By Sonje Greenidge
Updated 4:54 PM AST, Fri May 13, 2022
(PLTM) - Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. Natalio Wheatley confirmed today that Permanent Secretary within the Premier’s Office Dr. Carolyn O’ Neal-Morton is on leave pending the outcome of criminal investigations.
Dr. Wheatley provided confirmation at his first press conference held today, May 13, following the arrest and detention of former Premier Andrew Fahie in Miami on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
The confirmation also comes a day after Governor John Rankin announced that he had instructed the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) to undertake criminal investigations of the Premier's Office under the then Premier Fahie in keeping with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report. Dr. Wheately was asked by reporters if persons had been sent home from the Premier’s Office following the announcement of investigations into possible criminal activities.
“Currently, the Permanent Secretary is on leave while those investigations take place,” Dr. Wheatley stated.
However, Dr. Wheatley stated this matter does not fall under his area of responsibility and further information on this matter would have to be sought from the Deputy Governor David Archer.
BVI Platinum News made several attempts to speak with Dr. Archer on the basis of informing the public about the changes within the public service, but he did not immediately respond.
Dr. O’Neal-Morton has served as the PS under Fahie's stint as Premier during which time the office faced mounting criticisms over the way in which the COVID-19 grants were administered. Some of these concerns have been highlighted in the CoI report, particularly as it relates to the farmers and fisherfolk disbursements since in some cases, persons received a whole lot more money than they had applied for. The CoI report called for a criminal investigation.
The PS had faced questions at the CoI hearing and the sole Commissioner, Sir Gary Hickinbottom had labelled her reasoning of how the grants were administered as irrational.
Hickenbottom had stated, "So he [a farmer] puts in an application for $500; what does he get? He gets $13,500 worked out on a hypothetical basis which has absolutely anything to do with his particular circumstances. So that’s another irrationality.”
In response, PS Dr. O’Neal-Morton said the government was aware that in some cases, those applying for stimulus had other jobs, but their farming and fishing was a business venture.
“Commissioner, if they were given too much money and they cannot account for it, they have to pay it back. You don’t think they will pay it back?” she asked.
He replied: “No I don’t. But what was the logic and rationale about giving somebody who wanted $600, $13,500?”
She said, “As I said before, some people expressed a need, but in the absence of an assessment which Agriculture [Department] we had to do some superficial assessments, based on photographs and based on our prior knowledge.”
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