A heated debate erupted in the House of Assembly on 26 July after a Motion was moved by Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie seeking permission for Deputy Speaker Hon. Neville Smith to enter into a contract with government.
Following the debate of the Resolution a division was called and the Motion ended up passing with a final tally of six yes, one no, one abstained, and two absent. There was a total of eight votes.
The Motion for Hon. Smith was one of two such items on the Order Paper for that sitting. The second motion involved Minister for Health and Social Development Hon. Carvin Malone. However, the Motion for Hon. Malone was withdrawn from the Order Paper with an announcement that it will return after the Attorney General makes some tweaks.
The withdrawal resulted in just one Motion being debated — the one involving Hon. Smith.
Before the debate commenced Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie who was the mover of the Motion explained that he encouraged both members of the House to seek permission: “I stated to all of my members once you have been doing business with government even if it is not a new contract bring it to the House and go through this process so that everyone knows what you are doing as an elected official.”
That Motion sought permission for Hon. Smith, who is a Director in the company known as Frontline Systems to be able to enter into an agreement with the Festival and Fairs Committee. The contract with the Virgin Islands Festivals and Fairs Committee is for sound equipment and for the period July 25 to August 10.
In his explanation the Premier said that the Resolution was before the House as a matter of formality and as a means of promoting good governance. “Any contract or potential contract you may have with government, it is understood that it is best to come to the House of Assembly and declare it, and also ensure that you have the full permission of the House of Assembly. So that the House of Assembly can make sure that what you are doing is in good stead. I want to say that this has been done over the years that I’ve been in this Hon. House it is nothing new and it is not illegal,” the Premier explained.
The point that the Resolution promotes transparency was also raised by Hon. Malone during his contribution to the debate. In fact, Hon. Malone explained that the matter of members seeking permission from the House of Assembly was well established, but over the years was neglected. “Eight, ten or 12 years passed we’ve hardly seen this Motion coming to the floor, but it has to because it would be improper,” Hon. Malone explained.
Meanwhile, Opposition Member and Fourth District Representative, Hon. Mark Vanterpool announced that more information should have been provided to the House of Assembly. “How are we talking about something that we should be giving permission to without specifics…,” Hon. Vanterpool commented.
However, the comments made by Hon. Vanterpool did not sit well with Minister for Education and Culture Dr. the Hon. Natalio Wheatley who in response to the comments told the House that the previous administration ignored this particular requirement.
Hon. Wheatley announced that he recalls an instance in the former administration where members did business with the House of Assembly and refused to go through the procedure “because they rendered service on an ad-hoc basis without signing paper work.” Hon. Wheatley said: “They refused to go through that exercise and might I say they were accommodated in that and I didn’t hear anyone jumping up on the government side at that time,” the Minister further announced.
On one hand, while the Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn lauded the Deputy Speaker for seeking permission from the House. “He has a responsibility as a public figure to do all that he is doing and I commend him for taking that step to do so.”
However, Hon. Penn said that he does not think what Hon. Vanterpool is asking for is unreasonable: “In order for us to make a decision, in order for the public, for transparency. You are an unconventional government, go beyond the Constitution, calm the fears of the public. Right now the people are concerned they don’t know the numbers, they don’t know what is going on, they need clarity.”
Senior Member of the House of Assembly and Third District Representative Hon. Julian Fraser questioned whether Hon. Smith required permission from the House in the first place. “If it is indeed that the member does not require permission from this house why are we discussing it. It’s disgusting Mr. Speaker, you are giving him something he doesn’t need…The AG needs to speak on the matter – Is the Festival and Fairs Committee a statutory body? If it is we don’t need to be here.”
Hon. Fahie responded to Hon. Fraser and stated that indeed Hon. Smith does not require permission and indeed the Festival and Fairs Committee is a statutory body. “This under the law doesn’t need to come to the House for permission but as the Leader of Government business I told the member just out of precaution come to the House ask for permission in case,” the Premier said.