“We are not in normal circumstances,” Leader of the Opposition Hon. Andrew Fahie loudly exclaimed during the 13 February “Honestly Speaking” radio program as he responded to Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith’ last week announcement that it is not normal for government to give a breakdown of how loan funds will be spent.
The request for a listing of how government intends to spend the $65M CDB loan funds was first made in January by Hon. Fahie during his annual First District Report, and then followed up in the form of letter to the Premier.
However, during a press conference on 8 February Hon. Smith disclosed that although he intends to respond to the Opposition Leader it is not normal for government to issue a breakdown of how loan funds will be used.
The BVI Leader told the media that he intends to give a statement at some point, but Hon. Smith did not indicate how soon: “It is $65M, the large chunk I can give you what few of the large numbers were. Eight million went to the Education sector. Just over four and half million has gone into the Carrot Bay road and sea defense, then about five million to the West End and Road Town ferry terminals—most of that going to the West End terminal about four million because that was completely destroyed…the Disaster Management building about four million is going to that.”
“Those are the large numbers. There are many other projects including sewerage and other things which have small numbers…but there’ll be a breakdown. Sewerage has a large number but in different brackets…but many other things a road here and a road there that need to be fixed and there will be a breakdown on that,” the Premier added.
Further Hon. Smith stressed that there is no precedent of government issuing loan break downs: “Normally when these projects sums of money are being borrowed historically there are no types of breakdown except when it comes to the budgetary process. When a certain amount of money is borrowed they have to go in and fine tune the various projects. For example $16M was borrowed and there was no public breakdown either so it is a process and once that goes through then the government and the various departments and the ministries then determine what would be done.”
“It is difficult to put out approximate figures in fact it is wrong to put out approximate figures because you raise expectations. If I put out these figures and then you have to go and put out for bids and that is when you get the real figures coming in so that is how it is normally done,” the Premier further explained.
Opposition Says Nothing is Normal
In an interview following the Premier’s press conference Hon. Fahie told The Island Sun newspaper that there are exceptions to the norm in these circumstances: “It is important to inform the Minister of Finance that post Hurricane Irma nothing is operating under normal circumstances in the Virgin Islands. The same must hold true for the work of government on behalf of the people especially when it relates to being accountable and transparent in all respect,” Hon. Fahie said.
The Leader of the Opposition explained that he first issued a verbal request for the Minister of Finance to fully itemize, down to the penny, how the $65 million CDB loan fund that he sought on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands post Irma will be allotted. Hon. Fahie said the Premier failed to adhere to the request.
Additionally, the Leader of the Opposition explained that his requests for the breakdown of the figures has more to do with accountability and transparency. “Now more than ever accountability and transparency must be the norm of the day to ensure that all funds received and spent by government hit its target. Also that target must be established by the people and not just the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands and their selected few.”
“I further wrote to the Minister of Finance seeking the aforementioned information in my official capacity as Leader of the Opposition and as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Needless to say that to date, the Minister of Finance has not responded and from his comments in his latest press conference allows one to safely conclude that he seems to be of the mindset that he is not obligated to respond in writing or otherwise any time soon. It is clear for all to see that this is not only disrespectful but it places a schism in good governance,” Hon. Fahie added.