Legislators debated the merits of various terms in Section 67 of the Virgin Islands Constitution. This section speaks to House of Assembly (HOA) members vacating their seat in the House if they or their firm enter into a contract with the government.
However, a clause in the same law allows for an exemption if the member discloses the nature of the contract and their interest “before becoming a party to a contract, or before or as soon as practicable after becoming interested” in the contract with the government.
The term “as soon as practicable” in particular, offered a challenge to both Premier Andrew Fahie and Opposition Leader Marlon Penn. This prompted Penn to request an official interpretation from the Attorney General on the usage of the term.
However, the Third District Representative was under no such burdens regarding the term’s usage.
Fraser also refuted a proposal by the Premier to amend the law to request HOA members to disclose their government contract within three months of getting it; as apposed to “as soon as practicable”.
Fraser said three months may not always be enough time.
According to Fraser, there was no need to fine-tune a system that he felt has been working well for many years.
“The language that we have here – practicable – I don’t have a problem with the word ‘practicable’ at all,” he said.
The Third District Representative also said the constitution offered enough tools to allow for transparency with legislators.
“We get ourselves involved in things that are better left alone,” Fraser said.
He further stated that he didn’t see the need for the “deliberate” nature of the presentation by the Premier in requesting the exemption of Deputy Speaker Neville Smith who’s quietly had a government contract for the last eight months.
“We have to be careful with the language in the law. I’ve seen where people come to the House of Assembly seeking exemption for contracts that have no need to come to the House of Assembly,” Fraser added.
He said the argument is usually made that this is sometimes done out of an abundance of caution for transparency’s sake.
“You’re exposing yourself. For what reason? There is no reason to expose yourself. It is clear that if you have a contract with a statutory body, it has no reason coming before the House of Assembly for exemption,” Fraser argued.