Opposition Leader Marlon Penn holds a letter he said Premier Andrew Fahie sent Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone in early December urging that two senior BVI Health Services Authority officials be placed on administrative leave. (Photo:SCREENSHOT)

Three of the four opposition members — Opposition Leader Marlon Penn, Julian Fraser and Mitch Turnbull — held their first press conference of the year on Feb. 2.

During the event, Mr. Penn answered questions regarding a letter that Premier Andrew Fahie reportedly sent to Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone.

Online reports allege that the letter included a list of demands related to a preliminary audit report suggesting fraud and misconduct at the BVI Health Services Authority.

The premier reportedly asked Mr. Malone to ensure that the internal auditor who authored the report be reinstated and that a forensic audit into the finances and expenditures of the BVIHSA commence.

He also reportedly urged that two senior BVIHSA officials be placed on administrative leave in response to the audit. If the measures weren’t taken, news outlets reported, the premier said he would forward the preliminary audit report to the police commissioner and call for a criminal investigation.

‘No authority’

Mr. Penn, however, criticised the premier for sending the letter.

“The premier has no authority to give directives to the board or to the minister to give to the board,” said Mr. Penn (R-D8). “These are serious corporate governance issues. Even in the heart of a commission of inquiry we’re still usurping the legislation that we’re supposed to address and maintain as legislators.”

Mr. Penn said the Dec. 3 letter — which he had in hand during Friday’s press conference — was signed by the premier.

“We have to make sure that no rogue administration sets precedents that impact all of us,” he said.

Mr. Penn did not respond to the Beacon’s request for a copy of the letter.

Other issues

Also during the press conference last week, Mr. Fraser (R- D3) commented on several areas of concern, including infrastructure, the hurricane recovery, and water woes.

“Please go and fix these things that I’m talking about,” he urged the government.

Mr. Turnbull (R-D2) said he hopes the Jost Van Dyke Primary School will be completed this year, and added that water concerns “continue to plague” the people of his Second District.

“I heard that this government is now looking again to go to Social Security to take some more money,” Mr. Turnbull said. “I heard after the $40 million they are looking to do that.”

He also talked about issues in the BVIHSA, the BVI Ports Authority, and other boards.

“Even the appearance that things are quote-unquote running smoothly: If we pay closer attention, if we dig a little bit deeper, if we look a little bit harder, we’ll be aware of what’s going on,” he said.

Labour issues

Mr. Penn commented on the recent traction seen in the tourism industry, commending businesses with overcoming challenges posed by Covid-19.

However, he also raised concern about labour issues and expressed his displeasure about the length of time it takes to process work permits.

“Some businesses have expressed to me that some of the permits are taking as long as six months for some of them to be approved,” he said. “These are employees that have been with the businesses. Businesses were trying to keep these employees because of their skills.”

He noted that the labour minister has blamed the problems on staffing shortages and a quickly rebounding economy.

“What it is is mismanagement,” Mr. Penn said.

Statutory boards

He also complained that institutional issues have led to senior personnel leaving statutory bodies.

“We’re seeing those chickens coming home to roost in terms of the ineffective management of these facilities — namely the BVI Airports Authority,” he said.

Other areas of concern, he said, include the $6 million in stimulus grants to farmers and fishers and cuts to the budget for seniors.

“There is one scenario where one household got close to $50,000 from fishing grants,” he said. “Within the budget, you have $50,000 allocated in the budget to address the structural issues surrounding fishing and farming.”

He added that up to 33 percent of funds for senior citizens were cut in 2021, a move he said he strongly opposed.