During a Dec. 28 House of Assembly sitting, several legislators expressed concern that seven supplementary appropriation bills spanning from 2007 to 2013 had been delayed by many years.
Though Premier Dr. Orlando Smith described the bills before the debate as merely a “clean-up exercise” and maintained that there was no allocation of new money involved in the process, lawmakers argued that the bills should not have taken so long to reach the House.
The final acts — several of which were amended before they were passed — have not been published yet, but in the original bills the total additional expenditure amounts, which include recurrent and capital costs, ranged from $16,890,355 in 2010 to $49,200,397 in 2007.
Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton — who was recently fired from his position as health and social development minister after organising a new political party — said the territory’s finances should be managed better.
“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind or in this country’s mind that this procedure is unacceptable. You know, we’re doing stuff from 2007,” he said.
Mr. Skelton also took the chance to reference his recent move across the aisle.
“We cannot continue to run the government in this kind of fashion. Whether I was over there or over here, it is unacceptable, Madam Speaker, by any stretch of the imagination. None of us who are in business run a business this way because eventually you don’t know what you have and what you have to spend,” he said.
The new opposition leader added that because the government is nearing the end of its term, the National Democratic Party was “cleaning the shop” and “putting things in order.”
While Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn admitted that the delay was a problem that should be addressed “head on,” he urged lawmakers to be as “objective” as possible.
“The season of blame is upon us,” he said, referencing the upcoming election. “But we have to look at the problem if we’re interested in fixing our country.”
Both the Virgin Islands Party and the NDP were in power for part of the time during the years of the appropriation bills being brought forward, he pointed out — and that period included two different finance ministers.
“We have a problem of capacity that we have to address at the core of what we’re doing,” he said.
Mr. Walwyn argued that ministers often deal with policy while technocrats on the ground execute other responsibilities. More training should be given to both the Ministry of Finance and other ministries, he added.
“You have to address systemic issues that you have, and there’s no excuse for it and you can’t complain [it’s because of] the minister of finance,” he said.
Later in the sitting, all appropriation bills were passed unanimously.