Commission of Inquiry acted beyond its remit, court told
A commission set up to investigate alleged land grabs acted beyond its powers by changing its own terms of reference, a court has heard.
The claim was made on the first day of a judicial review into the conduct of the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Land Losses.
The commission was set up by David Burt, the Premier, in 2019 to examine historical thefts of property and to “identify any persons, whether individuals or bodies corporate, responsible for such historic losses of citizens’ property”.
Its findings were presented to the House of Assembly last December after the panel had heard testimony from scores of witnesses over the course of a year.
But in court yesterday Khalid Wasi claimed commissioners narrowed the scope of the original remit it had been given by Mr Burt. Furthermore, he claimed that the new terms of reference were only made public several months after the deadline for complaints to be submitted had expired.
Mr Wasi had submitted two complaints to the commission claiming he lost property through unethical, systemic practices – but neither were examined by the commission.
He told Assistant Justice Hugh Southey: “The remit given by the Premier was very clear. It didn’t need interpretation – it needed to be followed.
“It follows that the commission reinterpreted the terms of reference and made their own terms of reference. With those terms of reference they had the right to dismiss anything they wished to. The commission went beyond its authority. It had no right to do that.”
Mr Wasi, also know as Raymond Davis, said that, when the commission was first set up, “it came with great expectation and great hope”.
But in January 2021 he called for a review of its conduct, claiming that it was a sham and that commissioners were not impartial.
In court yesterday, Mr Wasi said he submitted one complaint to the commission outlining how he lost property after standing for Parliament.
He said that in the 1980s, the Government had wanted to improve the standard of housing in north Pembroke, where Mr Wasi owned six properties.
He said he was approached by the Bermuda Housing Corporation and came to an agreement whereby the BHC would cover the cost of renovations to his properties and then collect rents from them for 25 years before returning them to Mr Wasi.
Mr Wasi said that in a later General Election, he stood as an independent candidate. The ruling United Bermuda Party government candidate failed to win the seat and Mr Wasi was blamed for the defeat.
He told the court that within weeks, the BHC tore up its agreement with him to manage the properties and demanded that he pay back the cost of the renovations. As a result, he had to sell his properties at a loss.
Mr Wasi said that he had expected the CoI to investigate his complaint, but instead it was rejected because it was viewed as a commercial transaction and therefore out of its remit.
He said: “The BHC chairman said ‘you caused us to lose the election’. They then gave me a bill. ‘Here’s what we spent, here’s what we collected, here’s what you owe us’.
“This is a classic matter of being systemic it was treated [by the CoI] as commercial.
“It was political victimisation. They had the power to do it. I was penalised and punished.”
Mr Wasi gave details of a second complaint he made to the commission in which he claimed that he was on a list of 87 Black businessmen who were ordered by the banks to pay off loans. But again, his complaint was never examined by the CoI.
He said: “My complaint was that I was an innocent victim of a ring of fraud and I was punished for that. I was trying to present evidence to the commission that I was on that list.
“This is where the power of investigation comes in. I gave the commission evidence. The terms of reference has four key points. One is that, these matters if in the ambit of being irregular, were to be investigated.
“You couldn’t come to a conclusion in some of these matters just from the surface. They had to investigate and see where it took them.
“I gave them bundles of evidence. They were supposed to investigate and never did.”
Mr Wasi said that time and budget restraints – the commission was expected to conclude its inquiry in 40 weeks with a budget of $350,000 – were a limiting factor.
But he added: “If you are not given enough rope in the beginning, you go back to the person who gave you the rope and say that it’s not long enough.”
The hearing continues.