Having already angered a section of the Virgin Islands population for what many described as insensitive, insulting and derogatory remarks about reparations for the cruel acts of slavery and the preservation of names of landmarks in the Territory, the UK national shockingly used his monthly ‘Catch up with the Media’ yesterday, December 3, 2020, to air rumours of alleged irregularities with public projects and funds as well as the COVID-19 stimulus grant.
His reckless statements have triggered a response from Premier and Minister of Finance, Honourable Andrew A. Fahie (R1), who said the statements by the Governor warrant a comprehensive response from Government as it has implications on the local, regional and international reputation of the [British] Virgin Islands and how all Virgin Islanders are viewed by persons looking on.
Having already angered a section of the Virgin Islands population for what many described as insensitive, insulting and derogatory remarks about reparations for the cruel acts of slavery and the preservation of names of landmarks in the Territory, Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert shockingly used his monthly ‘Catch up with the Media’ yesterday, December 3, 2020, to air rumours of alleged irregularities with public projects and funds as well as the COVID-19 stimulus grant.
Governor claimed that recently he had a number of concerns and allegations put to him by the community. “I will not go into the specific details of these as they are purely allegations, but I will broadly speak to the areas they touch on. I do so – after much deliberation - because I want to be transparent and open about these things and to find out more about what we may be facing.”
According to the Governor, many people are concerned about transparency when it comes to public projects and funds. He said the Auditor General has written numerous reports detailing the common problems in this area - tender waivers, interference, contract-splitting and inflated prices being a few examples.
“As you know, investigations are underway on some matters which I cannot comment on. The recommendations from those audit reports have not always been actioned and this raises concerns that our systems remain vulnerable.
Mr Jaspert claimed that he knows many people are troubled by these alleged reports, “particularly in relation to Government contracts and the recent stimulus funds.”
These concerns, he continued, are “exacerbated by the fact that details of Government spending are not always readily available to the public and our institutions of good governance. Many have asked whether the Territory’s governance is operating with the level of integrity and fairness that it should and this question warrants some consideration.”
The outgoing Governor, who many claim is antagonistic towards the elected Government and continues to surprise the public with his frequent media presence and controversial statements, claimed that he, along with the Deputy Governor, continues to speak with local institutions about the said challenges can be addressed.
“The Auditor General, the Commissioner of the Police, the Complaints Commissioner, the Financial Investigations Agency and the Registrar of Interests have already been doing important work into specific areas of concern and we are discussing what more can be done.
“One thing we can be sure of is that robust, holistic and impartial investigation is required to reassure the people of BVI. Regrettably, our local institutions have told us that they may be hindered in carrying this out, without the legislation and frameworks in place to give them the mandate to do so. We will continue to assess what needs to be done as we find out more,” the Governor stated.
Controversial outgoing Governor Augustus J. U. Jaspert has claimed many people are concerned about transparency when it comes to public projects and funds.
In a statement yesterday, December 3, 2020, Premier Fahie said he was alerted to some broad, vague and sweeping allegations made by Governor Jaspert at his press conference.
The Premier added that it is unfortunate that Governor Jaspert has chosen to make these damaging and reckless statements when, by his own admission, the veracity of these allegations has not been established by him or any investigative body.
“I am very concerned that the manner in which the Governor has chosen to make his ambiguous pronouncements, with broad statements and withholding even the most basic of details, assaults not just the integrity of all Members of your elected Government, but that of our honest, hardworking public officers who operate the machinery of our public service – and in particular those public officers whose roles include accounting and finance.
Premier Fahie lamented “it is sad that this is the goodbye gift that Governor chooses to leave the people of the BVI with after they have showed him BVILOVE for the last four years.”
He continued that the Governor’s deliberate withholding of the details of his allegations – even the most basic of details – makes it impossible for any of the persons he has tainted to defend themselves and their reputations in the public domain.
“Without knowing what the allegations are, no one can provide a detailed response to wipe the mud that has been thrown on them. In the least, this kind of conduct is contrary to natural justice.”
Regarding the concerns expressed by Governor Jaspert to the recent economic stimulus, which was made possible by Government, in collaboration with the public and private sector, to help the Virgin Islands people to cope with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Premier Fahie said there were stringent systems put in place for accountability.
“As members of the public, you would recall that the funds for the economic stimulus programme were granted to the people of the Virgin Islands by the BVI Social Security Board (SSB) when the UK Government refused to provide COVID-19 grants for social support to Virgin Islanders. These funds were provided by the SSB based on a signed agreement that mandates how the money can and cannot be spent, and checks and balances that were approved by the Directors of the SSB to ensure that there is accountability for these funds.”
Premier Fahie added that funds from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), which is being applied to construction projects, also go through a process that ensures accountability.
“In order to secure the release of funds the CDB had to give approval to our procurement methodologies and processes. We remain accountable to the CDB, as we are to the House of Assembly, for how these funds are spent and how value for money is achieved.
“This is the level of accountability that your Government has been operating in the last 22 months,” Premier Fahie said,
With respect to legislation for accountability and Good Governance, Premier Fahie said Government has already expressed its commitment to strengthening these laws in the Speech from the Throne which was delivered by Governor Jaspert himself on November 5, 2020.
He reminded that although the Speech from the Throne is read by the Governor, it is written by the VI Government and states the Legislative Agenda of the VI Government.
“Your Government’s Legislative Agenda for the upcoming year includes bringing forward the Integrity in Public Life Bill, Witness Anonymity legislation, the amending the Criminal Conduct Act to make provisions for unexplained wealth which derives from corruption and criminal activity, and several pieces of legislation to strengthen our justice system.”
Premier Fahie said for the Governor to cast aspersions on Government’s commitment to accountability and transparency in public affairs is unfounded. “To accuse your Government and our public officers of operating in any dishonest way with the handling of public contracts or the COVID-19 economic stimulus programme is without merit.”
The Leader of Government Business emphasised that the Governor’s allegations were “broad, vague, ambiguous” and without even the most basic of details.
“Governor Jaspert has admitted that the truthfulness or substance of these allegations has not been established by him or any investigative body. Until he provides details of his allegations, it is impossible for anyone to know what he is accusing them of and how they can repair their reputation.”
Premier Fahie concluded that until Governor Jaspert provides these details, there is insufficient information to provide the public with a more comprehensive response.
“However, once the allegations are made clear, your Government will be happy to provide a comprehensive reply. I hope His Excellency will provide the necessary clarity before his earlier-than-expected departure from the Territory in January 2021.”