In the face of questions from Opposition Leader Marlon Penn in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, Premier Andrew Fahie stayed mum about the cost of the private security detail he used for several months last year before police officers took over the job.
The opposition has previously requested the information, and Mr. Fahie took a firm stance against disclosing the price.
“This is not a matter of where the taxpayers’ money is not hitting the target,” Mr. Fahie told the HOA last May. “This is a transparent process and my life is at stake. … I thank the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and I thank the private security and I don’t apologise for hiring them.”
However, when Mr. Penn again queried the premier about the cost this week, the opposition leader argued that the public has a right to know how tax dollars are being spent. In response, Mr. Fahie provided a list of expenses for private security firms contracted for the central government, but he didn’t provide the breakdown that was spent on his own detail.
He said the total spent from February 2019 to present across all ministries, including security details for the governor’s and premier’s offices, was $1,869,272.
Of that figure, the Governor’s Group paid $27,075; the Premier’s Office paid $553,931; the Ministry of Finance paid $374,670; the Ministry of Health and Social Development paid $51,406; the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture paid $752,790, which included security at the territory’s schools; the Ministry of Transportation, Works and Utilities paid $109,400; and the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration paid $0, according to the premier.
However, asked specifically which firms were contracted and why they were hired, Mr. Fahie said publicising that information would be a breach of security.
“If you want the information passed one-on-one, I have nothing to hide,” Mr. Fahie told the HOA. “I can give you amounts. But when speaking with some of the departments, they were concerned about the information getting out because of the nature of the security.”
Mr. Fahie said safety was the main reason for refusing to provide the list of contracted firms and refusing to explain the reasons for hiring them.
“Of course, I would never want to compromise the lives of any one of our citizens or public officers,” Mr. Penn said. “That is why I did not ask for the details and the specifics of the security arrangement. I only asked for the dollar amount, which I think is public knowledge. … I think it is important for the dollar amount, and how public funds are being dispensed should be shared.”
The opposition continued this line of questioning for each statutory body, and the premier
listed the amounts paid to each. All told, the statutory bodies tallied a total of $1,305,577 paid to private security firms, he said. The Financial Services Commission spent $133,003; Social Security spent $44,040; the National Bank of the Virgin Islands spent $116,402; and the BVI Health Services Authority spent $1,012,132, according to the premier.
However, Mr. Fahie stopped short of providing more information, reiterating that doing so could put security workers at risk. He again offered to provide Mr. Penn with more information privately.
The opposition leader said he expects to get the dollar amount and intent for engaging private security, even if it means getting them in private.