Police have now gotten involved in the controversy surrounding the perimeter wall erected around Elmore Stoutt High School.
Governor Augustus Jaspert said the police department’s involvement in the matter is as a result of the ‘special report’ from the Office of the Auditor General, which stated that there were a number of “procedural issues and irregularities” in how the Myron Walwyn-led Ministry of Education executed the wall project.
“It is now important that due process is followed in dealing with the recommendations of the report and, to that end, these will now be taken forward with the appropriate ministries and agencies, including the Ministry of Finance and Deputy Governor’s Office and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force,” Governor Jaspert said.
“As the report is now in the hands of these agencies, I will not comment further. I will support all those involved in ensuring that any issues raised in the report are addressed in the appropriate manner,” added Jaspert, who also said he is ‘most disappointed’ that Walwyn violated the law and publicised the findings of the Auditor General’s report on the wall before it was tabled in the House of Assembly.
The report was only tabled in the House yesterday (December 13).
“I have not made a statement on the special report until now as the correct procedure, as per the Audit Act 2003, is that the report be laid before the House of Assembly,” the governor explained.
“Although the report was disclosed to the public in violation of the procedure specified in the Audit Act, it would not, of course, have been appropriate for me to comment at that point on the report itself prior to its presentation at the House of Assembly.”
The wall project did comply with some BVI regulations
According to the findings of the report on the near-million dollar project, Walwyn’s ministry did not comply with the government’s Public Finance Regulation.
The regulation says, whenever construction works are to be conducted but there was no tendering process, government agencies are to obtain a list of pre-qualified contractors from the finance ministry.
Auditor General Sonia Webster, however, said there was “no consultation with the Ministry of Finance’s Project Management Unit (or the Public Works Department) on the selection and eligibility of contractors”.
The auditor general went on to report that “the contractors used [for the project] were selected by the Minister of Education”.
The report further noted a statement from the education ministry’s assistant secretary, who said “the contracts and work orders sections and amounts [for the wall project] were assigned to individuals based only on the instructions received from the minister”.
Below is the governor’s full statement on the matter.
My predecessor had in 2017 sought advice as to whether the procedures for the procurement of goods and services as set out in the Protocols for Effective Financial Management, the Public Finance Management Act 2004 Act and the Public Finance Management Regulations 2005 had been correctly followed in relation to the contracts awarded and work orders placed with respect to the Elmore Stoutt High School Wall Project.
My predecessor further sought advice that if proper procedures had not been followed, what if any discrepancies and deviations from standard procedures occurred, their significance and how such a situation arose.
The Auditor General’s Special Report into the Elmore Stoutt High School Wall Project which was submitted to me in August, 2018, has now been laid before the House of Assembly in accordance with Section 20 of the Audit Act, 2003.
The Special Report, addresses these issues and contains a number of detailed recommendations on the procurement regulations and procedures applied on this project and also to the accountability for the project.
These recommendations will now be taken forward in consultation with the appropriate Ministries.
The Report highlights a number of areas which need to be improved, including the tightening up of project and procurement regulations.
On this, I look forward to the revised procurement legislation advancing to the House of Assembly and the progression of other governance improvements as set out in the Government’s agenda in the recent Speech from the Throne.
I also want to reiterate my commitment to transparency and good governance in the Virgin Islands and the need to maintain the highest standards of integrity in Government from all who serve the public whether elected officials or public officers.
I have not made a statement on the Special Report until now as the correct procedure as per the Audit Act 2003 is that the Report be laid before the House of Assembly. Although the Report was disclosed to the public in violation of the procedure specified in the Audit Act, it would not of course have been appropriate for me to comment at that point on the Report itself prior to its presentation at the House of Assembly.
I was most disappointed that the Report was publicised in this way. The people of the Virgin Islands should expect the highest standards of conduct of all those who serve them. Those at the highest level of Government set the standards for others. I am pleased therefore that the Government has committed to advancing the Ministerial Code of Conduct as a priority to ensure the highest standards of governance are maintained.
I would also like to reiterate that the Auditor General is an independent and constitutionally appointed position whose work is guided by the Audit Act of 2003.
I am grateful to the Auditor General and her office for their work on this Report and for other work they are undertaking including on other audits.
All public officers should continue to feel confident to carry out and conduct their work in line with the values of the public service and the laws and Constitution of the Territory.
It is now important that due process is followed in dealing with the recommendations of the Report and, to that end, these will now be taken forward with the appropriate Ministries and Agencies, including the Ministry of Finance and Deputy Governor’s Office and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. As the Report is now in the hands of these agencies, I will not comment further.
I will support all those involved in ensuring that any issues raised in the report are addressed in the appropriate manner.
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