Nepotism, cronyism and victimization were some of the charges four members of the Opposition laid on the government during a press conference on 13 November.
Announcing that they were concerned about various matters Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn, Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser, Fourth District Representative Hon. Mark Vanterpool and Sixth District Representative Hon. Alvera Maduro-Caines informed the media that some persons were not faring well under this administration.
In making the announcement Hon. Penn said: “Over the past nine months we have seen some issues that are of grave concern which threaten the democratic tenets of accountability, transparency and good governance that this unconventional administration vowed to uphold. We have a duty to uphold this vow and call out these issues wherever they arise.”
The Opposition members listed a number of things that concerned them but noted from the start that they had complaints and reports of nepotism and cronyism and this was the most worrying: “Nepotism and cronyism is at an all-time high under this administration; where former political candidates, and cohorts are being placed in consultancies throughout the government and in statutory organizations. This is happening in unprecedented numbers,” Hon. Penn announced.
In stressing why he thinks the matter needs attention the Opposition Leader said that contracts are being given without care; he opined that this is not fair to qualified persons: “A process that seems to be a literal assembly line of one $90,000 contract, after another. This is being done irrespective of the individual’s ability to perform the requisite task. The proverbial placing the square pegs in round holes which continue to plague and threaten the viability of these institutions. While at the same time well qualified Virgin Islanders are denied opportunities in their respective fields.”
Mention was once again made of Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie’s security detail and it was stated that the cost of the service is of concern to the Opposition members as they referred to it as an over the top expense.
In reference to the Premier’s security Hon. Penn said: “Other over the top spending like a personal security contract for our Premier for $86,000 a month which for eight months has already cost the taxpayers of this territory…and no answer is forthcoming in the House of Assembly when asked.”
The situation where Speaker of the House Hon. Julian Fraser and Hon. Mark Vanterpool went to court over the matter of the vacancy of the Fourth District Seat was also used as an example by the Opposition of unnecessary spending.
While drawing reference to the court matter and relating cost the Leader of the Opposition said: “$300,000 bill for legal fees which was incurred from keeping the duly elected Fourth District Representative from sitting in the House of Assembly.”
One of the matters the Opposition listed as high on the list of their concerns is the alleged reports of statutory boards overstepping bounds. This concern was raised by the Leader of the Opposition under the heading of corporate governance.
In leveling complaints about how some boards were behaving Hon. Penn said: “There is serious cause for concern regarding how our statutory boards are functioning. Our boards are overstepping their authority. Chairman and members are getting involved in matters that are the responsibility of the Executive team.”
“We have received reports of Board members interfering with the day-to-day operations of the institutions and intimidating and insulting general staff. This is a serious cause for concern. Moreover professionals at these organizations are being intimidated to resign, they are being demoted, reassigned and in some cases downright fired. These are young professionals, with families, mortgages, who deserve a right to earn a living in our beloved Virgin Islands despite their political affiliations. This behavior is wrong and it is unbecoming of the way we operate in the Virgin Islands,” Hon. Penn declared.
When asked for example of a case where someone was threatened or demoted Hon. Penn said: “I will not call any names here.” However, he said that persons he knows were working at the Pier Park were transferred back to the Port itself, and persons who were acting as the Deputy Managing Director after hurricanes Irma and Maria were demoted back down to operations: “Where you had a person who was the secretary to the actual MD made the Deputy Managing Director and I learned recently that is now acting as MD now that the MD is gone on vacation – someone that does not have the requisite experience in port management,” he stated.
Hon. Penn further announced that there was no such victimization during the previous NDP administration. He said: “Persons had free reign in expressing themselves under our administration. There was free reign for persons to speak their mind and express themselves under our administration. We never victimized persons for expressing. Persons are afraid to go even on social media to express their opinion. They get letters from their Boards, and their CEO’s if they express their point of view on social media or any other platform.”
“We have been a government that allowed persons to have their say – it’s a democracy. Persons have a right to have a say in a democracy they are a part of, but it is obvious and the reports are clear, and they are substantiated the way that person is being treated within the statutory organization,” Hon. Penn added.
In further explaining issues reported about the various Boards the Leader of the Opposition announced: “Chairman’s getting involved in the day-to-day operations on the executive level…that’s unheard of…You see a video circulating where a chairman’s involved in a matter involving where the MD should be involved.”