tool, political observers in the Caribbean should insist on their establishment in times of scandal or crisis and should not tolerate the substitution of politically controlled investigations. It must also be recognized that some of the strategies used to undermine the Nedd Investigation have been used to impede the work of other anticorruption institutions throughout the Caribbean, like audit institutions and integrity commissions. Consideration should be given to how underresourcing, lack of government cooperation, and criticism in the partisan press can be stamped out to ensure these anticorruption bodies function effectively.

This article is divided into three sections. The first provides a brief summary of the 1986 runway scandal and the reasons behind the establishment of the Nedd Investigation in 1987. This section also explains the political context in which the scandal and investigation took place. Section two analyses the ways in which Prime Minister V.C. Bird was able to use the discretion given to him by the Westminster system to manipulate and control the Nedd Investigation. Because the Nedd Investigation was not a legally constituted commission of inquiry, Nedd’s scope and investigative powers were set at the discretion of Bird. This allowed Bird to deny Nedd the power to subpoena evidence and witnesses; the right to administer oaths of honesty; and the ability to consult expert witnesses. These are generally considered the hallmarks of effective public inquiries, but they were denied to Nedd in 1987. As such, the investigation’s working methods were severely restricted, impeding Nedd’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation and rendering his work analogous to a politically motivated show trial. The final section examines how the media affected the Nedd Investigation. Like most Caribbean states, Antigua’s political history is characterized by competition between two hostile parties, each with its own media outlets. But in the mid-1980s, Antigua’s opposition was in a state of collapse, giving Bird and his Labour Party a near monopoly over Antiguan news outlets. Bird used this influence to control public access to information and inform the ways recipients perceived the Nedd Investigation, further insulating his regime from effective scrutiny.

The following examination of the nature and consequences of the Nedd Investigation is based on a wide range of resources. The foundational source is Nedd’s report, which exists in a complete and well-preserved document in the Antigua National Archive (ANA). One of the reasons the Nedd Investigation is a good case study is that it actually came to completion and was not derailed or side-tracked into drawn-out legal proceedings, as were other investigations in the region. For example, the 1998 Joseph Inquiry in St. Lucia collapsed when two of those implicated in the investigation, former Prime Ministers John Compton and Vaughan Lewis, successfully got the inquiry quashed by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal on the basis that Monica Joseph was a biased investigator. In this instance, the inquiry had to be reestablished months later under a different commissioner (Blom-Cooper 1999). The Nedd Investigation was not similarly derailed, likely because the government knew it was too restricted to pose a threat to their political interests. This fact lends the case a coherence that is encapsulated in the physical existence of a single report by a lone author. The ANA also holds a document brief submitted by the then minister for education, Reuben Harris, which provides a counter to the government’s narrative, though one potentially marred by Harris’s objective of his own political advancement at the expense of some of his cabinet colleagues. I also draw extensively on newspaper articles written by different papers, including the only anti-Labour paper, the Outlet. I have also used economic and electoral data to provide context to the events and debates discussed.

By examining this case study, this article engages with two sets of scholarship—work on public investigations in general and the nature of the Westminster system in small, postcolonial states—which have hitherto not been studied together. For a long time, inquiries have been regarded as important markers of good governance and enjoyed a reputation for being impartial and exhaustive mechanisms of crisis or conflict resolution (see, for instance, Turner 1976:378). But more recently scholars, including Denis Smith and Dominic Elliott (2007:520), have argued that this view is an ideal type, and that in practice inquiries can fail to bring about lasting readjustment for a number of logistical and political reasons. But whether foundational or revisionist, the literature on inquiries has largely focused on large or developed states and mostly ignored Caribbean and other postcolonial small states. This article shows that the small and polarized states of the Anglophone Caribbean using the Westminster system are acutely vulnerable to methods of manipulation which may be less feasible for governments in larger or less partisan states.

The nature of the Westminster system in small states has received considerable scholarly attention in recent decades. Overwhelmingly, this scholarship has focused on ways key characteristics of this system are distorted by the island states’ small sizes. For example, a widely accepted defining feature of the Westminster system is that members of the executive (the cabinet) are drawn from the legislature (parliament) (Harding 2004:146). But numerous scholars have shown that in states with small populations and correspondingly small legislatures, this characteristic leads to significant overlap between the executive and the legislature, with most governing party MP s also serving as government ministers. This overlap removes the principle of parliamentary oversight because there are too few backbench MP s to hold the cabinet accountable (Bishop 2011:425). Examples of small legislatures include Antigua (17 MP s); St. Vincent (15); St. Lucia (17); Dominica (21); and Belize (31). It should also be noted that the upper houses in most of these states (often called the senate) are politically appointed at the start of each parliament and usually only function as rubber-stamp institutions. Unrestrained by parliamentary oversight, cabinets and prime ministers in these contexts can use discretionary powers for blatantly partisan purposes, even in contravention of the national interest, incentivizing and enabling a rise in corruption (Viteri Vázquez & Bjørnskov 2020:513). Much of this discretion comes from the convention of the Westminster system that powers not directly assigned to institutions are reserved to the prime minister (acting on behalf of the monarch)—often called prerogative powers. The discretion to establish a public investigation is one of these prerogative powers. The detrimental consequences of the Westminster system—including the abuse of prerogative powers—as enacted in small states has prompted Matt Bishop to rechristen it the “Westmonster” system (Bishop 2011). In the Commonwealth Caribbean context, only Guyana has significantly diverged from the norms of the Westminster system and moved toward a presidential political framework (Barrow-Giles 2010:21). Moreover, Jack Corbett and Wouter Veenendaal have, both together and independently, shown that the Westminster system’s failings are not unique to the Caribbean but can be seen in small island developing states (SIDS) throughout the world (Corbett & Veenendaal 2021; Veenendaal 2019).

This article brings these two sets of scholarship together by showing that prime ministers in the Commonwealth Caribbean can use their broad, discretionary powers to establish highly controlled and restricted public investigations. Unanswerable to, and unrestrained by, parliamentary oversight, prime ministers can use their unchecked discretion to determine the scope of public investigations, the powers and authority available to investigators, and the outcome of the investigation when concluded. Because of executive dominance, parliament has no power to scrutinize or regulate the prime minister’s conduct in setting up and responding to such investigations. The resultant investigations thus have the superficial appearance of rigorous fact-finding missions but in practice may lack the scope and powers necessary for the investigators to do an effective job. They are thus rendered like show trials; they become highly managed public spectacles intended to have a particular political outcome favorable to the government. In such circumstances, corruption may go undetected and unpunished. The 1987 Nedd Investigation in Antigua stands out as a clear case study for this problem, demonstrating the strategies powerful prime ministers can use to undermine and manipulate what in theory should be an important anticorruption institution. Commissions of inquiry avoid many of these issues as their powers are not dependent on the prime minister’s discretion but are preset according to law. While the mandates of commissions of inquiry are still decided by the prime minister, this statutory basis removes a significant degree of political control and generates more effective fact-finding missions.

This article also emphasizes the role of the media in informing the public’s response to these engineered public inquiries. Like much of the Commonwealth Caribbean, Antigua has long been characterized by a highly partisan press, reflective of the country’s polarization between Labour supporters and supporters of the opposition. At the time of the Nedd Investigation in 1987, the government had a near monopoly on all media outlets in Antigua, including newspapers, radio, and television. This was because almost all outlets were controlled by the government (such as the nationalized broadcaster, Antigua Broadcasting Services), organizations loyal to the governing Labour Party (such as the newspaper The Worker’s Voice), or platforms owned by members of the prime minister’s family (such as ZDK Radio). This kind of press control has not been unusual in the Commonwealth Caribbean and contributes to ongoing debates around media ownership and press freedom today. In 1987, the government was able to use this media control to heavily influence people’s access to information concerning the Nedd Investigation and to shape an alternative narrative around the runway scandal Nedd investigated. This provided an added layer of security to shield the government from negative public reaction and allowed them to get away with corruption. In such a context, public investigations can be manipulated in ways that mean they not only fail to sanction corruption but can actually help insulate corrupt politicians from accountability and encourage further acts of corruption in the future.

1 The Scandal

The Nedd Investigation took place in the wake of the runway scandal, which came to light in 1986. By the 1980s, Antigua’s economy was characterized by its reliance on tourism, which accounted for half the island’s GDP (USAID 1987:1). But by 1986, the cornerstone of this economy, the island’s only airport, V.C. Bird International, was showing signs of deterioration so severe that major airlines announced they would cease operations to Antigua until it was restored (Coram 1993:134). This was potentially devastating, as it meant Antigua could lose its place in the highly competitive Caribbean tourism market if airlines and holidaymakers sought safer and more reliable destinations. Successive governments and international lenders declined to fund the restoration because of the size of Antigua’s barely serviceable foreign debt, which had reached US$ 400 million by the end of the decade (Payne 1999:10). Consequently, Vere Bird Jr. (hereafter Vere Jr.), the prime minister’s son and minister for aviation, was put in charge of finding an alternative funding source and drawing up a plan for the renovations. These plans were signed by Vere Jr. and presented to the cabinet on January 14, 1986, and the runway rehabilitation started shortly thereafter, costing the Antiguan treasury US$ 11,105,000 (Coram 1993:135).

Suspicions of impropriety emerged within months of completion when the airport’s brand-new landing-light system failed, forcing the airport to operate day take-offs and landings only, at great cost and frustration to airlines.1 Questions of a scandal and potential corruption first emerged in the French press, beginning with a story in Le Figaro on October 16, 1986. French interest stemmed from the fact that one of the key players in the runway redevelopment was a corrupt French government official—Yves Challier—who had embezzled money from French government-backed public projects. It seemed that Challier had conspired with Vere Bird Jr. to make Antigua’s airport a project from which both men could profiteer. The story was picked up by other outlets in the United Kingdom and Germany before making the front page of Antigua’s only anti-Labour newspaper Outlet on October 24, 1986.2

Accusations of corruption spread within Antigua and in the international press. This climate generated unprecedented levels of outrage in Antigua. To fully understand this, a brief outline is needed of the history of Antigua’s political culture up to 1986. Like most former British colonies in the Caribbean, Antigua has been characterized by an extreme form of polarized political partisanship, with most of society divided between support of two main political parties. The first party in Antigua was the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) of Vere Cornwall Bird. As was typical of the Anglophone Caribbean, the ALP emerged from the island’s main labor union—the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (Sutton 1991:57). Antigua’s second popular party was the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM), which also emerged out of a union—the Antigua Workers Union (AWU). Antigua is unusual because the PLM only emerged in 1968, some 22 years after the ALP. Moreover, while the ALP has remained a constant in Antiguan politics, the main opposition party has been through several reincarnations. The formation of the AWU and PLM immediately created a political culture of extreme polarization, developing into an example of what Jennifer McCoy, Tahmina Rahman, and Murat Somer (2018) have called “pernicious polarisation”—when a political divide creates a social schism, splitting a society into opposing groups characterized by profound mistrust, hostility, and a my-party-right-or-wrong absolutism. Up to 1986, polarization in Antigua was skewed, to varying degrees, in the ALP’s favor, giving Bird absolute political control in Antigua’s majoritarian Westminster-style political system.

However, this political strategy collapsed in 1986 because the public’s anger about the runway scandal was so profound that it broke through this polarized political absolutism. In the face of these corruption allegations, Bird was put in the unprecedented position of being unable to rely on the unquestioning support of his party. The scale of this breakthrough was demonstrated in December 1986, when the usually pro-Labour newspaper, The Worker’s Voice, ran the headline “You Better Take Warning,” criticizing the government’s recklessness and apparent corruption.3 Normally relied upon to be a staunch government supporter and even a mouthpiece for the Labour Party, The Worker’s Voice’s critical stance is indicative of how deeply concerned and outraged many Antiguans were about the runway scandal by the end of 1986.

The reason the runway scandal prompted unprecedented and bipartisan upset was that it appeared to put the island’s economy and people’s jobs at risk. By the 1980s, the tourism sector was Antigua’s main source of employment and offered more attractive career opportunities in hospitality, services, management, and construction as opposed to the undesirable and often seasonal work available in agriculture and agro-industries. Moreover, tourists arriving by air contributed much more to the economy than cruise ship passengers and were the bedrock of Antigua’s economy.4 The runway at V.C. Bird International was the artery that supplied this whole economic system, and it seemed to many that Vere Jr. had put the island’s future at risk in the pursuit of personal gain, something that even loyal party supporters and newspapers could not overlook.

Left unaddressed, the runway scandal threatened to destabilize not only Bird’s government but the entire political culture from which he benefited. Because of this, Bird announced he would establish an investigation and on January 13, 1987, he commissioned Sir Archibald Nedd—a retired judge and former chief justice of Grenada—to conduct it.5 It is unclear why Bird chose Nedd to lead the investigation, but it has long been standard practice to turn to retired judges from around the Caribbean to lead public investigations. For instance, Antigua’s 1976 Bastide Inquiry into alleged corruption under the 1971–76 PLM government was led by Karl de la Bastide, a retired high court judge from Trinidad. Sometimes, Caribbean states have appointed Commonwealth lawyers and judges as investigators, such as Louis Blom-Cooper, who chaired a corruption investigation in St. Lucia in 1998. In other cases, sector specialists may be called upon, such as when Prime Minister Manning called on Scotland Yard to investigate police corruption in Trinidad in the 1992 Seaby Inquiry (Griffith 1997:142). The unrestrained discretion given to prime ministers regarding inquiries means they can potentially appoint partisan commissioners to lead investigations, thus rendering the desired outcome even more likely. But where this is explicit, judicial review can render the subsequent inquiry null and void on the grounds of bias, as happened to the 2009 Sharpe Inquiry in St. Kitts, which was quashed by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal on the grounds that Sharpe was a biased investigator. These are all examples of legally enforced commissions of inquiry in Caribbean states. By copying one of the tropes of commissions of inquiry—the appointment of a foreign expert investigator—Bird gave the Nedd Investigation a public veneer of rigor and efficacy while simultaneously withholding the statutory powers that make those inquiries effective. This supports Nedd’s belief, examined below, that he was only expected to “go through the motions” of holding an investigation.6

After seven months of private hearings and investigations, Nedd’s report was made public in August 1987. Much of his work focused on trying to untangle the complex web of individuals and companies involved in the project. He concluded that Vere Bird Jr., in his capacity as aviation minister, had, by his own volition, committed the Antiguan government to a convoluted contract involving at least three private companies, whose exact role was unclear: Maryna Ltd, Building Finishing Systems, and Chantiers Modernes. Of these, Maryna Ltd was the main object of Nedd’s scrutiny and criticism because, while it had been advertised as an experienced consultancy firm based in France, it was actually a recently founded company registered in Antigua and set up by Vere Jr. himself. Vere Jr. was Maryna’s founder, major shareholder, codirector, chairman, and legal representative.7 For Nedd, this was a clear example of a shell-company set up, so Vere Jr. could syphon money off the runway project. Moreover, Nedd concluded that “the costs [of the project] were inflated so as to realise a large margin” of profit that could be shared between the companies and individuals involved.8 Moreover, Nedd asserted that by orchestrating the project and setting up a sham company, Vere Jr. had “placed himself in the ideal position to feather his own nest” and had “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming a Minister.”9 Yet Nedd also had to conclude that “I have no evidence before me to support an allegation of criminal wrongdoing.”10 The following section will set out how Prime Minister Bird tried to ensure that the Nedd Investigation reached this conclusion.

2 The Investigation

Bird was able to limit the consequences of an investigation into the runway scandal by restricting the investigation’s scope and curtailing the powers of the investigator. This was possible because the Westminster system gives the prime minister substantial discretionary powers, including the authority to establish investigations. In larger states these powers are held in check by systems of accountability, particularly backbench oversight and scrutiny by the legislature as a whole. However, in small states, the executive is able to dominate the legislature to such an extent that these checks and balances, though they appear effective on paper, are absent in practice and bodies like parliament become toothless, rubber-stamp institutions. In such a context, prime ministers have been freer to use their discretion for blatantly partisan and self-interested purposes. This has been, and continues to be, an issue, not just in Antigua but in the wider Commonwealth Caribbean, and has recently been commented upon by scholars writing in the context of constitutional reform in the region. For example, in a discussion of constitutional reform in Trinidad and Tobago, René Monteil (2015:255) referred to the concentration of unchecked power in Caribbean prime ministers as “constitutionally retrograde” because it allows heads of government to act more like seventeenth-century English monarchs than accountable and restrained democratic leaders. If this is true of Trinidad, it is certainly apparent in Antigua, where the discretion of prime ministers has been among the most unchecked in the region.

Bird first of all used his prime minister’s discretion to establish a government-appointed investigation rather than a legally constituted commission of inquiry. On first impression, this appears a superficial distinction but in practice the difference is fundamental and explains many of the failings of accountability in this particular investigation. Many Caribbean states, including Antigua, have laws which provide for the establishment of commissions of inquiry. In much of the Eastern Caribbean, this legislation is rooted in an 1880 colonial-era act called the Commissions of Inquiry Act. While it has received minor amendments, this act has remained in place in Antigua, meaning the legislative context of the Nedd Investigation and the legal grounds on which prime ministers may establish investigations are the same today as they were in 1987. This is true for other Eastern Caribbean states where this or comparable colonial-era acts were applied and remain largely in force, such as St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia. The act, like its counterparts in countries throughout the world, provides investigators with a set of powers that should lead to effective public investigations. By using these powers, commissions of inquiry merge the pursuit of legal truth with objective fact-finding through the use of “quasi-scientific practices,” drawing on the methods of social science, economics, and management (Gabay 2020:913). Combined, they constitute what David Scott has called the “coercive powers” of inquiries (Scott 1990:131).

The first of these “coercive powers” is the “statutory power to compel disclosure,” also known as the ability to subpoena evidence and summon witnesses (Carver 2012:19). The second is the right to administer oaths of honesty to witnesses, with a statutory penalty for the crime of perjury (Ireton 2016:220). The third coercive power is the investigator’s ability to freely consult with expert witnesses who can provide professional and objective insight, particularly into complicated or contested issues (Scott 1990:131). For Annika Brandstrom and Sanneke Kuipers, together these constitute the hallmarks that make public inquiries “trial-like” and equip them with the near-unique ability (unique except for actual courts of law) to carry out the two-fold function of “reconstruction and redress”: reconstructing the facts of what happened in the past; and proportioning political, financial, and/or moral blame (Brandstrom & Kuipers 2003:279). Investigations with these hallmarks have been established by practically every kind of government, including imperial authorities, colonial administrations, democratic governments, and even military dictatorships (Vincent et al. 2020:334).

However, because Nedd’s investigation was not set up under the Commission of Inquiries Act, it was not automatically endowed with these powers. Instead, Bird used his prime-ministerial discretion to establish a public investigation that specifically lacked all the hallmarks of an effective commission of inquiry. When Nedd, in the course of his investigation, appealed to Bird for additional authority—particularly the ability to consult expert witnesses—his request was denied. The distinction between an investigation and a commission of inquiry was so subtle that it was initially not picked up by Antigua’s opposition media. But by then the investigation had served its political purpose, and Bird used his media influence to quell the few calls for a full commission of inquiry. The remainder of this section will show that if Nedd had had the powers provided by the Commission of Inquiries Act, the runway scandal would certainly have had a more lasting and damaging impact on the Bird government and Vere Jr. personally. However, free from backbench and parliamentary pressure, Bird was able to avoid this prospect and establish an investigation missing all the hallmarks and coercive powers of an effective investigation.

Having established an investigation, as opposed to a commission of inquiry, the next step Bird took to limit its potential impact was to determine Nedd’s investigative mandate. All investigations of any kind should have a clear mandate, reflecting the purpose for which they are established, the questions they must address, and often inviting recommendations for redress or reform. The scope is decided by the establishing authority, regardless of the law or convention by which an investigation is set up. As such, it presents the first opportunity for the politicization of an investigation and is often subject to political and media attention and scrutiny. Joan K. Stringer and J.J. Richardson in their work on inquiries in the United Kingdom have emphasized that the scope of an investigation gives political elites the opportunity to “manage” investigations from the outset, guiding them toward certain findings while steering them away from others (Stringer & Richardson 1979:31). By subtly but precisely determining the remit of an investigation, shrewd establishing authorities can heighten the likelihood that an investigation will find in their favor. This is also true for commissions of inquiry established in the Caribbean, meaning that while they do possess essential legal powers, they are still not free from some political control.

The mandate Bird gave Nedd was carefully devised, telling him to investigate: all aspects of the redevelopment; the nature of the work completed under contract; the application of the funds procured for the project; and whether there was any wrongdoing on the part of any person in the performance of work done under a contract as part of the runway project.11 This suggests a comprehensive mandate, but there are certain features of the instructions given to Nedd that are worth highlighting.

Firstly, this was a vast undertaking for one investigator which, if it were to be carried out thoroughly, would surely have taken many months. Secondly, these instructions are quite vague and provide no detail in terms of persons of interest, a timescale in which to operate, or specific questions to answer. This contrasts with many regional investigations/inquiries in the 1980s and 1990s, which usually gave investigators extremely detailed instructions, such as St. Lucia’s 1997 Joseph Inquiry into alleged fraud under the Compton government.12 The third notable thing about Nedd’s instructions is that they largely sidestep the key issues surrounding the runway scandal. For example, Nedd’s third instruction was to investigate the application of the funds procured for the renovation work, but this was not the controversial issue. No one was alleging in 1987 that the $ 11 million had been wrongly applied; rather, it was speculated that Vere Jr. had pre-emptively falsely inflated the overall costs of the project so that he could syphon off a large profit through his bogus consultancy, Maryna. Similarly, Nedd’s fourth instruction was to determine if there had been any wrongdoing on the part of any individual while carrying out contracted work on the runway. Again, this was not the issue; what mattered was why these contracts had been devised and agreed to by Vere Jr. in the first place and why he had hired fabricated and unqualified companies to do the work. Bird thus gave Nedd a mandate that subtly sidestepped the key issues of the whole runway scandal and pointed the investigation toward questions that did not really need answering. Meanwhile, some topics are also conspicuously absent from Nedd’s mandate entirely. The instructions make no direct reference to Vere Jr. or the companies involved in the renovation. Nor is Nedd told to investigate the events leading up to the renovation, which would include the drafting and signing of the project contracts. The mandate Bird gave to Nedd was thus carefully constructed to give the appearance of a rigorous public inquiry while in reality it was, in Stringer and Richardson’s words, highly managed. Therefore, it is right to call the Nedd Investigation a show trial: it had the appearance of, and was presented as, a thorough investigation, but in practice it lacked the detailed mandate needed to resolve the runway scandal.

Nedd began his investigation in January 1987 and did so in a manner that bore all the superficial trappings of a thorough fact-finding mission. He had the authority to “approach or call on any Government Department, Division, Agency, or any person or persons” for assistance or evidence.13 Over seven months, he conducted interviews, requested documentary evidence, and held private hearings with witnesses. He was also given a written brief by the minister for education and received a number of documents from the government, most of which he annexed to his report.

However, during the course of his investigations, it became clear to Nedd that he lacked all the coercive and trail-like powers necessary for him to do a thorough job. Nedd himself made the restricted nature of his investigation clear in his report, the preamble of which states:

It should be observed that I had no power to compel the attendance of any person or persons to testify … I would remark also I was not empowered to administer to the witnesses, who volunteered to give evidence, the customary oath to speak the truth.14

In this preamble, Nedd mentions two of the three hallmarks deemed to be essential for an effective investigation: subpoenas and oaths of honesty. Without the power of subpoena, key evidence and testimony can be deliberately kept from an investigator, meaning the evidence on which they construct their findings could be incomplete and misrepresentative. This is because, unable to compel the submission of evidence, investigators have to rely on the voluntary cooperation of interested parties. Cooperation is unlikely if the person concerned is at fault or has committed a crime that would be exposed by their cooperation. In the case of the Nedd investigation, it is unlikely key players, particularly Vere Jr., would have proactively incriminated themselves by giving Nedd evidence of their own misconduct. Nedd recognized this and felt compelled to preface almost all statements with caveats along the lines of “It would appear from the facts given to me,” or “If the minister’s statement is correct.”15

One of the most notable instances of Nedd’s inability to compel the attendance of a key witness was the absence of Alwyn Wason from Nedd’s hearings. Wason was a consultant engineer who worked for the Pan Caribbean Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Project and had consulted on the original construction of V.C. Bird International. Because of this experience, he was hired as a consultant to advise the Antiguan government on the airport’s renovation and to evaluate alternate proposals. This level of involvement, not to mention his prior experience of the airport’s construction, made Wason, in Nedd’s words, a witness “of inestimable value” to the investigation.16 However, Wason never appeared before Nedd, despite the latter’s appeals to the Antiguan government to find Wason and request his attendance. It is not entirely clear if the government refused to act on Nedd’s wishes or if Wason refused to come back to Antigua. But either way, without the power of subpoena, Nedd’s investigation lacked a crucial witness who could have provided unique insight into the project.

Nedd also lacked the right to administer oaths of honesty to witnesses, which is provided under the Commission of Inquiries Act. The authority to administer oaths of honesty gives investigators the ability to ensure, as a point of law, that the evidence they receive is factual and complete. Fundamental to the practice of oaths of honesty is the principle of perjury, by which witnesses who knowingly provide false information to a court or commission are guilty of a crime and may be subject to judicial punishment. Nedd then was obliged to take witness testimonies at face value, only able to compare them to the small pool of documentary evidence available to him.

As Nedd was not able to administer the oath of honesty and expose witnesses to the risk of perjury, this heightened the likelihood that witnesses would give Nedd false or incomplete information. This led to instances of contradictory testimony or testimonies that did not align with the documentary evidence. For example, one of the key questions Nedd seems to have set for himself was to establish what roles Vere Jr. played in addition to his duties as minister, particularly his relationship with Maryna. Vere Jr. gave oral testimony to Nedd stating that he had resigned as chairman of Maryna in December 1983 and there was thus no conflict of interest in his hiring of that company in 1986. However, Maryna’s solicitor, John Fuller, provided a notice of Vere Jr.’s resignation, signed by Vere Jr. and filed with the Registrar of Companies, showing Vere Jr.’s resignation was effective from July 6, 1986. When questioned again about the claim he resigned as chairman in 1983, Vere Jr. told Nedd that “1983” was “a typographical error” and “conceded” that he had in fact been chairman until mid-1986. This is an example of a lie told to Nedd by Vere Jr. which was intended to vindicate the latter from one of several accusations of corruption. Had Nedd’s investigation been an inquiry established under the Commission of Inquiries Act, Vere Jr.’s conduct would have led to a charge of perjury. As it was, Vere Jr. was able to get away with his lie, even when it was disproven. In this instance, Nedd was able to disprove the claim because of a document produced by another witness. It is likely that Nedd received many other false statements that could not be disproved by recourse to documentary evidence.

Another instance of conflicting evidence was the presence of two contradictory minutes from the same cabinet meeting. The official record showed that the cabinet agreed to the contracts Vere Jr. had organized before he signed them, while a copy provided by the minister for education showed that the cabinet only approved the plans retrospectively. A commission of inquiry could have tested the veracity of these texts by questioning witnesses under oath about the cabinet meeting, but Nedd was unable to do this. Faced with two contradictory pieces of evidence and unable to establish the truthfulness of either, Nedd could make no formal conclusions about when and how the renovation agreements were made. This significantly undermined his ability to establish even the most basic facts about the runway scandal.17

The third hallmark of effective investigations—the right to consult expert witnesses—was also lacking in the Nedd Investigation. Expert witnesses are part of the “dramatis personae” of public inquiries, as much a key part of an investigation as the investigators, witnesses, and plaintiffs (Bulmer 1980:7). As David Donnison has stressed, inquiries do not operate in a vacuum but must rely on productive working relationships with a variety of other groups and components, including expert witnesses (Donnison 1980:10). Expert witnesses provide investigators with facts and qualified opinions and provide perspectives separate from those of interested parties. It could be argued that the ability to consult external and even foreign experts is especially important in small, polarized states like Antigua, where it is difficult to find witnesses without prior knowledge of a case or impartial local experts because of close-knit communities and polarized media. In particular, Nedd said it was “imperative” that he be provided with an expert engineer who could comment on the necessity of the runway redevelopment, assess the quality of the work done, and estimate how much such work ought to have cost. Yet the government refused his written appeals, denying Nedd “the means with which to do a proper job.”18 This statement, near the end of his report, amounted to a confession that Nedd’s investigation was not thorough or robust and placed the blame for this squarely in the hands of the government.

The various limitations placed on him by the government led Nedd to argue that he “was expected merely to go through the motions of holding an investigation.”19 This is a strikingly frank comment by Nedd, expressing frustration with the way his investigation had been treated by Bird. Nedd’s perception is supported by the evidence, which shows that Bird consistently acted in ways that restricted the Nedd Investigation and limited its ability to conduct a thorough inquiry. The scope of the investigation and the powers given to Nedd were tightly controlled by Bird in an effort to stymie Nedd’s capacity to identify criminal wrongdoing. Bird was able to do this because of the sweeping discretionary powers the Westminster system gives the prime minister. In small states, where parliament cannot function as a check on executive authority, these powers can allow prime ministers to act without accountability or oversight. This extends to customs and practices not explicitly political, such as public investigations. The political system and enabling legislation that allow this to happen have not been meaningfully changed since the Nedd Investigation in 1987. This means the same strategies of restraining and direction could be used in future investigations in Antigua. Any movements for constitutional or political reform in Antigua should bear this in mind when considering changes to this system.

The way the Nedd Investigation was restricted is of significance to other anticorruption initiatives across the wider Caribbean. This is because strategies of underresourcing and obfuscation have been used to undermine the work of agencies like the ombudsman, government auditors, and, perhaps most importantly, integrity commissions. These should be important anticorruption safeguards that regulate government conduct, but in many instances, governments have denied them the resources necessary to fulfill their functions. This is comparable to the way Nedd was refused the powers and resources he needed to conduct a thorough investigation. In extreme cases, these institutions do not function at all because of the inability to retain the necessary staff on account of chronic underfunding.20 After a 2019 on-site investigation, an Organization of American States report said the Antiguan government urgently had to introduce measures to ensure the integrity commission “is provided with the necessary human and investigative resources to perform its functions properly.”21 Meanwhile, the Jamaican integrity commission has complained that its work is restricted by “our limited resources,” while that of Trinidad and Tobago has seen its budget slashed in recent years.22 In 2010, Dominica’s integrity commissioner, Julian Johnson, reported that he was made to finance essential work-related travel out of his own pocket.23 In the case of institutions like integrity commissioners, such restrictions are made possible because their budgets are determined by parliaments which, by virtue of the Westminster system in small states, are controlled by the government. The strategy of avoiding accountability by underresourcing anticorruption initiatives is therefore exemplified by the Nedd Investigation but has also been used against anticorruption institutions across the Caribbean in recent years.

3 The Meddling of the Media

The polarized political culture that emerged in the late 1960s came to affect all areas of life, including the media, giving rise to a deeply partisan public media and a quasi-authoritarian approach toward government media control. In the 1980s, the Antiguan Labour government had a near monopoly on Antiguan media outlets, including newspapers, radio stations, and television channels. The government was able to use this influence to regulate public access to information and to shape the ways a large proportion of the public learned about, and responded to, the Nedd Investigation. This control of information provided the government with an added layer of security, insulating them from any possible negative consequences of the investigation. While controlling Nedd’s working methods had largely rendered the investigation toothless, this additional deployment of media influence reflects Antigua’s absolutist political culture, which sees all politicized conflicts as zero-sum games, encouraging drastic overreaction. Using the partisan media, as Bird did in 1987, constitutes a form of informational overkill by which the Nedd Investigation—already crippled by restrictive working methods—was killed through a relentless propaganda campaign.

The use (or abuse) of mass media by Caribbean governments has long been a subject of academic study, though its link to corruption is yet to be fully explored.24 In the early 1970s, John Lent examined efforts by Caribbean governments, including that of Antigua, to redefine and restrict press freedom (Lent 1973:55). One strategy Lent discussed was extending government ownership of media outlets, citing the examples of Trinidad, where two thirds of broadcast media was owned by the government, and St. Kitts, where the Bradshaw government owned the only broadcasting outlet and a newspaper (Lent 1973:56). More recently, Corbett and Veenendaal have highlighted the great extent to which major media outlets are disproportionately owned or controlled by governments in small states, not just in the Caribbean but throughout the world (Corbett & Veenendaal 2018:158). The influence of the state throws media independence into doubt and restricts outlets’ ability or willingness to act as a powerful check on government power.

In Antigua in the 1980s, Bird had such influence over so many media outlets that it could be argued he was the main arbiter of the public’s access to information. Bird’s influence stemmed from three sources: loyalist organizations; direct government control; and Bird family ownership. In terms of loyal organizations, The Worker’s Voice was Antigua’s first popular newspaper; it was also the official organ of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union, out of which emerged the Labour Party. For most of its existence, The Worker’s Voice strongly supported the Bird regime and often performed like a mouthpiece for the government. Through his control of government, Bird was also indirectly in charge of Antigua’s state-run media platforms. This included the government-owned newspaper The Nation’s Voice, which began circulation in 1982, and the Antigua and Barbuda Broadcasting Service (ABS), which ran a radio station and the local television channel. Through his family, Bird also had influence over The Herald, which was a newspaper set up by his son Lester Bird in 1986, and ZDK Radio, which was a popular radio station managed by another son, Ivor Bird.

In other words, at the time of the Nedd Investigation, Bird had near complete control of Antigua’s media outlets. This was particularly notable in radio, where the only other broadcasters allowed to operate were two evangelical religious stations. The only significant newspaper not controlled by Bird was Tim Hector’s Outlet, which was the only vehicle critical of the Bird regime and the only one to follow the runway scandal closely. Tim Hector was an Antiguan intellectual and educator who, after an encounter with C.L.R. James, broke off his university education in Canada to return to Antigua in 1967 and campaign against the Bird regime. He began to print articles and pamphlets which eventually evolved into the daily Outlet newspaper, which he edited and published until his death in 2002. Outlet was a lone voice during the Nedd Inquiry, compounded by the fact that the runway scandal happened at a time when the opposition had collapsed. As such, Tim Hector was the only significant voice of opposition in what otherwise amounted to a one-party state in 1986.25 This makes Antigua in 1987 an extreme example of the kind of one-party dominance the Westminster system tends to perpetuate (Sutton 1991:59).

The tripartite relationship between the media, corruption, and the public’s response to corruption has gained academic attention in recent years, particularly with the rise of 24-hour news cycles, social media, and “fake news.” Among the leading writers on this relationship are Catherine De Vries and Hector Solaz (2017:396–408). They have set out a revisionist approach to the way corruption affects how people vote by focusing on the concept of “information acquisition,” which refers to the ways people learn about corruption. Unless one has direct experience, one is most likely to learn about corruption through the news, which is subject to a variety of biases that shape when, to what extent, and with what explanation the reader/listener learns about an allegation or proven case of corruption. This has profound consequences for how people will react, not just electorally but also in terms of their perception of the corrupt actors. Bird was able to mold “information acquisition” because his government and family had near control of Antigua’s media landscape.

It is difficult to assess the role of the media in supporting or challenging the work of investigations or commissions of inquiry in other Caribbean states without a full and considered appreciation for the partisanship and ownership of individual outlets and journalists. It is likely that the media attention given to the Nedd Investigation was not unique in the Caribbean, though the high degree of government media control in Antigua in the 1980s made this case an extreme example. That said, commissions of inquiry inevitably attract considerable press attention and, in some cases, this has been commented on by the commissioners themselves. In 1999, the report of the Blom-Cooper Inquiry in St. Lucia stated that “a modicum of restraint in discussion of the matters under inquiry, while the Commission of Inquiry proceeds to do its job, would not go amiss” (Blom-Cooper 1999). Blom-Cooper was well aware of the value of restraint in national media and public debate. Nine years before, in Antigua, the government-supporting Worker’s Voice newspaper argued that “AS A JEW” Blom-Cooper could not reliably investigate the “Arms for Antigua” scandal, because two Israelis were implicated in it.26 Elsewhere, popular news outlets have questioned the worth and efficacy of inquiries generally. This is epitomized by Paul Lawrence’s detailed article eviscerating the 2009 Sharpe Inquiry, which he saw as a “witch hunt” against the outgoing premier of Nevis, Vance Amory.27 A detailed assessment of the role the media has played during public investigations in other Caribbean states should be undertaken in the future, because the Nedd Investigation suggests this role can be significant.

Prior to and during Nedd’s investigation, Labour-supporting media outlets launched a barrage of articles dismissing claims that something irregular or inappropriate had taken place. The Worker’s Voice printed editorials, articles, and government press-releases detailing the runway project and justifying the costs.28 The latter were reproduced and printed without commentary by the paper itself, meaning the official organ of Antigua’s oldest major trade union effectively served as an uncritical mouthpiece of the government. However, these claims do not appear to have satisfied popular disquiet. As late as February 1987, the Labour Party held public meetings at which supporters demanded further explanation for the scandal and accosted Vere Jr., accusing him of avoiding public scrutiny and cowardice.29

Continuing anger among Labour Party supporters prompted the government to change the narrative it put across in its media machine. By the end of October 1986, Bird-controlled outlets abandoned simple denial in favor of a defensive strategy aimed at dodging accountability and laying blame elsewhere. Bird himself appeared on state radio and television in October to claim ignorance with the assertion that “Nobody ask me nutten.”30 This was a questionable defense because, on the one hand, if Bird was not consulted and Vere Jr. acted alone, then this heightened the likelihood the latter acted improperly. On the other hand, this statement contradicts cabinet minutes which said that cabinet pre-approved the deal arranged by Vere Jr. Next, the Labour media sought to portray Antigua as the unwitting victim of political competition between socialist and conservative politicians and hoodwinked by corrupt Frenchmen into a bad deal.31 Simultaneously, Lester Bird’s mouthpiece The Herald claimed that talk of impropriety concerning the runway project was propaganda stoked by “opposition forces in this country” trying to sabotage the Labour government by colluding with “unfriendly international individuals and groups.”32 This amounted to a conspiracy theory whereby Antigua was portrayed as the guiltless victim of foreign conspirators. Attempting to shift blame for corruption away from themselves and onto transnational corporations and foreign actors has been a common strategy among Caribbean governments (Collier 2000:12).

It is unclear how much of Nedd’s final report was pre-emptively leaked to the public and how it came to be in the public domain. Nedd’s terms of reference do not mention publication and there was no law compelling the prime minister to publish a report submitted to him. It is likely that after reading Nedd’s report, Bird realized it would not be too damaging and so allowed it to be leaked or made public officially. This is in contrast to some inquiry reports in the region which governments have never made public, such as the 2002 Bernard Inquiry into Trinidad’s Piarco Airport. Bird also knew he could use his media control to steer the public’s comprehension and interpretation of the report. He did this by making the pro-Labour media focus exclusively on the one phrase in Nedd’s 186-page report that stated Nedd had not been able to see or locate definitive proof that Vere Jr. had acted illegally. This was purposefully misrepresented as a vindication of Vere Jr., proactively saying he was innocent. In fact, Nedd had made it clear that these words should have been interpreted as “not guilty,” rather than “innocent,” and that he had only come to that conclusion because he had been prevented from seeing evidence that would likely have proven Vere Jr.’s guilt. Vast sections of Nedd’s report, such as that saying Vere Jr. had conducted himself “in a manner unbecoming a Minister” were completely ignored by Labour’s supportive media.33

It is important to consider the cumulative effect of Labour’s media strategy over the months leading up to the finalization of Nedd’s investigation. The nonstop drip-feeding of denials, excuses, and explanations amounted to a propaganda campaign which successfully primed and then directed a sufficient majority of public opinion into accepting the Bird government narrative. This propaganda campaign was not planned ahead of time but evolved in response to new allegations and criticisms made by foreign newspapers that raised awareness in the Antiguan diaspora and wider Caribbean.34 Being able to adapt to this evolving public situation was one of the government’s greatest strengths, made possible because of the near-blanket coverage of the government’s narrative in the national media. Each new argument could be made to support the other. Initial government claims that there had been no wrongdoing could be morphed into claims of ignorance, asserting that if corruption had happened then Bird and his government knew nothing of it and had no hand in it. This in turn could be made believable if the corruption that had happened was the work of foreign conspirators, not Antiguans. And speculation about foreign conspirators was made an accepted truth when a formal public inquiry concluded that the main Antiguan involved in the runway project was not guilty of a crime anyway. This adaptive and self-affirming propaganda machine was used to great effect in 1986.

It is important to bear in mind that Bird did not need to convince all Antiguans of his government’s and his son’s innocence. Rather, he needed to persuade enough of his own supporters that no corruption had taken place and that if it had, it would have been detected and punished by the rigorous investigation that had just concluded. In effect, Bird needed to restore the polarization of the Antiguan electorate which, with the opposition in a state of chaos, gifted Bird political hegemony in Antigua’s majoritarian Westminster system, which functions on a “winner takes all” principle. This polarization had been threatened by the runway scandal, which could have become a rallying point for the opposition and a cause for defection for some Labour supporters. This threat was successfully pre-empted, as shown by the fact that less than two years later, Bird led the ALP to yet another landslide victory in the 1989 general election, securing 15 of the 17 seats in the House. Moreover, in this election, Vere Jr. actually increased his vote share in his St John’s Rural South constituency.35 This data suggests Labour supporters were, to a meaningful extent, willing to accept the government’s version of events as disseminated through its extensive media network or were not deterred from deviating from their partisan loyalties.

Ultimately, the Bird regime’s near monopoly on Antiguan media outlets enabled them to shape the way the majority of the Antiguan people learned about the runway scandal and responded to the Nedd Investigation. This example strongly supports the assertion of De Vries and Solaz that “information acquisition” is a key variable in determining how the public responds to corruption (De Vries & Solaz 2017:398). Not only had Bird established a highly limited and controlled investigation, but he was also able to manage majority public opinion in a way that forestalled any renewal of the public unrest that had prompted the establishment of the Nedd Investigation in the first place. Just as the legal framework regulating the establishment of public inquiries has not changed since 1987, so too political influence over the media has remained a pertinent issue in Antigua and Caribbean politics. One of the most successful Antiguan radio stations as of 2023 is Pointe FM, which was founded by the sitting prime minister, Gaston Browne, and which broadcasts a regular show hosted by Browne. The manner in which internet-based communication and social media has challenged and/or provides new opportunities for the political control of public information is an important topic of investigation, both in the Caribbean and beyond.

4 Conclusion

The ultimate outcome of the Nedd Investigation was essentially null: none of the $ 11 million was recovered; no criminal charges were brought against anyone involved in the renovation project; Vere Jr. remained an MP and a cabinet minister; and the Bird regime retained its hegemonic position in Antiguan politics. Most importantly for Bird, the domestic anger that had flared up in 1986 had been successfully managed and dissipated through what amounted to a show trial, reaffirming the ALP’s political dominance and laying the ground for that party to win another landslide in the 1989 general election. It is precisely this inconsequential outcome that makes the Nedd Investigation so worthy of rigorous historical analysis.

The Nedd Investigation perfectly demonstrates the scrutiny-avoidance strategies that have been available to governments of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Here, the use of the Westminster system in a very small polity concentrates inordinate amounts of power and discretion in the office of prime minister. Without backbenchers or independent parliaments to function as checks on executive power, prime ministers like Bird have been able to use that discretion in ways that further their own political objectives, even at the expense of the public interest. This case study has shown that it was this overconcentration of unchecked discretion that allowed Bird to set up a public investigation, as opposed to a legally enforced commission of inquiry. Thereafter, Bird was free to manipulate the Nedd Investigation in ways that curtailed its mandate and limited its investigative powers. Without the coercive powers essential to commissions of inquiry, the Nedd Investigation could never have completed a thorough and exhaustive investigation into the runway scandal. Without the power to subpoena evidence, administer oaths of honesty, or consult expert witnesses, it was clear that Nedd was only ever expected, in his words, to go through the motions of holding an investigation. In reality, Bird engineered a highly controlled investigation that would never have been able to find his son guilty of a crime. Nonetheless, the superficial act of organizing and carrying out this show trial appears to have had the effect Bird intended, which was to act as a pressure-release mechanism whereby domestic anger was dissipated in a controlled way that posed no threat to the government. It was the discretion given to the prime minister by the Westminster system that gave Bird the ability to orchestrate such a controlled and effective show trial and avoid accountability.

At the same time, Bird was further able to insulate his government from accountability through the use of his media influence. In the late 1980s, Bird had a near monopoly on Antiguan news outlets—both print and broadcast—through loyal organizations, family-controlled enterprises, and state-owned outlets. This media influence was used consistently and effectively to shape public access to, and interpretation of, information during and after the Nedd Investigation. Through an adaptable but coordinated propaganda campaign, Bird was able to provide an alternative narrative to that espoused by foreign journalists, domestic opposition voices, and Tim Hector’s Outlet. This strategy was deemed so effective at providing an added layer of security against accountability that it was used again during future corruption cases in Antigua, such as the 1990 “Arms for Antigua” scandal. Having cherry-picked Nedd’s report, Bird’s media machine quickly sought to move public attention to unrelated matters. Since 1987, Antigua’s media environment has shifted dramatically, particularly in terms of the decline of print journalism and the rise of social media, though radio remains an important source of information for many. The extent to which this changing media and information public landscape affects accountability and scrutiny in small states is an important subject for academic examination.

Though the media landscape has changed, Antigua’s political system has not. The Westminster system has continued to concentrate political power and discretion in the prime minister. Moreover, the small size of the legislature means that the cabinet has continued to dominate parliament, reducing the House of Representatives to a rubber-stamp institution that does not act as a check on executive power. This means that the political framework that enabled corruption to go unpunished in 1987 has continued in the years since. While extensive scholarship has examined the ways the Westminster system encourages and facilitates corruption in very small states, more work needs to be done on the ways this system negatively impacts anticorruption initiatives. This applies not just to public investigations but to any anticorruption institution that is in some way controlled by the government or by a parliament subservient to the government. In the Caribbean context, the most important of these currently are integrity commissions whose budgets and resources are determined by parliaments which, especially in the smallest states, are dominated by government.

This case study is of great significance for scholars and practitioners interested in political accountability and corruption in the Commonwealth Caribbean. It strongly makes the case that public investigations predicated on ministerial discretion do not perform an effective fact-finding or anticorruption function. Going forward, political observers in the Caribbean should insist that government-appointed investigations are established according to law, not ministerial discretion. The very small size and one party-dominance of Antigua in the 1980s offers a distilled example of an issue that is endemic to all Commonwealth Caribbean states and that persists to this day. Moreover, this case study contributes to ongoing debates about press freedom and media ownership in the region. These debates are as important as ever, particularly as political elites adapt to the new challenges and opportunities posed by the Internet and social media. Currently, many Commonwealth Caribbean states are considering, or have already embarked upon, constitutional reform. During these debates, meaningful consideration should be given to the purpose and the place of public investigations in revised constitutional settlements and political cultures. If public investigations are to have an effective anticorruption function in the future, the obstacles of prime-ministerial discretion and a politically controlled media must be overcome. Thought should be given to how the power to establish commissions of inquiry can be devolved away from the prime minister, perhaps with the parliamentary opposition or civil society organizations playing a role. Debates around constitutional reform provide a perfect opportunity to put these considerations to the fore of political discourse.


I would like to thank Henrice Altink for her tireless support in helping me bring this article to publication. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewers who prompted me to consider the regional and present significance of this case study. I would also like to acknowledge my affiliation with the Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre (IGDC) based at the University of York.


Antigua National Archive [hereafter ANA], Archibal Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry: V.C. Bird International Runway Rehabilitation,” 1987, p. 183; “Vere Runway Bird Must Resign,” Outlet, June 26, 1987, p. 2.


ANA, “The US$ 11 Million Rip-Off?,” Outlet, October 24, 1986, pp. 1–2.


ANA, “You Better Take Warning,” The Worker’s Voice, December 13, 1986, p. 1.


USAID, “Antigua Country Supplement to the Caribbean Regional CDSS, 1986 to 1990,” USAID Program Planning Document (1987), p. 1.


Chris Moffatt, “Archibald Nedd,” Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 2015, (accessed February 15, 2022).


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 183.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” pp. 184–85.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 183.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 66.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 184.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 1.


“Commission of Inquiry,”, (accessed September 30, 2022).


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 1.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 1.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” pp. 12, 65.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 180.


“Airport Mess Stinks to High Heaven,” Outlet, March 13, 1987, p. 1.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 180.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 180.


“Fifth Annual Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies Conference (CCAICACB),” conference report, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, June 3–7, 2019,, p. 25 (accessed June 12, 2023).


“Antigua and Barbuda: Final Report,” Mechanism for Follow-Up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, Washington DC, 2019,, p. iii (accessed June 14, 2022).


Seymour Panton, “Integrity Commission: Third Annual Report, 2020/2021,” 2021,, p. 4 (accessed June 12, 2022); Rajendra Ramlogan, “Thirty-Fourth Annual Report to Parliament for the Year 2021,” 2021,, p. 10 (accessed June 12, 2022).


Julian Johnson, “The Integrity Commission of the Commonwealth of Dominica: Second Annual Report, Year Ending August 31, 2010,” 2010,, p. 23 (accessed June 12, 2022).


For a summary of these issues, see Wickham 2018:247–49.


See, for example, “Antigua and Barbuda General Election Results—17 April 1984,” KnowledgeWalk Institute, 2022, (accessed August 15, 2022).


ANA, “Appealing from Caesar to Caesar, Vengeance is Mine Sayeth the Lord,” The Worker’s Voice, November 10, 1990, p. 2.


Paul Lawrence, “Post Commission of Inquiry,” May 20, 2009, St Kitts and Nevis Observer (online), (accessed April 13, 2023).


ANA, “Press Release by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, October 30, 1986,” The Worker’s Voice, November 8, 1986, p. 1.


ANA, “Harris Gets Blows in Clothes,” Outlet, February 27, 1987, p. 2.


ANA, “Caught With Their Pants Down,” Outlet, October 31, 1986, p. 1.


ANA, “Caught With Their Pants Down,” Outlet, October 31, 1986, p. 1.


ANA, “Airport Expenditure Detailed,” The Herald, October 29, 1986, p. 1.


Nedd, “Commission of Inquiry,” p. 184.


For example, “Editorial,” The Barbados Advocate, August 23, 1987, quoted in Tim Hector, “Our Ancestors Are Watching,” Outlet, September 4, 1987, p. 5, Vernon Hall Private Collection; ANA, BBC Newsreel, January 21, 1987, quoted in Tim Hector, “Bird Tries Another Trick,” Outlet, January 23, 1987.


“Antigua and Barbuda General Election Results—17 April 1984,” KnowledgeWalk Institute, 2022, (accessed August 15, 2022).


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