By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
The newly-installed BVI Airport Authority (BVIAA) board has unearthed that some $5 million intended to develop the runway at the TB Lettsome International Airport was instead spent on paying salaries and operational costs.
Describing the situation as ‘beyond catastrophic’, Premier Andrew Fahie told the House of Assembly on Tuesday that the situation requires “critically urgent interventions to prevent the collapse of our territory’s key economic drivers”.
“In the one month that the new board of the BVIAA has been in place, they have uncovered a rabbit hole of mismanagement, deception, profligacy and quite possibly misappropriation of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. I call it a ‘rabbit hole’ because it just keeps getting deeper and deeper; twisting and turning in unexpected and startling ways as if it were some kind of wonderland,” Premier Fahie said.
No financial audit for years, probe to be launched
Fahie said it was even more concerning to discover the lack of audited financial statements since 2014.
“It is required that financials be submitted to the central government six months after the end of the previous financial year,” he argued.
The Premier further said there will be a forensic audit conducted at the BVIAA “to examine the pattern of high spending with lack of approval and absence of accountability”.
“That investigation will commence in two weeks and should tell our citizens where their money has gone — and in the event any malfeasance is found — who is responsible, and how they should be dealt with,” he added
Premier Fahie said the BVIAA is facing a serious ‘cash flow problem’ and roughly $1 million is owed in outstanding bills.
“How a board, management and a government could have allowed these things to happen with such a critical piece of our transportation network is beyond understanding. Were they in the dark? Did they know and bury their heads in the sand? Or did they know and were helpless?” Fahie asked.
Meanwhile, Premier Fahie informed that in 2017 before the hurricanes, a $5 million loan was granted by the former NDP administration to rehabilitate the runway at the Beef Island-based airport.
“This money was not spent on resurfacing the runway but on salaries and operational expenses. I am advised that the Authority did not write to the government to notify the government that the funds were not used for the intended purpose, and to explain how, where and why the money had been redirected as is required,” Fahie said.
“In the meantime, the runway continued deteriorating,” he added.
Fahie, who is also Minister of Finance, noted that the BVIAA was placed on notice by Air Safety Support International some time last year. The notice was in relation to friction on the runway which had dropped below acceptable levels.
“I am advised that the BVIAA was threatened with restrictions that would have affected the usable length of the runway, and this would have prevented some of the main airlines that operate at the airport from landing and taking off. Airlift to the BVI would have been shut down,” the Premier disclosed.
He said this forced the BVIAA to address the problem and the government had to again channel a second loan to the Board in the sum of $5.5 million. That last loan was finally used for works that were completed in June, he further said.
Old BVIAA board tried deceive management
Fahie said when the BVIAA’s management met with the former Board, they wanted to deceive them.
“Attempts were made to pull the wool over their eyes and convince the [new] Board that these two sums — $5 million and $5.5 million – were not loans but grants. This attempt to mislead the new Board was thwarted by the presence of the Financial Secretary who sits as an ex-officio member of the Board, and who was able to confirm that the Authority is obligated to repay these sums. Thank God for checks and balances,” Fahie stated.
In the meantime, Fahie said ‘key pieces of documentation cannot be found’ relating to the first loan of $5 million.
The Premier said the new Board is now looking at reorganising and restructuring the Authority and its operations. It is also looking to trim some of the excesses.
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