Auditor General Sonia Webster has accused former Premier Andrew Fahie, of repeatedly taking efforts to overstep his legislative authority during COVID-19.
In her audit report on contracts for static marine platforms between the government and EZ Shipping, Webster said throughout the COVID
-19 lockdown in 2020 and thereafter, there were ongoing efforts by the then-Premier to assume responsibility for border security, which constitutionally lies under the ambit of the governor.
Webster said this was shown through ongoing correspondence which sought to control and exclude the then-governor’s offers of UK surveillance assistance for, and contribution to, the territory’s border challenges.
According to Webster, Fahie
also demonstrated this through the tendering for border security equipment (land based platforms) without consultation or approval of the National Security Council (NSC) or the governor and the launching of EZ shipping barges, without any legislative authority or approval.
The Auditor General said this activity led to a number of legislative failures and costly missteps.
“There is a need for the roles with respect to border security to be fully articulated so that persons are aware of their responsibilities and limitations,” Webster commented in the report. “The failure to do so can potentially result in further confusion and overstepping of authority.”
The report recommended that there should be clear legislative repercussions at all levels for persons who disregard legislative authority and knowingly commit the government to an expenditure in a manner that is not approved.
Don’t be naive to the play
In the meantime, Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley, while debating the report in the House of Assembly, challenged Webster’s conclusion in the report, suggesting that there was something improper about her findings.
According to the Premier, Webster concluded that the Customs Department does not have the legislative remit for border security and the appropriate agency with the legislative remit for border security is actually the police. Dr Wheatley argued that Webster concluded that Customs does not play a role in border security and called it “a very dangerous conclusion” on her part.
However, the Auditor General did not appear to make either of those conclusions in her report.
In fact, the Auditor General stated that, “there is no legislation that vests the border security remit with the Premier. The Constitution does, however, provide that the Governor may delegate matters of internal security to the Premier under terms and conditions as he (the Governor) thinks fit.”
Webster said this did not occur either during the period of the COVID
- 19 border closure or at any other period before or after.
Premier Wheatley also warned during the debate that persons should not support a conclusion that is destructive to the BVI and reminded residents that the Customs and Immigration Departments fall under the elected government, while the RVIPF does not.
“Don’t be naive to the play, I would say. We have to ensure that the powers of Customs are not marginalised and are respected. Same thing for Immigration. We have to make sure that the powers of Immigration are respected and not marginalised,” the Premier said.