By Mellica McPherson-Ganda
Following a number of serious financial hiccups of a Territorial proportion such as the alarming debacle of the BVI Airways agreement, the cash flow situation that resulted in a line of credit with First Caribbean International Bank, and the outstanding audit and financial reports, Leader of the Opposition Hon. Andrew Fahie will be piloting a ‘No Confidence’ motion when the House of Assembly sits on 1st August.
The Opposition Leader explained to The Island Sun newspaper that the Motion is not against the Government as a whole or against the Premier of the Territory, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith. Mr. Fahie explained that the motion of ‘No Confidence’ is against the Ministry of Finance – a portfolio the Premier holds.
“The vote of ‘No Confidence’ is not against the Government nor the Premier. The vote of ‘No Confidence’ is against the Minister of Finance, because he has failed in his duties to protect the public’s purse as mandated in the Constitution, Public Finance Management Act and the Protocols for Effective Financial Management,” the Leader of the Opposition explained.
This motion, he clarified, is pushing for the Ministry of Finance to be transferred from the mandate of the Premier to another member of Government. Hon. Fahie opined that the motion aims to nudge the portfolio change among Ministers before the next general elections: “There must be some restoration of our finances and it doesn’t have to wait until the next General Elections. A change of guard will change things up. The Government has eleven members and another one can be given the opportunity to perform the duties of the Minister of Finance,” he stated.
The VIP legislator emphasized that moving the Finance portfolio to another Minister presents an opportunity for key financial issues to be sorted out: “This course of action is in the best interest of the people. We need to do this to ensure that vendors are paid and paid in a timely manner for goods and services delivered to Government.”
“We need to do this to ensure that projects as dictated by the Protocols for Effective Financial Management, are planned, budgeted and executed according to plan to avoid major over runs seeing that since April 2012 with the signing of the said document changed the way government functions especially in regards to projects. We have to do this to protect our citizens from the escalation of serious crimes. We have many positive reasons to move forward in the manner stated in the motion. The people of the V.I. will be the only winners. Doing nothing new but yet expecting new results is a failed experiment,” Hon. Fahie explained.
Matters of Severe Concern
The Leader of the Opposition listed the cruise pier project as one of the projects that reflected poor financial management and pointed out that the project was reported to the HOA at a cost of $51million but is now $82.9milllion and counting without any accurate and transparent account of the monies to HOA.
The payment to BVI Airways was also listed: “The poorly signed contract with BVI Airways where $7.2 million dollars went through the Treasury’s doors and now instead of flights we have fights,” he said.
Similarly, Hon. Fahie noted the shifting of $8million dollars out from a loan approved by the House of Assembly to – among other things – fix the East End/Long Look sewage project. This loan he explained was shifted to the cruise pier project without the approval of the House of Assembly.
“These and many more are projects done in a manner that violates one or all of the following: Protocols, Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act. This cannot be allowed to continue,” Hon. Fahie declared.
Vote of “No Confidence”
The move of the Opposition Leader for a vote of ‘No Confidence’ charges the Government through the Minister of Finance of doing a number of things that allegedly sets the ground for the degradation in transparency, accountability and good governance and above all the poor handling of the Territory’s finances.
Chief among the concerns raised is the Territory’s stance in relations to its obligations to the Protocols for Effective Financial Management that was signed between Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Virgin Islands on 23 April 2012 by this administration as a means of ensuring that transparency and accountability are maintained.
Hon. Fahie suggests that there has been a lack of adherence to the tenets and obligations of the Protocols especially in terms of financial transactions and as a result certain practices are now blatant, consistent and common occurrence.
The Opposition Leader referred the Territory’s economy indicating that there is a cash flow problem: “The economy continues to experience significant challenges and is not robust as is being purported by the Minister of Finance given, among other things, the ongoing cash flow problems being experienced by the government and its incapability to implement the necessary measures to create fiscal stability and growth, where for the first time an overdraft facility of twenty-five million dollars had to be sought by government from one of our commercial banks.”
In adding credence to his cash flow comment Hon. Fahie mentioned the instituted credit line arrangement with FirstCaribbean International Bank: “For the first time the Government of the Virgin Islands through the Minister of Finance issued checks which were not sufficiently covered by the monetary value which was supposed to be secured and guaranteed by the Treasury.”
He also announced that the Government of the Virgin Islands through the Minister of Finance has failed to produce audited financials to the House of Assembly for six consecutive years: “The Government of the Virgin Islands through the Minister of Finance while failing to fulfill its constitutional mandate to bring before the House of Assembly audited annual financial reports for six consecutive years continue to commit the Territory to financial obligations despite the absence of a true and accurate audited record of the Territory’s financial situation,” the Opposition Leader stated.
“Several major capital and noncapital Government projects were reported to the House of Assembly as one cost, but ended up significantly above the stated amounts without any accountability, namely the Cruise Pier Project that was reported to the House of Assembly to cost fifty-one million dollars but to date is at $82.9 million dollars which is just over a whopping $30 million dollars (60 percent) increase,” he added.
Further Hon. Fahie pointed out that funds that were approved by the House of Assembly for specific purposes such as the East End/Long Look sewage project were unlawfully allocated by the Minister of Finance to the Cruise Pier Project, without the necessary approval by the House of Assembly and without any regard for accountability.
In further supporting his claim that there is a cash flow issue Hon. Fahie mentioned that there have been reports of delayed payments to vendors: “The Government of the Virgin Islands through the Minister of Finance currently continues to pay vendors or suppliers extremely late or not at all for services rendered or work done, causing significant hardship to small businesses and residents.”
“The Government of the Virgin Islands through the Minister of Finance continues to fail local businesses and residents by not paying for services and goods acquired through already designated purchase orders,” Hon. Fahie added.
The recent invocation of Section 103 of the Constitution by His Excellency Governor John Duncan was also mentioned as a government failure: “The Government of the Virgin Islands through the Minister of Finance failed to allocate the necessary funds for national security and as a consequence thereof, for the first time in the history of the Virgin Islands the Governor had to exercise his powers under Section 103 (1) (b) of the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007 to withdraw the needed funds to give the police – among others – the funds needed to protect the citizens of the Virgin Islands and address the surge in serious crimes especially armed robberies,” Hon. Fahie said.
Even the recent BVI Airways saga was alluded to a second time in the resolution as Hon. Fahie accuse the government of entering into agreements without certain mechanisms in place: “The Government of the Virgin Islands through the Minister of Finance continue to sign agreements that are not reflecting the aspirations and the development interest of the people of the Virgin Island, for example, the agreement signed with BVI Airways, among others, this agreement also lacks the necessary provisions and safeguard mechanisms to address disputes and liabilities and as a consequence could further impair the finances of the Virgin Islands and become a burden to the treasury and tax payers of the Virgin Islands.”
Hon. Fahie also mentioned the increment owed to public servants in his ‘No Confidence’ declaration. He said: “The Government of the Virgin Islands through the Ministry of Finance continues to fail to fully compensate Public Servants for increments past due for years despite bold statements by the Minister of Finance that the Territory’s finances are in a strong position, thereby resulting in low morale and confidence in Public Servants.”