The Commission of Inquiry (COI) report has called for a wholesale review of the BVI‘s welfare benefits and grants system.
The report’s author, Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom said this should also include grants received from House of Assembly (HOA) members as well as grants from various government ministries.
The Commissioner said the review’s ambit should move towards a more open, transparent and single system of benefits that is based on clearly expressed and published criteria without unnecessary discretionary powers.
According to Sir Gary, “such discretionary powers should only be maintained where necessary; and, where any such powers are maintained, then they should be subject to clearly expressed and published guidance.”
He further suggested that the review should be conducted as soon as practical by a body established for the purpose and said it should draw upon experience and expertise within the BVI and include expert input with regard to the design of any new scheme.
Sir Gary suggested that this review should not await the outcome of other reviews such as a proposed constitutional review for instance.
Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley yesterday announced a shift away from the decentralised way in which welfare assistance has been disbursed in the BVI, but it is unclear what review if any has been conducted in this regard.
Full audit on HOA grants
Meanwhile, Sir Gary recommended that past grants disbursed by the HOA should be fully audited by the Auditor General’s Office or some similar independent body and presented to the Governor once concluded.
He said this should include recent COVID-19 assistance grants as well as HOA members grants that were given over the past three years.
According to Sir Gary, this should be executed even in the absence of any likely paper trail as has been the case in the past.
“Whilst I appreciate the difficulties of such an audit in circumstances in which there is a dearth of documentation, an independent audit enquiry should enable any further appropriate steps, such as a criminal investigation and the recovery of public money,” the Commissioner stated.
He said these recoveries should include any public official that may have acted improperly in enabling or making the grant available to be taken.
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