By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
Premier Andrew Fahie has said Neville ‘Sheep’ Smith never had to declare his company’s interest to provide business services for the emancipation celebrations, but only did so in the interest of transparency and accountability.
The Premier made those statements amid resistance from the parliamentary opposition when he moved a motion to exempt Smith from having to vacate his seat to provide those services.
Addressing legislators in the House of Assembly on Thursday, Premier Fahie said: “There is no law that anyone could bring — and I don’t care how eloquent they would interpret the law — that could show that we could bring this (the exemption motion) here. There is nothing in Section 67 [of the Constitution] that this government is violating and no lawyer worth their salt could find it. We came here on our own admission. We are transparent, and we are unconventional … so the people could know what their elected officials are involved in.”
“[Therefore], as the leader of government business, I told the member (Smith) that, out of caution, come to the House and ask for permission because right now I done see there are those who are after this government,” Fahie added.
What is the value of contract?
At the time, the Premier was responding to direct requests for his government to disclose the specifics of the contract such as the value/cost.
The Opposition argued that the cost was critical because it would help to determine whether the services should have been open for public bid.
Fahie, however, rebutted: “The contract is not in question, if the contract under the law were in question, we would have brought the contract.”
He backed his position by arguing that Smith’s company was not doing business with ‘central government’ but rather with the ‘Virgin Festival & Fairs Committee’, which is considered a statutory body.
Fahie said, when the Constitution was drafted, no statutory bodies had been implemented as yet. The Constitution explicitly states that a member shall vacate his seat if he/she enters into a contract with “the Government of the Virgin Islands”.
And while noting that the Constitution was never amended to included government statutory bodies, Premier Fahie said: “In our humble opinion, that is an anomaly that needs to be clarified in the future. In the constitutional review, we have to look about that area among many other areas because I cannot see how the statutory bodies can be exempted when they too are spending the government’s money.”
Attorney General agrees
When invited to give his legal input, Attorney General Baba Aziz agreed with Premier Fahie.
“My interpretation of Section 67 (e) with respect to the government of the Virgin Islands is that it does not extend to statutory corporations. And I would invite members if and when we have the opportunity to have a constitutional revision if members do want the Constitution to extend to statutory corporations we may be able to do so,” Aziz said.
He continued: “Unless you extend it [the constitution], it does not apply, because this clause does not extend to VI Festival and Fairs Committee.”
Exemption motion passes, split votes
The motion to exempt Smith from vacating passed with a majority of six favourable votes. It received support from all government legislators except for Kye Rymer who was absent and Neville Sheep Smith who could not vote.
Fourth District Representative Mark Vanterpool voted against the move, while his other opposition colleagues abstained from voting.
Sixth District Representative Alvera Maduro Caines was also absent during the voting process.
Report on festival’s expenditure coming
In the meantime, Culture Minister Dr Natalio Wheatley informed the House that he will bring a full report on the expenditure of the festival at the conclusion of the festivities.
Smith was named as one of the directors of Frontline Systems, a company that provided sound and staging services for the recently-held Buju Banton show and is again providing those services for the upcoming Emancipation festivities.
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