Former Police Commissioner Michael Matthews was not in favour of having barges assist with border security at the beginning of the COVID-induced lockdown, even as the Immigration and Customs Department was in support of this measure.
This is according to Premier Andrew Fahie during his recent hearing with the Commission of Inquiry (COI).
“We had correspondences, not directly to me but at least copied, where the Commissioner of Police (COP) was – he was not a fan of the ship, the barges – but Immigration and Customs were,” Premier Fahie told the COI.
Former COP wanted to accept free vessels
According to the Premier, the then-Commissioner of Police also reportedly supplied some documentation where persons wanted to offer smaller boats for free.
However, the Premier expressed some level of apprehension for this measure, citing safety and security concerns as well as financial protocols prohibiting the receipt of free gifts for any law enforcement agencies.
“The issue with that, my professor in college told me anything free means one of two things: Somebody paid for it already or somebody will pay for it after,” Fahie told the COI.
Smaller boats were a concern
The COI further heard that even though smaller boats were being rented by the Joint Task Force at the time, these became a concern at some stage.
“I must say, though, Commissioner, in full openness that the NSC (Nation Security Council), when we spoke with the Joint Task Force – and this is from them reporting to us — in the beginning they were renting smaller boats, and the smaller boats caused a concern with a lot of the officers,” Premier Fahie said.
The Premier said security operatives, through their unit head reported to NSC and expressed “concern for their safety on the water”.
He noted that they further complained that the boats “could not stay out on those waves or waters too long and take it.”
He told the COI that the main concern expressed was for a bigger vessel since the smaller vessels were made of fibreglass.
According to the Premier, another issue that came to the fore was about security operatives being in the line of fire. He did not, however, expound on what this meant or how the men might have been affected in this particular manner.
Abnormal times required emergency measures
Further bolstering his argument about the abnormal procurements done to patrol the VI’s waters, the Premier said he realised that he “had to move to get something out there to protect the water.”
“Was it done in terms of the normal procurement?” he asked rhetorically. “No, but nothing was done during that time in that way – whether it being the hiring of hotels, would be the hiring of boats, would be the hiring of cars.”
Insisting that his acts were done in good faith, Premier Fahie further told the COI that it was a time of emergency and he needed to ensure the people of the Virgin Islands were made safe.
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