Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Premier’s Office Dr Carolyn O’Neal-Morton was caught up in an audit of the COVID-19 funds distributed by her office to residents, including fisherfolks and farmers, during the Territory-wide lockdown due to the pandemic.
Dr O’Neal-Morton had told auditors that she needed more time to provide the information requested from the Auditor General Ms Sonia M. Webster on the stimulus. Ms Webster was rushing through with an audit on the money spent in time for the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) deliberations.
However, Dr O’Neal-Morton's intentions were twisted through the CoI carried out by a one-man commissioner, British national Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom. The PS had requested more time to provide the information; however, Hickenbottom characterised her request as a way to obstruct the work of the Auditor General.
Dr O’Neal-Morton has denied the obstruction allegations; however, her position was ignored and current Governor John J. Rankin, CMG announced she was under “investigation” and she was forced on leave.
To date, no update has been given on the status of the investigations. Premier and Minister of Finance Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) confirmed Dr O'Neal-Morton being sent on leave at a May 13, 2022, press conference.
In addition to Dr O’Neal, another public officer, Najan Christopher, who is the Director of the International Affairs Secretariat, is still on leave.
On the request of former Premier Honourable Andrew A. Fahie (R1), who was arrested in Miami, Florida on April 28, 2022, for alleged cocaine trafficking and money laundering conspiracy, Ms Christopher wrote and signed a letter stating that Hon Fahie at the time of his arrest was the Head of Government of the Virgin Islands and therefore immune from arrest.
The letter was later disavowed by now Premier and Minister of Finance Dr the Honourable Wheatley.
The letter, dated May 3, 2022, which carries the letterhead of the Office of the Premier and is stamped by the International Affairs Secretariat, appears to endorse the former Premier's argument for diplomatic immunity.
When the letter was leaked to the press, then acting Premier Wheatley noted that both himself and Dr O’Neal-Morton, the then PS, were unaware of the correspondence and blamed it on a “rogue public officer”.
He also noted that the "rogue public officer", who was later identified as Ms Christopher, would be “investigated” and that the letter did not reflect the position of the Virgin Islands Government.
It is our understanding that when questioned, Ms Christopher said at the time she dispatched the letter Honourable Fahie was still the Premier and she was in her right to take instructions from the Premier.
She also noted that both Drs Wheatley and O’Neal-Motion were made aware of the letter before it was dispatched but neither of them ever said it could or could not be dispatched.
Meanwhile, Premier Wheatley announced at a recent press conference that Police Commissioner (CoP) Mark Collins was being investigated over the ‘Police in Paradise’ video that Governor Rankin labeled as “inappropriate”. However, unlike O’Neal-Morton and Christopher, the CoP remains on the job.
There has been no word on the status of the investigation or why he remained on the job and if the police are investigating themselves. Many residents and talk show hosts have cried foul and labeled the situation as double standards, injustice, and racism.
Mr Collins had said he got clearance from the BVI Tourist Board (BVITB) on the video; however, BVITB publicly denied any involvement in the video projecting the Territory as crime-ridden and a violent place.
Collins claimed it was a recruitment video for officers to join the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF).
Police Commissioner Mark Collins remains on the job despite investigations into the controversial and offensive 'Police in Paradise' video.
Governor John J. Rankin, CMG, left, and Premier and Minister of Finance Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7). Persons have been questioning whether the two persons have been inconsistent in their handling of an issue involving two public officers who have been sent on leave, as against Commissioner of Police Mark Collins, who remains on the job despite an investigation into the controversial and offensive 'Police in Paradise' video.