Speaker of the House Julian Willock kicked off the 11th sitting of the House of Assembly on June 26 by seeking a formal apology from Governor Gus Jaspert regarding a report on the failed BVI Airways deal.
Mr. Willock took issue with the semantics of a statement Mr. Jaspert issued on June 9 about how the House handled the document.
The governor said in his statement that the House “discussed” a report the auditor general submitted at the beginning of the year detailing government’s unsuccessful $7 million investment to establish direct flights between Miami and Beef Island.
However, because the deal is now the subject of a criminal investigation, Premier Andrew Fahie said members of the House could not debate the report when he laid it on the table on May 28.
In a June 15 letter to the governor, which Mr. Willock provided to the press on Saturday, the speaker asked that the record be corrected to show the House did not discuss the report in order to avoid any negative impacts on future criminal prosecutions.
He also went a step further, requesting the governor apologise for allegedly causing the report to be laid past deadline in HOA.
“While I am very anxious to see this matter go away, I also suggest that an apology to the legislative branch on the late arrival of the report could be an additional step in the right direction,” Mr. Willock wrote.
Mr. Jaspert, however, continued to maintain that he handled the report properly.
In his June 9 statement, he explained that because he received the document on Feb. 7 and passed it to Cabinet by April 23, the premier had time to bring it to the House by the three-month deadline mandated by the Audit Act.
During a press conference on June 30, the governor said he wouldn’t discuss the details of the BVIA project because of the police investigation. But he said the VI does need to take the opportunity to learn from past mistakes outlined in such reports.
“I believe this and previous reports show that there are fundamental deficiencies in our systems,” Mr. Jaspert said. “It’s true that we have rules and processes in place to protect against this kind of thing. But this report and others tell us that they aren’t working always as they should. We need to learn the lessons and introduce change in our systems. I would like this to become a priority for our government as we go forward so that we can have the highest standards of governance and prevent it from happening again.”
Regarding when he laid the report, he said the “ticking clock” started when he received it on Feb. 7, not when the report was completed on Jan. 27.
“Obviously, this is a significant report which needed a lot of thinking through legally with the cases that are there,” he said, adding that he brought the report to Cabinet during the first regular Cabinet meeting after a string of special meetings to address the pandemic.
He said it is up to the premier and House to schedule sittings and items for discussion, and they had adequate time to do so.
“In terms of myself discharging the duty to get it to Cabinet in the timescales, it could have come to the House if people wanted it to come to the House,” Mr. Jaspert said. “That was fully discharged.”
Mr. Jaspert said he responded to the speaker’s letter but did not disclose the contents of his correspondence.