Myron Walwyn

Former Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn is facing a criminal charge over his role in the Elmore Stoutt High School wall project, but the National Democratic Party is standing by its former chairman and inviting him to run under its banner in the general election next year.

“We fully expect that in the matters surrounding the [ESHS] wall project, his claims of innocence will be vindicated by the courts,” the party noted in a statement issued last week. “We also look forward to, should he so choose, welcoming him back as a party candidate to contest the next general elections.”

On Nov. 1, Mr. Walwyn — who has maintained his innocence — was accused of breach of trust by a public officer in connection with his role in the controversial ESHS perimetre wall project, which was strongly criticised in the Commission of Inquiry’s April report and in a 2018 auditor general report.

The Nov. 23 NDP statement noted that the party has “utmost respect for the justice system” and “does not wish to prejudice the ongoing legal matter.” It then went on to tout Mr. Walwyn’s record as a party member since 2010. “He is a proven leader, and an outspoken and active advocate for our youth, our national pride, and for democratic principles and policies,” the statement claimed.

“In that vein he has worked diligently to advance our education system and develop our culture and our national pride and awareness.” The party also touted Mr. Walwyn’s contributions to the tourism sector through his businesses and his work as chairman of the BVI Tourist Board prior to being elected to office as an at-large representative in the 2011 general election. The NDP added that Mr. Walwyn has been a trusted member of the party ever since he joined the organisation in 2010. Mr. Walwyn was elected NDP chairman in 2018, succeeding long-serving leader Dr. Orlando Smith, but the party subsequently split amid infighting and lost its majority in the House of Assembly in the February 2019 general election.

Mr. Walwyn was also voted out of office, and in May 2019 he resigned from the NDP chairmanship. The party is now led by Eighth District Representative Marlon Penn, a former opposition leader who is currently serving as the minister of health and social development in the cross-party National Unity Government.

Before the court

Shortly after Mr. Walwyn was arrested and charged with breach of trust by a public officer on Nov. 1, he released a statement defending himself and raising questions about the long-running police investigation into the project. “This is a charge that I will vigorously defend as it does not enjoy the benefit of facts,” Mr. Walwyn wrote in a statement posted to Facebook.

“In my humble opinion, it is manifestly unjust.” Mr. Walwyn went on to express confidence in the judicial system to render a “fair and just decision” on the matter, but his statement nevertheless drew a sharp rebuke from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions before the end of the day “The statement, among other things, seeks to adversely influence the potential array of jurors who will eventually decide his fate and the fate of other persons similarly charged,” the office alleged. “Such rhetoric only serves to undermine the course of justice in the territory.”

Project history

The wall project — which commenced in December 2014 but allegedly was not completed — has faced criticism for years. In a 2018 report, Auditor General Sonia Webster blasted it for budget overruns and contract splitting, among other issues.

Ms. Webster alleged that the then-Ministry of Education and Culture overspent and ultimately failed to obtain good value for taxpayers’ money in part because the project was split into more than 70 work orders and 15 petty contracts. In March 2019, police announced that they had launched an investigation into the project, but for the next three years they provided few updates and announced no arrests.

Last year, however, COI Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom revisited Ms. Webster’s report in detail and used it as a basis for grilling public officials including Mr. Walwyn about the project. In his April report, Sir Gary echoed some of Ms. Webster’s criticisms and recommended that the police investigation be allowed to run its course. About two months after the release of the COI report, police announced in June that businessman Kelvin Thomas, of Chalwell Estate, had been charged in connection with the project.

He was accused of obtaining property by deception, making a false statement to a public officer, and possession of the proceeds of criminal conduct, police said at the time. Then police announced in October that Lorna Stevens, who as assistant secretary in Mr. Walwyn’s ministry helped manage the wall project, had been charged with breach of trust by a public officer and released on bail.