Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith informed the House of Assembly on 28 June that some of the statements that were made by Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Andrew Fahie about BVI Airways affected the airline’s ability to secure a line of credit and resulted in the planes inability to fly between BVI and Miami.
The comments were made by Hon. Smith in response to questions about the BVI Airways deal where government invested $7.2M.
While defending Government decision to make the investment, Premier Smith told the House of Assembly that the flight between Miami and the BVI was seen as critical easing the stress related to the Territory’s airlift situation. For this reason, Hon. Smith said that Government continued to try to maintain the airline arrangement.
The Premier explained that in addition to the inability to secure a line of credit the airline suffered a delay in securing its ASSI review and this – the Premier noted – caused BVI Airways to miss the Christmas season and lose the revenue it anticipated making. In response to these setbacks Hon. Smith said that Government decided to move the payment schedule up and provide the $7.2M to the airline. This payment decision was made by Hon. Smith in consultation with the Financial Secretary.
The explanation of why the payment arrangement was ignored did not sit well with the Leader of the Opposition who declared that the full payment was a violation of the agreement. “Can the Minister of Finance tell this Hon House how could he come with this answer now saying they didn’t have any line of credit and give them away $7M and change or whatever… It was no fault of the government, so how did they get that $7M and change dollars of ours and did not meet the criteria of the payment schedule and did not meet the criteria in the contract because I have the contract you provided to the House they have violated every section of it,” Hon. Fahie asked.
In explaining the rationale behind the payment Premier Smith said that Government was thinking of the Territory’s airlift needs: “The idea of having direct connection between BVI and Miami was something we thought of because we know that it would result in increase in tourism. We knew that for a long time…This was an interim measure that would help us. When the agreement was signed with BVI Airways it was signed with the understanding that it would be established within a certain time period,” Hon. Smith said.
At that point Hon. Smith announced that negative things that were being said about the BVI Airways dead was hurting the progress of the airline: “Madame Speaker… we were not able to establish a line of credit for many reasons; among the reasons was the negative noise that was being played in the air in the BVI, some of which hurt Madame Speaker.” Additionally, the BVI Leader noted that the ASSI delay was also a major factor.
The mention of ASSI and BVI Airways delay was unacceptable to Hon. Fahie who pointed out that his investigation showed that the blame was not to fall on ASSI. Hon. Fahie announced: “To get the information out of ASSI you can go on the Freedom of Information … It is clear that the airline did not file for its certification with ASSI in a timeframe that would have had it ready for December so let us not bring that up at all.”
The Leader of the Opposition said that information was available via the United Kingdom freedom of information mechanism and he said all he needed was the airline information and was able to make the necessary queries. He said that the Government should have also been checking details.
While responding Hon. Fahie’s comment about his research the Premier said: “I heard the Leader of the Opposition say that he was checking regularly, indeed he was checking; and then making statements that did not encourage the continuation with the airlines,” Hon. Smith said.
The announcement that he might have affected BVI Airways did not sit well with Hon. Fahie who declared: “If his airline was above board it made no difference who said what; they could go and get the line of credit. I never hear a bank stop a line of credit on gossip. They stop a line of credit when they check; so I resent that you getting up talking about that noise. If you had listened to it, we would have had that $7.2M in the Treasury.”
Meanwhile, Premier Smith repeated his previous promise to recoup the $7.2M. He made that promise in response to a question from Opposition Member and Third District Representative Hon. Julian Fraser during the same sitting.
The Premier said: “I can assure the member for the Third District that I would do all in my power to recoup the monies that were expended from the government’s coffers.”