The House of Assembly voted on Monday to exempt Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone from vacating his seat despite his position as director of the companies Island Block Ltd and Caribbean Basin Enterprises (BVI) Ltd, which hold government contracts for storage space and various sewerage works, respectively.
The lengthy debates for each motion followed a heated discussion on government transparency in a July 25 HOA sitting over contracts with Deputy Speaker Neville Smith’s company Frontline Systems, which rented sound equipment to the Virgin Islands Festivals and Fairs Committee.
Premier Andrew Fahie addressed concerns raised during the July meeting, saying that he brought the motion for three reasons: because it is constitutionally required; to set a standard of government transparency; and to clarify reports about Mr. Malone, who he said had been “vilified based on falsehoods, misinformation, and errant nonsense.”
The motion, he pointed out, had originally been on the order paper for the Aug. 1 HOA meeting, but he removed it because of an issue with the wording.
He defended the contract with CBE, saying that the company was chosen because of its qualifications and not because of its connections to Mr. Malone.
He added that CBE was “an established professional company” that has offered water and sewerage services since 1995, and pointed out that many of the agreements were renewals or extensions of contracts that CBE has had with government for about ten years, starting long before he was elected to office for the first time in February of this year.
Members of the opposition including Opposition Leader Marlon Penn, Third District Representative Julian Fraser and Second District Representative Mitch Turnbull urged Cabinet members to be cautious in avoiding conflicts of interest, even when they are constitutionally permitted.
Mr. Fraser suggested that even if elected officials are allowed to hold both their private-sector and public-sector positions, they should step down from any directorships simply to avoid the possibility or appearance of wrongdoing.
Mr. Fahie brushed off the suggestion, saying that elected officials will invite scrutiny no matter what.
“Once you get elected, even if you are a pastor, you’re now automatically a thief,” he said. “And there’s nothing that you’re going to do to get those stigma off nowhere in the world.”
He added that setting the precedent Mr. Fraser recommended would deprive many politicians of their livelihood.
“Once you’re elected … does not give anyone the right to make sure that you become bankrupt,” he said, adding, “People have a notion that once you get elected you go into a barrel of money, and you could never be broke.”
Scrutiny from abroad
Several opposition members also pointed out that avoiding the appearance of corruption helps prevent international scrutiny and imposition from the United Kingdom.
“The world continues to change. This BVI community is a target,” Mr. Turnbull said. “And us, especially us in this honourable House, are targets from our own, whether inside or outside. Don’t give unnecessary ammunition to persons to scrutinise us.”
Mr. Fahie defended himself against the opposition’s criticisms, saying that politicians should not have to follow subjective ethical guidelines besides the law and that requiring them to do so is a “slippery slope.”