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Auditor General defends strong allegations on Premier’s Office

Auditor General Sonia Webster.

Auditor General, Sonia Webster, has refuted charges that she was unnecessarily excessive with the language used in her audit reports of the government’s COVID-19 stimulus grants last year.

Webster suggested in her audit report of the farmers and fisherfolk relief programme that monies were essentially claimed under false pretence. For example, the audit found that some fisherfolk recipients received money even though they didn’t have finishing boats.

But Sir Geoffrey Cox, who represents government ministers on behalf of the Attorney General, rubbished this idea.

“The language that has been used in this report is excessive and goes beyond the facts that existed before the Auditor General,” Sir Geoffrey told the Auditor General during a recent Commission of Inquiry (COI) hearing.

“As I’m trying to say, Madam Auditor General, I don’t want you to think for a moment that I disagree with much of what you’ve said about the availability of material. The point that I’m seeking to make is that your language when you carried out checks on the farmers [and fisherfolk but] … your reason to the Commissioner was that you couldn’t find the [fishing] boats. Well, all I’m asking is, why not simply contact those crew members to ascertain what the facts were?” Sir Geoffrey asked Webster.

Auditor General should have done due diligence 

He suggested that her office should have explored the claims in a more detailed fashion before making an “allegation that clearly implies — potentially, at least — fraudulent conduct”.

“Before an auditor makes the suggestion … a check should be made to ensure that suggestion is safe. Of course, an auditor might well point out the anomalies.”

He also claimed that the Premier’s Office checked on the said anomalies to verify that the claims farmers and fishers made to get stimulus was indeed real.

However, the Auditor General stood by her findings.

“It’s basically your word against the records that we have checked and verified that these people do not own boats. “It’s your words against the records that are contained in Agriculture Department,” Webster said in response to Sir Geoffrey’s claim.

“We sent to the Premier’s Office a draft report that they had for almost a month. They had the opportunity to come back to us and say, ‘hey, this is not the case’. They did not do that. So they cannot at this stage come to us and say, ‘well, you know, this is wrong’. They had an opportunity for a month to come back to us,” she added.

Webster called the attorney’s suggestions and line of questioning ‘reckless’ and said there was no evidence anywhere to support his claims.

But Sir Geoffrey said the reality is that an exercise had been done, and some persons, according to the Premier’s Office, confirmed they have other vessels laid up for various reasons.

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25 Comments

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  1. Citizen says:

    We all know funds wen to people who don’t own fishing boats. Those people now scrambling to go fishing I bet.

    Like 37
    • Can’t wait says:

      Can’t wait till the Auditor General does her report on the money spent by Foy and the rest on Geoffrey QC and the rest. If you think we lost money on BVI Airways, that was nothing compared to what we will see in these legal bills. Get the tar and rest gets ready for Foy and cement shoes for the rest of dem Ministers. People can’t eat but plenty money for lawyers. If you got nothing to hide you don’t need lawyers. Ask the guilty!!!!

      Like 14
  2. Wow says:

    Our Auditor General made this high priced QC’s defence look like a joke. Well done AG.

    Like 64
    Dislike 1
  3. do not back down says:

    Hold your ground…Stand firm…Do not be intimidated…The voters have your back

    Like 38
    Dislike 1
  4. Prosecution says:

    MR. Cox…. Go SIDUNG…. what you know about BVI and who own fishing Boats?. You should be the one asking the crew. Go prove her wrong. You are on the defense.

    Like 33
    Dislike 1
  5. Bumpy says:

    Auditor General stand your ground. Tortola is an eyeball big and we don’t have to guess who are Fisher folks or who are farmers. Cox whoever the h**l he is has to make a defense for the cr**ks he are representing. Mr. Cox you should do your homework and you will find that 99% of the people who got fishing and farming stimulus have never fished or farmed in their lives. I was born in the BVI and at age 68yrs, most of the names on the list have never farmed or been fishermen in the BVI. We know who are fishermen and farmers from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke. Andrew should stop further embarrassing himself by continuing to push this narrative that he fairly disbursed the stimulus funds. HE DID NOT. Cox you should now out now and go back to UK with what little integrity you might have left.

    Like 37
    Dislike 2
  6. SAME THING says:

    look at how the great esteemed one SQUANDERED
    OUR taxpayers money on the one from Trinidad 🤔 these guys just enjoying themselves , they think they are UNTOUCHABLE

    Like 18
    Dislike 1
  7. sunny day says:

    Sonia stand you ground don’t let Geoffrey intimidate you. that the tactic attorney use when they have no ground to support their claim.

    Like 19
  8. Halo effect says:

    I was inclined to respect Mr. Cox, since it seemed to me that he was the only “defense” lawyer the commissioner listened to.

    But I see I may have been too hasty about Mr. Cox, since it seems he was the one who did not bother to check the records about the fishing boats.

    Like 16
    Dislike 1
  9. love BVI says:

    A very brave lady who has put her head above the parapet that people across the BVI should learn from.

    I truly hope people see this for what she’s done and start to change the culture of silence from speaking to the police to reporting wrongdoing across the board from churches to gov.

    Well done Strong women always lead change.

    Like 36
  10. CANT TAKE THE HEAT says:

    THE ENGLISHMAN HENRY FRUSTRATED HER A**. SHE COULDN’T HANDLE THE PRESSURE. SHE LEFT AND FORGOT HER MANNERS. THATS GOOD FOR YOUR A**. YOU THINK YOU CAN JUST GO UP THERE AND RUN YOUR MOUTH WITHOUT BEING QUESTIONED.

    Like 1
    Dislike 20
    • Fair, but... says:

      You could have a point but also consider the years she may have been subjected to the level of disrespect from the minister who know better but he still choose to squander people money without losing any sleep!! The auditor general cares about how the public funds are being used so who you think should be trusted with it? Have you ever been audited? You always want to make sure you can provide whatever the auditor asks for quickly, especially when you know it not your money. That man simply does not care when he giving away OUR MONEY to who he want, then giving you the scraps to later call you a fowl. Imagine what he is really like behind the scenes. Oh Father! If he coulda blame a dead man, he would!! Look at the jokey PS in place who acting like she never hear the term conflict of interest. Who knew she was such a b**ly behind closed doors. But is he who train her to be so. Is people like that he want on his team and we can see exactly why. I mean, the whole thing is a joke but the auditor general, she is to be admired taking everything into consideration. Albert loyying too much. Nothing but an actor and a story teller. He could pull out all kinda story just so…just like he been doing all along.

      Like 14
  11. Common sense says:

    It’s not the AG, or, her offices responsibility to go chasing individuals to clarify their status, that is the responsibility of the individuals handing out the money. The AG checked the official records to see if the boats and / or captains were registered, and, they were not. She informed the individuals responsible for the payments, and, they did nothing. Sir Geoffrey is incorrect on this subject.

    Like 15
  12. Anonymous says:

    Wait so a fisherman must have a boat? You can be a fisherman but work with somebody that have a boat. I guess she think all truckman own the truck they drive.

    Dislike 21
    • Common sense says:

      No, if a fisherman has no boat, then, he is working for another fisherman in which case he is an employee. In such cases the fisherman employer will claim his employees wages as part of his stimulus claim.

      Like 14
    • @Anonymous says:

      are you referring to the trucking scams as well – all the water truck and three yard truck contracts?

  13. No defense... says:

    Geoffrey Cox didn’t know where the BVI was until he was hired to come here to represent those folks. He’s made other stupid comments before. Not only did he not even know where we were, he has no idea what has happened here between the BVI and UK. To say the UK should have helped the government with things like the Register of Interests. The BVI has said no to everything the UK has ever offered us. So he is just trying to put on the best defense he can put on for his millions. But really he’s listening to the testimony and it’s pretty certain he knows there isn’t much he can defend, because much of what has been done is not defensible.

    Like 11
  14. down2earth says:

    @ anonymous – will the fisherman use the engine as a sinker on his line or bait for his fish trap?

  15. @support for Auditor General says:

    Sir Geoffrey, you are so wrong with this line of questioning. You have had a fantastic career but if you continue with this course, it will be so wrong. People all over the island got checks, many were not farmers or fisher folk. Towards the end of your career you have decided to defend a guilty criminal. I hope the money is worth it!

  16. Peaches says:

    I see no need for rejoicing in this COI because if the BVI is found guilty of an fraudulent behaviour all ah we going to suffer when the Brits take over. Ee will hold our heads and bawl. They want to take us over and the first we will see on our streets will be two men kissing and hugging each other and all we will be able to do is turn our heads the other way and baw1!! We will suffer and we will be like strangers in our own country. Dark days are ahead. If you have not been praying, start now to pray. The real meaning of ‘Money is the root of all evil will come home to roost.” May God be with us all! If we think the virus that they let loose from China was bad, we ain’t see bad yet.

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