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Premier undermines governor’s reason for using force

Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith

Premier and Minister of Finance Dr D Orlando Smith

Premier Dr D Orlando Smith has tried to undermine Governor John Duncan’s explanation for using his constitutional powers to force Government to allocate an additional $800,000 in budgetary support to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF).

When the governor called an emergency press conference yesterday (March 16) to announce his plan to take the money by force, he suggested that staff at the Ministry of Finance had not been adhering to certain instructions given by Premier Smith, who also is the finance minister.

“The premier has repeatedly issued instructions for funds to be disbursed. They are not being disbursed. This is a problem you are all aware of, and therefore I am not prepared to allow this to happen in the field of internal security, which is my direct responsibility as governor.”

A few hours after the governor’s emergency press briefing at the Central Administration Complex in Road Town, Premier Smith issued a statement and took to the airwaves to clarify his government’s position.

He also refuted the reason Governor Duncan has given for taking the $800,000 by force.

“I have never during my tenure as minister of finance received anything but the fullest cooperation from the Ministry of Finance on these matters.”

“Monies can only be disbursed after proper paperwork has been received in the Ministry of Finance. The ministry would require documents such as invoices, [and] agreements or contracts that would need to accompany payments made in order that an audit trail can exist. This is required in order to observe proper governance and transparency principles,” Premier Smith further said while noting that the disbursement of funds is a tedious processes.

‘Extremely regrettable’

Premier Smith went to describe Governor Duncan’s action as ‘extremely regrettable’.

“His actions are especially concerning since, in addition to always providing the police with financial resources, the governor, the deputy premier, the commissioner [of police] and I meet bi-weekly in the very National Security [Council] meetings where concerns related to safety and security are dealt with. We have always dealt with these in an amicable and effective manner. I am fully confident that this will continue!” he said.

Inside the police budget

Premier Smith also denied claims that there has been a reduction in budgetary allocation to the police.

“I am not sure what the motive of the governor was in calling the press conference. But the people of this territory will recall that we have just concluded our budgetary process where the Honourable House [of Assembly] has allocated $16.1 million dollars to the police force – an increase over 2016 of $770,000 or approximately 5 percent. There is no shortfall in budget. To the contrary, there is an increase!”

“In short, the RVIPF has or are about to receive not only their increase budgetary sums, but also other payments at the Treasury that are needed to carry out its duties of safety and security. Let me assure the people of the Virgin Islands that special budgetary attention is always given to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. The same is true as well for the other law enforcement organs of the Governor’s Group such as the Magistracy, the Attorney General Chambers, and the Supreme Court,” added Premier Smith.

The overall allocation to the RVIPF has increased over the past 10 years. While the ’emolument’ aspect of those allocations has increased, the operational aspect has remained virtually stagnant.

During a recent meeting of the parliament’s Standing Finance Committee, for example, Commissioner of Police Michael Matthews noted that he inherited a budget of $15.3 million when he assumed office on April 10 last year. He explained that, of the amount inherited, $13.3 million was for emoluments, and the remaining $2 million was for managing the RVIPF operationally.

The commissioner further explained that the operational funding for the year 2017 was lower than that of 2012, and equated to a 37 percent reduction to the operational element of the budget.

Plans being processed

Meanwhile, Premier Smith, in his statement, noted some major police-related initiatives that are still being processed by his ministry.

He provided the following list of the initiatives being processed:

  • Operation Lucan – National Security Council has approved the continuation of this important police operation and has requested $116,000. The Ministry of Finance is awaiting formal requests to process the funding.
  • Purchase of six interceptor vehicles, to arrive in May 2017. The cheque is at Treasury for collection since December 2016.
  • Upgrade of CCTV system. The cheque is at Treasury for collection since December 2016.
  • Purchase of law enforcement equipment from TEC supply. The cheque is at Treasury for collection since December 2016.
  • Renovations to cells at the Road Town Police Station. The cheque is at Treasury for collection since December 2016.
  • Maintenance of engines of police boats. The cheque is at Treasury for collection since December 2016.
  • Sanitary ware for cells. The cheque is at Treasury for collection since December 2016.
  • Three new initiatives in relation to police recruits regarding the purchase of vehicles for police training, police training, and supplies for new equipment for police training camp all approved and paper works received.

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