During a hearing on matters related to governance held before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Tuesday, June 22 the AG detailed some frustrations that have impinged on her ability to execute the functions of her office at a higher level.
The AG said when she submits her budgetary requests to the relevant authority, her budget is essentially cut.
However, she offered that there was some level of mitigation in this year’s budget, in that Premier and Minister of Finance Andrew Fahie was accommodating. She said he seemed to understand the necessity of her chambers being able to provide an appropriate level of legal services.
“I still haven’t been able to access the [budget] provisions that have been made, but the provisions were made for me,” she stated.
AG Smith confirmed that there are 23 positions for legal counsel in her office but as things stand now, there are nine unfilled vacancies. This is added to the fact that personnel continue to leave the office.
She intimated that this is largely an issue that is driven by a lack of finances available to her office.
“To a large extent, it (the profession) is money-driven. And because you are not able to entice people, you are not able to attract them, you are not able to keep them, because this is the Virgin Islands. The legal profession is very strong in the Virgin Islands. [There’s] a thriving legal profession so people have options. And it’s disturbing when you can’t even recruit from overseas. Like I said, it’s disappointing,” the Attorney General said.
The AG described it as a difficult position to be in but said she was making the remarks with the knowledge that no government of the Virgin Islands has ever shied away from paying for legal services.
“So, it boggles my mind why that money can’t make it into my budget, why the positions for legal counsel in my chambers cannot be remunerated at the rate that we would be happy to pay consultants at; that we as persons who frankly should know what every person paying payroll tax in the Virgin Islands earn, why can’t the government figure out what is the correct level, feasible level – even it’s not as much – to pay counsel. It bothers me greatly and it’s not a new problem,” the AG said.
She expressed that the resources are there and said they just need to be reallocated to address the issues in her department.
Smith further said the factor of better compensation coupled with a better work-life balance and better facilities in the private sector was a key aspect that worsened the difficulty in recruitment.
“That is one key aspect and until I clear that off, I don’t know that I can point to anything else credibly because I know that it is a factor. If somebody says to you – ‘I would really love to work with you but I can’t afford to work for that’ – that’s the answers I get. [In the case of persons leaving, you know it’s not], ‘I don’t like where your office is, I don’t like the people in the office, I don’t want to work hard’. It’s like you’re just not paying enough’,” the AG stated.