On the heels of a controversy where he quietly held a government contract for eight months before declaring it to the House of Assembly (HOA), Deputy Speaker Neville Smith is scheduled to return to the legislative body seeking exemption from vacating his seat for a new contract with government.
According to the order paper for the next sitting of the House that commences today, Smith’s company, Caribbean Security Limited, wants to provide services for the installation of access control, video surveillance, and burglar alarm systems in the Ministry of Finance. As part of that contract, the company must also provide additional installations such as a building-wide fire system at RFG Place in Road Town.
The total cost for these services is $87,013.
As a director of Caribbean Security Limited, Smith must vacate his seat in the HOA if his firm wants to enter into a contract with the government. However, territory’s constitution allows for an exemption if Smith discloses the nature of the contract “before becoming a party to a contract … or, as soon as practicable, after becoming interested” in the contract with the government.
Doing business with gov’t years before becoming politician
Smith’s company has been doing business with the government long before he ever entered politics. And under justifiable circumstances, he and any other legislator is able to engage in such contracts.
But Smith and the governing Virgin Islands Party government has been the subject of heavy scrutiny and criticism because the last time Smith’s company was contracted by government back in November 2020, the public or the HOA was not made aware about it till July 2021, nearly a year later.
I didn’t tell HOA because I didn’t know of the contract, COI hears
Commission of Inquiry (COI) questioned Smith about this when he appeared in a hearing yesterday, September 21.
“I have pulled myself away from those entities (my businesses) since being elected … I don’t know anything about contracts. I’m not aware till when I ask a question or something is given to me. That is why these contracts here took so long. I did not know of them at the time,” Smith told the COI.
“I have a business partner who does the day-to-day running of Caribbean Security [and] I am not privy to most of whatever is being done with contracts … The most I am involved with the company is, because I’m a signatory of cheques, I might sign the cheques and have my wife deal with the day-to-day running of that part of it — the signing of cheques,” the first-term legislator further explained.
Smith can’t give notice if he doesn’t know
Section 67 of the Virgin Islands Constitution speaks to HOA members vacating their seat if they or their firm enter into a contract with the government. Examining that section, the government’s attorney in the COI, Sir Geoffrey Cox, said the starting point for when a legislator should give notice to the House is “before becoming a party to a contract” OR “as soon as practicable, after becoming interested” in the contract with the government.
“It might not be ‘practicable’ if he (Smith) didn’t know about,” Sir Geoffery argued.
Sir Geoffery is expected to give further legal submissions on the matter at a later time.
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