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Auditor General fires back at criticisms on EZ audit

Auditor General fires back at criticisms on EZ audit

Auditor General (AG) Sonia Webster has fired back at criticisms that persons from some quarters of the BVI, including the Virgin Islands Party (VIP), have placed on her audit report on the contracts for static marine platforms between the former Andrew Fahie-led VIP government and EZ Shipping in 2020.
Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley, for example, suggested that Auditor General (AG) Sonia Webster arrived at questionable conclusions in some of her audits, specifically EZ’s. More recently, Ninth District Representative Vincent Wheatley and Territorial At-Large Member Carvin Malone of the VIP called the report one-sided and suggested that it unfairly tarnished the reputation of EZ Shipping’s owners and could destroy their livelihood.

However, AG Webster issued a statement dated March 3, addressing what she described as “misinformation” regarding the audit process.

“The audit in this matter was performed by gathering documentary evidence of the events and transactions occurring in this scheme across the ministries and departments associated with this project. In addition, interviews were performed with the heads of Customs and Immigration and with the former Police Commissioner. Interviews were also performed with senior staff who were assigned to work with the platforms. Where the mentioned individuals could not be interviewed in person, they provided information via questionnaire. Follow-ups were performed with individuals to ensure clarity and to allow an opportunity for them to provide further information.”

Webster further stated that at the end of this process, the audit report was prepared in “draft” form and sent to the Customs and Immigration heads (among others) on November 15, 2022 for their review before the report was made final.

She said neither refuted the dates stated in the audit findings on the platforms’ usage.

“During the investigation, it became clear that there might be illicit implications arising from the transactions that occurred. Our policy, in such cases, is to progress the matter to the stage where it can be sent to other agencies for further investigation, as pursuing potential criminality with entities outside of the public service is not within our remit. Notwithstanding, the preponderance of the evidence regarding the use of the barges was such that it would be negligent of me not to bring this to the attention of the public which is ultimately footing the bill for this expenditure,” the chief auditor stated.

She further made it clear that she is satisfied the audit process for the EZ investigation was thorough, and the conclusions drawn were sound.

The shipping company was paid more than $2 million for use of three of its barges – Midnight Stone, Midnight Czar and Midnight Chief – as radar platforms between September 2020 and January 2021. But according to Webster, payments were made to EZ Shipping that also covered two months when the barges were not used. Webster’s report noted that records show that use of the radar platforms ceased in November 2020.

Governor John Rankin has since announced that he has forwarded the report on the EZ contract to the Attorney General’s chambers “for assessment of whether the government should pursue recovery of any amounts paid to EZ Shipping. Rankin further said he asked the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police to assess if any offences were committed with respect to the engagement of the marine platforms.

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