Acting Premier Dr. Natalio Wheatley has announced that the tender process for the controversial insurance that was proposed for Members of the House of Assembly has been halted.
In a five-page statement issued late last night, June 8, by the Acting Premier, he said the decision came notwithstanding the “political pandering and flip-flopping from the Opposition.”
He explained that the process was halted “so that we can have further deliberations among the Members of the HOA and also to consider the views of the public on the matter.”
He added, “It is your Government’s position that an important matter such as how we care for our former Legislators in their golden years and on their passing should not be shrouded in discord and controversy. To re-emphasize the assurance given by the Honourable Premier on this matter, whatever is in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands will be the only course of action.”
Deceptive Statements By Opposition
Dr. Wheatley joined his colleague, Junior Minister for Tourism Hon. Sharie de Castro to call out the “duplicitous conduct and deceptive statements being made by Members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition with respect to the matter of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for health insurance for
current and former legislators.”
“It is clear from the press release issued by the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, dated 7 June 2021, that most Opposition Members are trying to distance themselves from the issue now that they perceive it to be a hot potato – having supported the position all along for supplemental insurance coverage for current and past legislators. But what is more important than the political flip-flopping by the Members of the Opposition are the blatant untruths in their statements as regards the chain of events leading up to the issue of the RFP.”
He said the facts are that the Members of the Opposition have been involved in this matter from the inception – and this includes the Honourable Member for the 2nd District (Hon. Melvin Mitch Turnbull), who is a part of the Privileges Committee of the House of Assembly, which first raised the matter.
Dr. Wheatley added, “Secondly, contrary to the assertions of the Leader of the Opposition as well as the Representative for the 2nd District, Honourable Melvin Turnbull was consulted by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) on the contents of the RFP prior to and up to its publication, and the Member raised no concerns throughout the entire process in the nature that he is claiming today. The Representative for the 2nd District had no major objections to the RFP, although minor changes were suggested, and he did not ask for the RFP to be held back.”
He also mentioned that the matter of insurance for current and former Members of the HOA was first raised by the current Committee of Privileges a few months after the 2019 General Election.
“The Member for the 2nd District had indicated to the Committee of Privileges that the matter of insurance was a long outstanding issue, it needed to be dealt with early, and it had his full
support as the previous Government was afraid to touch it," the Acting Premier stated.
He added, "Consequently, the sub-Committee of Privileges in 2019 held a series of meetings to iron out all the details for the insurance and agreed to meet with three local insurance companies recommended by the Member for the 2nd District to advise on what was needed to proceed. The Member for the 2nd District– as the lead Member - held the preliminary meetings with the three insurance companies and then reported to the Committee, after which the companies made presentations to the Committee.”
He said at no time in 2019, when the Member for the 2nd District first brought the matter to the attention of the Privileges Committee, did he recommend that it needed to be placed on hold, pending a study.
Furthermore, after the Committee decided what was required, the Honourable Speaker gave a report to the whole House on the deliberations, in keeping with Standing Order (SO) 83 (1).
"Again, the matter of the insurance received support from all Members, including the Honourable Leader of the Opposition Marlon Penn and Hon. Turnbull. There were no objections from Turnbull for the matter to wait on any study or amendments to the National Health Insurance (NHI), as Hon. Turnbull is now claiming," he said.
Following the completion of the internal work by the Privileges Committee, he said a recommendation was made to the Ministry of Finance in 2019 for funding and it was allocated in the 2020 budget but it was repurposed due to COVID-19.
The funds were again returned to the 2021 budget as per the request of members of the HoA and subsequently went to tender.
“There continued to be no objections from the Member for the 2nd District along the lines as he is contending today,” Hon. Dr. Wheatley said.