Four opposition members called a press conference the day before last Thursday’s House of Assembly meeting and alleged that the current administration is engaging in nepotism and cronyism — charges Premier Andrew Fahie subsequently denied strongly.
“We have seen some issues that are of great concern, which threatens the democratic tenants of accountability, transparency and the governance that this unconventional administration vowed to uphold,” said Opposition Leader Marlon Penn.
Mr. Penn added that nepotism and cronyism are at an “all-time high” under this administration, in a process he called “a literal assembly line of one $90,000-plus contract after another.”
Auditors have often decried successive administrations’ widespread use of “petty contracts” under $100,000, for which the government does not have to follow the same tendering procedures as with larger contracts.
Because of the current administration’s actions, Mr. Penn said, well-qualified Virgin Islands residents are being denied opportunities throughout the central government and statutory bodies in favour of others chosen for political or personal reasons.
Mr. Penn also took aim at “over-the-top” spending, like Premier Andrew Fahie’s personal security contract, which Mr. Penn said costs $86,000 a month, totaling $688,000 over the past eight months, as well as a $300,000 bill for legal fees due to the lawsuit over whether Fourth District Representative Mark Vanterpool’s resignation and subsequent reversal were valid or not.
The topic of the corporate governance structure of statutory boards also came up, as Mr. Penn mentioned reports of board members overstepping their thority and intimidating and insulting staff of the agencies they oversee.
“Moreover, professionals at these organisations are being intimidated to resign; they are being demoted, reassigned and in some cases downright fired,” the opposition leader said. “These are young professionals with families, mortgages, who deserve a right to earn a living in our beloved Virgin Islands despite their political affiliations.”
Mr. Penn declined to name any individuals, but said that more information would be forthcoming.
“You have chairmans getting involved in the day-to-day operations at an executive level that is reserved for the executive of these boards and these statutory organisations,” he said. “That’s unheard of.”
Mr. Fahie denied the allegations during the House of Assembly the following day, describing the opposition’s tactics as a “PR game.”
He also accused the opposition of hypocrisy and criticised the actions of the previous administration, like funneling $7.2 million of taxpayers’ money into a failed deal with BVI Airways and failing to pay salary increments to public servants.
“They have messed up, but now they’ve become paragons of virtue to tell you what’s good and what’s not,” he said. “All of a sudden, they become the integrity police.”
He also alleged that certain opposition members were trying to sabotage his administration.
“There are members in there who don’t want to see this government get anything done,” he said. “So they’re trying to frighten out the public servants, and also hold conversations with other entities to try to make sure that we don’t get nothing done.”
During a question-and-answer portion of the press conference, Mr. Vanterpool took questions from the media regarding vendors at the Crafts Alive Village who are facing eviction because of delayed rent payments.
Mr. Vanterpool said he wasnot familiar with the details ofthe matter, but urged leniency for vendors who have struggled to bounce back because of the decreased cruise tourism following the 2017 storms.
Mr. Penn also denied suggestions that he has been neglecting his role as Eighth District representative, pointing out that facilities at Long Bay beach are almost completed, a football stadium is in the works, and various road repairs have been carried out.
Also at the press conference were opposition members Julian Fraser (R-D3) and Alvera Maduro-Caines (R-D6). The fifth member, Mitch Turnbull, did not attend because he was traveling, his colleagues said.