Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Government Ministers will be hammered with a large number of questions regarding several matters including whether the Protocols for Effective Financial Management have been breached by the administration and whether penalties are looming from the United Kingdom (UK) Government.
The Protocols for Effective Financial Management was signed on April 23 by Premier and Minister for Finance, Hon. Dr. Orlando Smith on behalf of Government and Mr. Henry Bellingham, the United Kingdom Minister for the Overseas Territories.
At the sitting of the House of Assembly on Monday, September 3, First District Representative, Hon. Andrew Fahie will be grilling Government Ministers with over thirty (30) questions and of those questions, close to 15 will be directed to Hon. Myron Walwyn, Education and Culture Minister.
Hon. Julian Fraser, Third District Representative will also be posing questions to the Ministers.
Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour will be the only Minister who will not be questioned during Monday's sitting.
In an interview with BVI Platinum News, Hon. Fahie said the questions on Monday are information seeking and is in no way "politicking", noting that one of the crucial questions will be surrounding the recently signed financial protocols which the National Democratic Party (NDP) negotiated.
"In that document the Premier signed on to stay within certain boundaries when he is doing projects and even programmes that are going to involve finances. When I say financing I don't mean borrowing alone, but overall...So it is not premature [questions to be asked] when you hear the number of projects, not from any particular Minister, but that are already underway."
He added, "For example, one of the questions will be - are you abiding by the rules that you signed on to with the UK while you are doing these projects? Because they are the ones that negotiated it, so a question like that wouldn't be premature because the document is clear, you have to give a full analysis of the lifetime of the project; the cost to run the project; the full analysis, not just the construction...for any major project that they are going to do for any Minister".
The First District Representative went on to point out that it was one of the Premier's colleagues that stated in the House of Assembly that the Premier had Mr. Bellingham eating out of his hands during the negotiations which resulted in them negotiating an excellent document for the Territory. However, Hon. Fahie said this is not the case as the document can bring an apparent financial famine to the Territory.
"In this document, in the manner that it was signed, I humbly say that it seems that it is going to bring an apparent financial famine to the Territory. It poses a challenge if it is not renegotiated in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands based on our culture, among other things. It is the document that has me the most concerned at this time...In no way I am shunning from the need for transparency and accountability and all that needs to be done to make sure that you are prudent about your leadership, but to sign off from becoming a teenager to become a kindergarten again is one of great concern. I felt that it should have been discussed with the public," Hon. Fahie stated during the interview.
In relation to whether the Government has breached the financial protocols, Hon. Fahie said in the document the Premier promised the UK that he would have passed an Enhanced Public Finance Management Act by August 2012. However, this has not been done as yet, but rather the House of Assembly was prorogued.
"And the UK obviously is holding the Territory or keeping our hands to the fire to have this task on what the Premier agreed with them, but instead of passing this the Premier prorogued the Honourable House and the UK was looking for this to be passed by August, and it is in the document."
He added, "...They didn't say what kind of [penalty], what are they going to do - suspend the Constitution, they didn't say what are they going to do...I found it a paradox that the Honourable House quietly prorogued knowing that there was a deadline to produce this new Act with the UK by August 2012. I need to know what happened and what kind of penalties the UK is looking to bring on us or what are the consequences for this kind of action that leaves a lot to be desired based on what you negotiated and signed."
According to the financial protocols, the Government of the Virgin Islands has therefore committed to ensure that the Enhanced Public Finance Management Act is adhered to at all times.
"In the event that the Act's provisions are violated, action to correct these deficiencies will be taken immediately. Subject to the agreement of the House of Assembly and the assent of the Governor, the Enhanced Public Finance Management Act will enter into force by August 2012," the protocols stated.
Hon. Fahie said this time, the NDP cannot go around blaming the former Virgin Islands Party (VIP) since according to them, an excellent document was negotiated.
"And you cannot tell us that you were forced to sign because your members said that you had the man [Minister Bellingham] eating out the palm of your hands. You cannot blame the former administration because you negotiated it and had the man eating out the palm of your hands; they said that, not me," he stated.
Education Minister, Hon. Walwyn will face the most questions from Hon. Fahie during Monday's sitting and one of those questions will be surrounding the Education Ministry's Youth Unemployment Programme (YUR).
"One of the questions to the Education Minister is if he can inform the Honourable House what percentage of the total of young people registered for his YUR programme received jobs initially and what percentage of those currently registered are currently employed," Fahie stated.
Hon. Walwyn will also be asked about the Secondary School Supplemental Examinations.
"People were inquiring if the supplementary examinations were administered more than once. I will ask the Minister to tell the Honourable House if the fifth formers who were qualified to do it this past year were allowed to do the supplementary and if there were, tell the House if it was administered to any of the secondary school fifth formers who qualified more than once. If it's yes, it's yes; if it's no, it's no...I will also ask about the technical school in relation to the project itself; what it will be costing and so forth...things along that line," he told BVI Platinum News.
The former Education Minister will also ask questions relating to the introduction of the new subjects in the public secondary schools - Tourism, Financial Services and Virgin Islands History.
Premier's Position On Independence
Premier Smith will also be asked a number of questions on the topic of independence.
"I asked him if he can tell the Honourable House if his Government intends to be seeking or discussing independence from the UK for our beloved Virgin Islands, because this is something a lot of his members are preaching. So I just want to know, or how is it are you going at it, or are you not going at it," Hon. Fahie asserted.
Meanwhile, questions will be asked about the history surrounding the Reserve Fund and according to Hon. Fahie, it is in an effort to bring clarity to certain information that is being peddled.
"When was the Reserve Fund established by the House of Assembly or Legislative Council, what was the amount in the Reserve at the end of each year since each budget year since the fund was established, because in that I want to be able to see [I was not the Minister of Finance]. I now myself want to see if we depleted the Reserve as was promoted, or it was just a political jargon," he stated.
Hon. Andrew Fahie on October 24, 2011.
Photo Credit: Gordon French/BVI Platinum News
The First District Representative said the Opposition is seeking factual information for both them and the people of the Territory.
"You see a lot of things you hear second hand you cannot rely on them as factual. I mean, the House of Assembly is the law making body and it is also based on the rules of the House when information is presented, it must be factual...You might hear a speech from Ministers, not just this administration, saying things that they would like to do, but the House is where they will have to bring the same plans...the factual answers of what they are about to do because all the monies to do anything in the Territory is approved by the House of Assembly...So it's not an attempt to go after anybody or to degrade anything, it is the aim to get information," he assured.
The District Representative said it must be reinforced that at the end of the day, it is public funds and the right to information.
"You know we will hear a lot of things, but the House has a right to be factually informed of what's what and usually Ministers in general will say the things that they want you to hear or know, but it might not necessarily be what you desire to know. So the only way to get information to the public is through questioning which is a longstanding tradition in the House."
He added, "On top of that, once you are dealing with the public funds you cannot deprive it in the public and it is the duty of the Opposition to make sure that you do not act negatively, but act responsibly in terms of ensuring that the people of the Territory get a fair deal from the different programmes that will come on stream by Government."