Auditor General Under Attack

BVI Platinum News
October 11, 2018 6:52 am AST
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Senior government members of the National Democratic Party (NDP) continue to make attempts to bring down the integrity of the office of the Auditor General (AG), headed by United Kingdom’s (UK) Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) appointee, Sonia Webster. This is according to Hon. Andrew Fahie, Opposition Leader.

Hon. Fahie made the comments in wake of criticisms which were publicly levied against Webster by Hon. Myron Walwyn, Minister of Education and Culture, over her audit of the $1M Elmore Stoutt High School (ESHS) wall project.

“…As in the past, the practice by members and affiliates of this administration, of degrading the quality and integrity of the work of the Office of the Auditor General must be tempered,” Hon. Fahie told BVI Platinum News when contacted on Wednesday, October 10.

Webster was first appointed to the post in 1996 and she retired back in 2015, and was then rehired in January of this year.

Webster has brought to light many instances of irregularities relating to contracts, financial transactions and other government processes under both the NDP and former Virgin Islands Party (VIP) administration.

She grabbed the public spotlight for her office's reports on the greenhouses and Sea Cows Bay marina projects, which were done under the VIP; and the cruise pier expansion project under the NDP.

The cruise pier expansion project report drew heavy criticisms and more specifically, Minister of Communications and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool issued a sharp response towards the end of 2013, challenging Webster.

However, the pier project report went forward and became the subject of a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) probe, which had similar findings to that of the AG’s report.

Also, during one of the PAC's meetings in early 2014, former Deputy Financial Secretary (DFS), Wendell Gaskin, also known as 'Pow', launched a scathing attack on Webster.

During the meeting, Gaskin indicated that the office of the Auditor General is a constitutional position and the holder of the office has no qualifications for the position except for a Bachelor's Degree.

At the time, Webster stated that she would never speak of her qualifications because her work speaks for itself. She noted that her office operates under the highest standards and does not compare itself to anyone else because she does not think it was appropriate nor did they need to. Webster stated that she stands by her reports and noted that they are able to substantiate them.

In spite of the reports into these major projects, no commission of inquiry has been launched.

Learn From ESHS Wall Project

Meanwhile, Hon. Fahie told BVI Platinum News that the ESHS wall audit report shows how not to conduct a government project.

“After listening to the emergency press conference called by the Honorable Minister of Education and Culture re: the audit conducted on Elmore Stoutt High School wall, I am compelled to make brief remarks. The final audit report on the project is a case study of how not to implement any public project,” he said yesterday.

He said that this is even more profound given the enhanced Financial Management Act that was authored by the NDP, and of the Protocols for Effective Financial Management document that was signed by the NDP and the UK Government in April 2012.

“It is curious that the details of the audit are being made public, presumably prior to submittal to the Cabinet and to the House of Assembly. Nevertheless, when officially made public and made available, it would have to be fully examined and studied so that the errors, whether deliberate or non-intentional, could be avoided in the future,” he said.

The Opposition Leader reiterated his years of warning that if the BVI does not police itself, it will be policed.

“I have on numerous occasions stated that we either police ourselves or we would be policed in a manner that we all will regret. Today is such a day! Conduct such as this is what has laid the foundation for the RDA (Recovery and Development Agency) and other systems to now be set up.”

“Systems I might add that will potentially exclude our people. I would refrain from issuing any further comments until such time as further details are available…It is safe to say that more detailed comments (on wall project) will be forthcoming,” Hon. Fahie assured.

AG’s Role

The duties of the AG entail, but are not limited to planning, coordinating and supervising the activities of the Audit Department to ensure all audits are completed and are done on a timely basis.

Webster audits government accounts produced by the Treasury Department and inquire into and audit the financial records of government departments and ministries, plus statutory boards and trusts.

She evaluates compliance with financial legislation and regulations; provide assistance and advice to accounting officers in departments on their accounting and control system in order to improve processes across government; prepare various reports and memoranda, as required, to ensure information gathered is being shared and reported on; and act as an advisory member of the Public Accounts Committee.

Ms. Webster served as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer with the Alliance Accounting BVI & Alliance Management Consultants from July 2016 –January 2018; Office of Auditor General, Government of the Virgin Islands at various periods from July 1988 – November 2015, having served as Assistant Auditor, Senior Auditor, Deputy Chief Auditor and Auditor General, where she managed the BVI Government's Audit Office.

Ms. Webster is a member of the International Compliance Association and holds a Bachelors in Accounting (BSc) from the University of the West Indies; Bachelors of Law (LLb) University of London; a Diploma in Financial Crime Prevention (DipFinCrime); and CPE training in management, accounting, auditing and other areas of relevance locally, regionally, in the United States and the United Kingdom.
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