STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
April 30, 2020
Tabling of the Auditor General’s Report
on Government of the Virgin Islands’ Financing of BVI Airway’s Direct Flights to Miami
before the House of Assembly
Dear Virgin Islanders, residents and visitors; a pleasant Good Day and God’s Blessings to each and every one of you.
I wish to respond to reports being carried in the media over the last two days regarding the issue of the tabling the Auditor General’s Report on Government’s Financing of BVI Airway’s Direct Flights to Miami before the House of Assembly (HOA), and correspondences that I have been forced to write to both the UK Minister for Overseas Territories, Baroness Sugg, as well as to the Governor.
Let me say from the onset that I do not wish to engage in unnecessary public argument with the Governor or any other UK officials on this issue. This response is precipitated only by the fact that comments attributed to the Governor form part of the media reports in the public domain, and these reported comments must be now addressed in the public’s interest.
You would recall in December 2015, the Government of the Virgin Islands entered into a Framework Agreement with BV Airways Inc (“BVA”) to provide direct air travel service between Miami International Airport and Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. The Agreement provided that in exchange for $7 million of Government funds, BVA would deliver its passenger jet travel service by no later than December 31, 2016 (a date which was later extended by agreement to August 31, 2017). By June 2017 it was clear that the BVA project had failed. No non-stop commercial air service from the BVI to Miami was delivered as promised. In early 2017, BVA asked the BVI government to inject further capital into the project.
The Auditor General, exercising her initiative and prerogative under Section 20 of the Audit Act No 13 of 2003, conducted an audit inquiry into the Government’s Financing of BVI Airway’s Direct Flights to Miami, and produced a Special Report dated January 27, 2020.
His Excellency says that his office received the report on February 7.
Section 20 (2) of the Audit Act stipulates that the Governor shall, within three months of receipt of a Special Report from the Auditor General, cause the report to be laid before the Legislative Council.
Working with the Governor’s date of receipt, the Statutory deadline for the report to come before the HOA would be May 7.
Section 8 of the Standing Orders of the HOA stipulates that a minimum of 10 days’ notice must be given to the Members of the HOA before any meeting of the House. This is for Good Governance because Members must have ample notice of when the House will sit and what will be the business for that sitting, so that they can be present and adequately prepared.
Assuming that May 7 was a scheduled day for the meeting of the HOA – which it was not, it would mean that the Notice for the Sitting would have to be dispatched by the Clerk of the House no later than April 27.
The procedure is that in order for the Minister for Finance to table the report for the HOA, the Minister must be instructed to do so by Cabinet.
The report having not reached Cabinet by April 22, and my having raised this on a prior occasion with the Governor, it became necessary for me to put pen to paper – albeit with a heavy heart.
I can confirm, therefore, that based on the aforementioned, I did have cause to write to the UK Minister for Overseas Territories, Baroness Sugg, on April 23, 2020, with respect to legitimate concerns that the timeline for tabling the Auditor General’s Report on the BVI Airways matter before the HOA was not being kept.
Subsequent to that letter being dispatched, His Excellency indicated that his intention was to introduce the report to Cabinet on the same day, April 23. Even at this stage, the difference between January 27 and February 7, is immaterial to the issue, because either way, the time left for properly dealing with the report was insufficient.
Members of Cabinet would have been required to read and digest the 47-page report, to hold deliberations on it and to approve for the Minister of Finance to table it before the HOA. And they would have been required to do this in less than three days while managing the reopening and rebooting of the economy. And this is while the report had been sitting at the Governor’s Office for more than two and a half months.
The subject of this report is of great interest to the public, especially given the large volume of taxpayers’ money that is involved. There have been numerous allegations made, that diverse sections of the population want to have resolved. The Governor himself noted the heightened public interest in the matter when he addressed the media on November 1, 2019.
The question is, therefore, why should Cabinet have been placed in the position where it is forced to do a “rush-job” with this report in order to meet the Statutory deadline, while the report was sitting at the Governor’s Office for more than 10 weeks? Is Cabinet expected to rush through and rubber stamp the report to cover for procrastination in another place? That is not fair to Cabinet and to the people of the Virgin Islands, and it is not consistent with Good Governance.
The spirit of the law is such that the framers of the Act, and the previous legislators who drafted the Standing Orders, intended that serious matters such as these would have adequate time for deliberation and ventilation at the various stations the report would pass on its way through the system.
It is also implied in the media report, and elsewhere, that the Governor, by now putting the report before Cabinet, has fulfilled his duty; that his hands are washed clean and any delay or failure going forward would be the fault of the Premier.
This is untrue and based on an over-simplified and erroneous interpretation of the law and the Standing Orders of the HOA. The requirements of the Audit Act 2003 and the Standing Orders of the HOA have to be considered together – not separately.
The facts are that neither the Governor nor the Premier have the power to instruct the HOA to meet. And, as stated above, the House can only meet a minimum of 10 days after the Notice is dispatched by the Clerk.
Bearing in mind that this report has been with the Governor for in excess of two and a half months, if it was brought to Cabinet earlier, then Cabinet would have had a reasonable opportunity to perform its duties, and to work with the HOA’s planned schedule based on the Standing Orders. As it stands, there is no guarantee that based on when the Governor brought the report to Cabinet, that the deadline under the Audit Act can be kept, and in order to do that the work of Cabinet will have to be compromised.
I do not know where the chips will fall with this matter but when that time comes, the facts must be clear and on the record. There have been too many clouds over this matter, and your present Government does not intend to be part of any more clouds forming.
I must also state that not all matters that come before Cabinet are equally weighted. This matter is one of those that is on the “heavier” side, and therefore while there are mechanisms that Cabinet can use to fast track the lighter matters, this Auditor General Report is not something to be treated lightly or trivialised.
As the Leader of Government Business, you can be assured that I will do all in my power, while abiding by the attending laws and procedures, to have this report brought before the HOA in the shortest possible time.
I also take this opportunity to thank the Auditor General for initiating this audit and for the work done in preparation of this Special Report.
From my first day in office as Premier and Minister of Finance in February 2019, and even when I served in Her Majesty’s Opposition, I have always sought accountability on behalf of the people, and I remain committed to this promise.
I, therefore, wish to reiterate my Government’s commitment to all stakeholders that, together, we will ensure that the findings and recommendations of this report will be put to good use.
I thank you.