A plan for managing the territory’s borders during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been drafted and provided to members of the National Security Council, Premier Andrew Fahie said last Thursday in the House of Assembly in response to a question from opposition member Mitch Turnbull.
However, when pressed for details about the plan, the cost of barges used for surveying territorial waters, and the size of the marine fleet across all law enforcement agencies, Mr. Fahie declined to provide any information, citing potential risks to law enforcement officers and possible impediments to government functions.
“Given the sensitivity and the confidentiality of this initiative, the details cannot and should not be released in the public domain for security reasons,” he said of the border management strategy.
Rather than providing details about the “comprehensive border security strategic plan” that he said was drafted by the Joint Border Patrol Task Force, the premier broadly summarised some of the achievements of the task force and other law enforcement bodies over the past year, including the detainment of illegal entrants and cash and drug seizures.
Mr. Fahie also declined to provide details when asked by Mr. Turnbull (R-D2) about the cost of the barges helping secure territorial waters, and about the “composite and status of law enforcement marine vessels.”
Though Mr. Fahie said he would furnish the opposition member with these details privately, he claimed to have been advised by law enforcement officials not to publicly disclose this information.
“To publicly divulge how many of the vessels are operational would open the door for a breach of security within [the] operation of the government of the Virgin Islands,” Mr. Fahie said, adding, “It is not advisable to potentially expose these officers who are already putting their lives on the line to ensure the safety of ours.”
Counting the costs
This is not the first time members of the government and the opposition have sparred over the cost of the border-patrol barges, which were first announced last August.
Last September, Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone pushed back against Mr. Turnbull’s claims that the government was spending $17,000 per day for three barges to be used as staging platforms for border control.
Mr. Malone said the government was paying “$4,667 per station,” though he did not specify how often this sum was paid or how many barges were being employed.
At that rate per day, the territory would have been paying $420,000 monthly for three barges.
Later, a summary of a Feb. 27 Cabinet meeting stated that EZ Shipping Limited had received a $360,000 contract to provide two barges to be used as “radar platforms” for monitoring the territory’s sea borders from Dec. 23 to Jan. 23.
The Cabinet summary released did not say when government went from paying for three barges to two, but even if it switched to the $360,000 monthly rate after one month it would have paid more than $1.8 million for continuous surveillance through Jan. 22.
When the initiative was announced last August, officials did not provide details of who received the contract or how long government intended to pay for the barges’ use.
Government was not publishing Cabinet updates at the time.