A major concern has been raised over the general overseeing of the territory’s finances; this after several supplementary bills dating as far back as a decade ago have only now come before the House of Assembly.
According to the Virgin Islands Constitution, a supplementary bill must be brought to the House to ‘regularise’ or balance the territory’s accounts, for a given financial year, when monies allocated for a particular purpose were either underbudgeted or not budgeted at all.
Supplementary bills are usually brought at the end of each financial year but Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith only introduced a supplementary bill for the year 2007, today (December 28) — a gaping eleven years after.
Premier Smith is also introducing supplementary bills for the years 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Newly-appointed Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton — who served under the Smith administration up till recently — described the situation as “unacceptable”.
“We cannot continue to run the government in this kind of fashion. Whether I was over there (in government) or over here (in the opposition), it is unacceptable,” Skelton said.
Former Opposition Leader Andrew Fahie, in the meantime, said the situation raises several “red flags” with persons responsible for the finance portfolio.
“If it (the territory’s accounts) is off from all those years before, the question is: how far are we now, and what else will we find when we continue to dig over the years that we have missed? I’m not saying somebody willfully done it. But, I can’t say ‘not’ either because it might be something that somebody not being vigilant with their job in the Ministry of Finance over the last few years.”
Not about politics: This happened under VIP and NDP
While noting that this massive accounting blunder spanned two administrations — the Virgin Islands Party (2007 to 2011) and the National Democratic Party (2011 to present) — government minister Myron Walwyn noted that the situation transcends ‘politics’.
He said the real issue has to do with technocrats that have been within the finance ministry over the years.
He said finance ministers should not be blamed for the problems within the ministry.
“Some of us give the impression as if a minister is responsible for every single thing in his ministry and he does every single thing — we know that is not true. Most times ministers deal with policy. Yes, they push people but there are technocrats on the ground who execute the responsibilities,” Walwyn said.
“I know the talk would almost suggest that the current Minister of Finance (Premier Smith) would have done something or not paid attention to something. This is not his job. Let us be real and be honest … Yes, he should have paid attention — perhaps he should have. But, we have a problem of capacity that we have to address at the core of what we are doing,” added Walwyn, who noted that these problematic years happened under the leadership of two different finance ministers from two different administrations.
All seven supplementary bills were tabled in the House after the Office of the Auditor General discovered inconsistencies with the finances over the aforementioned years.
“The bills, therefore … is to complete the process of regularising this over-expenditure … to ensure compliance with the Constitution and to bring the accounts in line with the Auditor General’s report. This is simply a cleanup exercise and there is no allocation of new monies involved in this process,” Finance Minister Smith told the House on Friday.