BVI Airways Saga: Criminal Investigations Underway

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After seeing that his handling of the BVI Airways Auditor-General Report generated criticism and resulted in a Motion being introduced in the House of Assembly His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert spoke on the matter of the Report on Tuesday 9 June announcing that the matter is under police review. The Motion was defeated 2 – 9.

In the Motion that was presented to the House of Assembly a few days ago Opposition Member Hon. Julian Fraser called on legislators to reprimand the Governor for his tardy submission of the Report as Hon. Fraser claimed that the document was handed over with a month and days delay.

However, in his statement the Governor explained that he sought to adhere to the stipulated time but that the COVID-19 pandemic matters caused the Report’s delay: “The Auditor-General submitted her final Special Report to me on 7 February 2020. I subsequently sought to discharge my duties fully in line with the timescales set out in Section 20 of the Audit Act in referring the Report to Cabinet on 23rd April with the intention of it being brought to the House by 7 May.  With the focus rightly on our response to Covid-19 this Report has understandably taken a while to reach the point of being laid, but I am pleased that the Report has now been laid before and discussed by the House of Assembly.”

The BVI Airways report was laid in the table of the House of Assembly and as a result made a public document. It was also reported out extensively in the media. Now the Governor explained that actions in line with the Auditor General’s recommendations will be pursued.

The Governor announced, “Now that the Report has been through the proper process and has been discussed by the House, I can update you about actions in hand to address some of the concerns raised within the Report.” These actions to be taken may be criminal as the Governor disclosed that he shared a copy of the Report with both the Deputy Governor and the Commissioner of Police so that they may independently review the findings and consider any further actions required within their respective areas of responsibility as they deem appropriate.

Towards this end of possible actions, the Governor said that the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force is already attending to the situation, “I am pleased to see appropriate action is being taken forward. The Commissioner of Police has undertaken steps to launch a criminal investigation based on the contents of this Report.  I was pleased to support the Commissioner’s request to appoint independent financial investigation experts to set the wheels in motion for the investigation and I am grateful to members of the National Security Council for agreeing to the funding. Once this investigation has concluded, further investigations can commence, including in relation to any potential breach of rules and regulations by public officers.  The Deputy Governor will lead on that work.”

 In the Report that took a little over a year to complete Auditor General Sonia Webster noted a number of issues in relation to the manner in which the BVI Airways agreement was carried out and the parties involved.  His Excellency stated that the report highlights significant lessons for Government to learn on the approach to such contracts and projects – lessons which he said need to not just be implemented in rules and procedures, but also in practice. 

Her Majesty’s Representative declared that what was stated in the Report was very concerning and even highlighted significant system failures. “This Special Report has highlighted a number of areas where there have been failures to follow proper processes: in seeking competitive options for contracts; in failing to adopt legal and other advice; in the execution of a contract, and in weaknesses in financial and project performance management systems. This is all hugely concerning.  What also concerns me is the fact that previous audit reports have highlighted similar failures which have also led to the loss of Government’s revenues.”

Therefore, Governor Jaspert said that he will be following up with the Minister of Finance and all of Cabinet to ensure that the systems are improved to address issues raised in this and earlier reports to ensure that new, tighter practices are adopted to further achieve full accountability and transparency for Government funds handling. This should not be able to happen again.

Meanwhile, His Excellency said that things must run their course, “As you would expect, the criminal investigation now needs to take its course and we must be patient in waiting for it to come to a conclusion.  I will not comment further whilst it is underway. However, I do want to assure you that I will be making sure that the recommendations of the Report are implemented appropriately and swiftly.  Everybody, including public officers and private individuals alike, should continue to feel confident to carry out and conduct their work in line with the values of the public service and the laws and Constitution of the Territory.”

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