By Davion Smith, BVI News Online Journalist
While claiming that he has an open door policy, Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith has told vendors and business owners not to sit quietly when they don’t receive payment on time from his government.
“If ever a local small business feels that his or her bills are not being paid in a timely fashion, they ought not sit silent. They should raise their concern with the relevant ministry and, if that does not get them satisfaction, they should know that my door is always open,” he said.
Premier Smith made the declaration this week in response to fresh accusations that his National Democratic Party (NDP) administration has been paying certain vendors late.
Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fahie made the claim as part of a motion of no-confidence he moved unsuccessfully to have Premier Smith stripped of his finance portfolio.
The premier explained why, under some circumstances, the money is paid late.
“As the Honourable Leader of the Opposition knows, the budget for Government is made with anticipation of monies being collected during the year to meet established targets.”
“He is also aware that, because of the cyclical nature of receipts coming into Government, there are times when inflows are low. These periods are followed by peak inflow periods when excess monies are received and bills can be honoured in a more timely fashion,” Premier Smith said.
He further stated that, in an attempt to ‘minimise’ the fallout, his ministry has implemented a policy to settle all bills within 30 days of receiving the relevant invoice.
“This process can only work, however, if vendors submit bills in a timely manner to the respective ministries or departments engaging them. We are working closely with our vendors and small businesses to make sure that happens,” the premier underscored.
Premier Smith, in the meantime, is insisting that the difficulties some residents experienced with cheques from his ministry don’t necessary mean the government is broke.
“My government does not bounce cheques,” he claimed.
“There has never been an instance during my time as Minister of Finance that cheques were written that was not sufficiently covered by accounts held by the Government of the Virgin Islands.”
Premier Smith added that Fahie knows ‘full well’ that the Treasury does not prepare a cheque if funds are not available in Government coffers.
“I am aware of one instance where cheques written by the Government of the Virgin Islands were returned, and it was quickly resolved. However, this had nothing to do with sufficiency of funds, but instead was due to an administrative error – a fact that the bank involved has publicly acknowledged,” Premier Smith continued.
“There have been instances where particular accounts were overdrawn, but these overdrawn accounts were always covered by other accounts held by the Government of the Virgin Islands, or by financial instruments created for such a purpose – such as debt financing or recently by a credit facility, all of which would have been brought to the Honourable House of Assembly for approval,” added Premier Smith.
His government last year effectively borrowed $25 million from CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank to help cover expenses such as outstanding bills.
Premier Smith has maintained that such move also resulted from cash flow issues, and does not indicate that Government is broke.
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