(Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News)
In under three months, as the new leader of Government business, Premier Hon. Andrew Fahie will be faced with some hard-hitting questions from Members of the Opposition, including travel expenses incurred thus far, legal fees for the ongoing court battle between the Speaker of the House of Assembly and Fourth District Representative-elect, Mr. Mark Vanterpool, and no bid contracts.
When the House of Assembly meets on Friday, May 17, Opposition Leader, Hon. Marlon Penn will ask Premier Fahie if the Government is paying the legal fees for the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Julian Willock, in the court case between Mr. Vanterpool vs Hon. Willock. If yes, he will ask for the estimated cost of said legal fees, the amount billed and paid thus far for said legal case.
If the answer is no, Hon. Penn will ask the Premier to explain the basis under which they were retained and to clarify how the legal fees are anticipated to be met.
“…Could the Honourable Premier please tell this Honourable House whether he has had any discussions with the Honourable Speaker about his decision not to swear in Mr. Mark Vanterpool, elected Member for the Fourth District, especially in light of the recent court decision to grant the duly elected Member redress and requiring the Speaker to swear him in. If so, could the Honourable Premier tell this Honourable House what is his position on the matter and whether it was shared with the Honourable Speaker,” Hon. Penn, who is also the Deputy Chair of the National Democratic Party (NDP) will ask.
On May 2, following lengthy arguments, High Court Judge, Ann Marie Smith handed down her decision, ordering Speaker Willock to swear in Mr. Vanterpool as Representative for the Fourth District in the House of Assembly. However, Willock, through his lawyers--which include overseas counsel--has appealed the decision.
A court date for the appeal hearing is to be set, but it is unclear if the Speaker’s lawyers have filed a stay of the ruling, as Mr. Vanterpool is yet to be sworn in based on the May 2 High Court ruling.
The Finance Minister will also be pressed on the topic of no bid contracts, where Hon. Penn will ask him if his Government has waived the tender process for any contracts, projects or purchases since taking office on 28th February 2019 to date?
If the answer is yes, Hon. Penn will ask to list and provide the details of each instance that this was done, including each project, purchase or contract, the dollar amount associated, the reason for doing so, the date this was done, and whether Cabinet agreed to waive the tender process.
Notably, since taking office in late February, the Fahie administration has waived the tender process to award contracts for the works on the L-shaped building of the Elmore Stoutt High School (ESHS) and repairs to the incinerator at Pockwood Pond.
The issue of consultancy will be raised as well. Premier Fahie is facing questions on whether his Government has engaged in any new or renewed any consultant, consultancy or service provider, formally or in principle to provide services to the Government of the Virgin Islands across all Ministries since taking office.
“If the answer is yes, please give details of the contracts inclusive of the duration, amounts and purpose, as well provide a copy of all contracts, agreements, inclusive of payment schedule, purchase orders and deliverables for each engagement, contract or agreement,” Hon. Penn will ask.
Government has issued a $98,000.00 consultancy contract to Mr. Claude Skelton-Cline for a six-month period. Skelton-Cline, the former Managing Director of the BVI Ports Authoirty (BVIPA) under the NDP administration prior to a fall out, campaigned heavily for the new Government during the February elections.
The Opposition Leader will want to know the total costs of travel domestic, regional or international that have been incurred by the Government since taking office to date; and a breakdown of total costs expended on travel across, specifying the purpose of the travel, the costs of each trip (inclusive of transportation, accommodations, and subsistence) and each member of the delegation of each trip.
Based social media posts, Premier Fahie and Hon. Natalio Wheatley, Deputy Premier and Minister of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Agriculture and Fisheries, have been abroad on official Government trips.
Other Opposition Members, Hon. Julian Fraser, Third District Representative and leader of Progressives United (PU), and Hon. Melvin Mitch Turnbull, Second District Representative and member of Progressive Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM) are also listed on the Order Paper to ask several questions, including on the controversial BVI Airways deal, which occurred under the former NDP administration.
Hon. Fraser will raise to Premier Fahie that former Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. Orlando Smith told the House that he had issued instructions to the Attorney General to initiate proceedings with the recovery of the $7.2 million from BVI Airways.
“Could the Premier and Minister of Finance please, present this Honourable House with a copy of those instructions and inform this Honourable House as to the actions taken by the AG,” Hon. Fraser will ask.
Further, Hon. Fahie will be asked to provide the names of the shareholders of BVI Airways; the names of the Directors of BVI Airways; the fees paid to each Director of BVI Airways; and the name of the person serving on BVI Airways Board as representative of the Government of the Virgin Islands.
Government will also be introducing the Immigration and Passport (Amendment) Act, 2019, the long waited Consumer Protection Bill, Supplementary Appropriation Act, Disaster Management Act, 2019 and Virgin Islands Red Cross Act, 2019.
A Motion will be moved to have the Standing Orders suspended to allow for the debate of the Immigration and Passport (Amendment) Act, 2019. BVI Platinum News understands that this proposed Act is in relation to the ongoing regularization of residency and belongership initiative.