When will politicians learn?
Once again, Auditor General Sonia Webster has carried out her mandate with exacting professionalism. In two recent reports that should make taxpayers’ blood boil, she alleged apparently egregious government wastage associated with contracts awarded under former Premier Andrew Fahie to consultant Claude Skelton-Cline and EZ Shipping Limited.
Given how many times Ms. Webster has been proven right in recent decades, one would think that elected leaders would humble themselves enough to accept her findings and focus on implementing her recommendations.
But no. Though some of them rightly expressed regret over Mr. Skelton-Cline’s contracts, the debate on the EZ Shipping deals was another story. Instead of denouncing the apparent wastage identified by the auditor general, many legislators focused instead on a tired old tactic: criticising her work in an apparent attempt to defend the indefensible. And once again, their claims fell flat.
They should review history. Again and again, the auditor general has been vindicated in the face of political criticism. If anyone harboured sincere doubt about her professionalism, it should have been cleared up when the recent Commission of Inquiry retraced the steps leading up to several of her reports and agreed with her findings on all counts.
During the COI, in fact, the government’s expensive taxpayer-funded United Kingdom lawyer tried his best to poke holes in her work on behalf of elected leaders who were inconvenienced by it. He failed. Instead of capitulating to his bully tactics, Ms. Webster answered his questions with a straightforward honesty that provided a refreshing contrast to many elected officials’ own testimony before the body.
The UK lawyer’s comeuppance would have been comical if the whole scenario were not so unfortunate.
In the end, the COI showed how successive Virgin Islands governments have stalled governance reforms by refusing to heed sound advice from auditors. But the probe also showed how the auditor general and certain other public officers have worked tirelessly to improve the status quo despite attacks and other political pressure.
After the COI, it is shocking to see that so many elected leaders seem to have missed these glaring lessons entirely.
Kudos to Ms. Webster and other public officials who have done so much to push for better governance. These VI heroes are doubtlessly a big part of the reason the UK did not implement direct rule following the COI report, and they have gone unsung for too long.
We have no doubt that they will keep up the good work. And if elected leaders don’t start lending support, voters should kick them out.
In light of the COI’s findings, there is no way forward for the territory that doesn’t involve following the recommendations of conscientious government auditors like Ms. Webster.