Despite last year’s scathing Commission of Inquiry (COI) report which concluded that good governance and the rule of law have been routinely ignored, Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley does not appear to be convinced that the BVI is corrupt.
“I don’t buy into the concept that the BVI is this corrupt place that other persons promote,” Dr Wheatley said at a recent public service forum for leaders of the various political parties contesting the upcoming general elections.
But even as he held that position, Premier Wheatley advocated that the territory should continue to advance several reforms that it has already embarked on — a significant majority of which have emanated from that very COI
report — which he said will help to strengthen the territory’s institutions.
During the forum, party leaders were asked, among other things, whether they believe that corruption exists in the public service, and if not, how they would describe what has been taking place within that sector concerning the territory’s finances and what some might deem as wastage of the public’s purse.
Although he acknowledged that there may have been some corrupt practices that have taken place in the past, Premier Wheatley argued that if he or anyone else should become aware of any instance of corruption, then there is a duty to report such practices to the relevant authority.
Dr Wheatley expressed that he was particularly proud of the fact that his Government of National Unity was able to implement some much-needed reforms during his tenure as the territory’s leader.
“Some persons behave as though there were no weak areas in government for us to reform,” the premier said. “But I believe embracing reform in our Virgin Islands and strengthening our institutions — not necessarily a governor to be able to police u, but strengthen the institutions so that we can be able to police ourselves, that’s really where we need to go in the Virgin Islands
Corruption from top to bottom
Meanwhile, Dr Wheatley’s opponent in the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM), Ronnie Skelton, shared an entirely contrasting view about the BVI’s current state.
“There is no doubt in my mind. We had a COI
investigation [which] has reported that there is corruption from the top to the bottom, that includes the public service,” Skelton said.
He argued that the systems that need to be put in place as a result of the corruption that was discovered need to be policed properly and called for transparency and for holding persons accountable to avoid such practices in future.
“All we’re doing with corrupt practices is hurting poor people, we’re not hurting rich people, we’re just destroying the resources that are necessary to get to the poorer population,” he contended.
Beef up accountability agencies
Eighth District candidate and Chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Marlon Penn, for his part, said he agreed that leaders need to ensure that the BVI’s institutions, such as the Office of the Auditor General for instance, work as they are intended and said these agencies should be beefed up to accomplish this.
“I won’t be here pronouncing persons corrupt or not corrupt,” Penn said, “but let the systems work.”
Penn pointed to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) — an arm of the legislative body that helps to scrutinise the Auditor General’s reports — and said this should be allowed to help with rooting out the mismanagement of public funds.
“We have to ensure that these institutions get the necessary funding so they could perform their duties and find where there are these weak areas and corrupt practices,” Penn said, “and persons who are found guilty of these corrupt practices should be held accountable and brought to justice for their crimes against the people.”