Beautiful Virgin Islands

Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023

Auditor General had questionable conclusions — Premier

Auditor General had questionable conclusions — Premier

Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley has suggested that Auditor General (AG) Sonia Webster has arrived at questionable conclusions in some of her audits.
The Premier gave that indication during a debate in the House of Assembly (HOA) yesterday on an audit report issued by Auditor General Sonia Webster concerning three public contracts issued to controversial consultant Claude Skelton Cline between 2019 and 2021.

Dr Wheatley argued that while an audit regarding the government’s engagement on those three contracts was ‘pretty straightforward’, the Auditor General’s conclusions are not without fault.

“I’ll have to say we have some other audits coming where the Auditor General comes to some conclusions that I disagree with, and that’s okay. Because the Auditor General herself is a human being, and you know, her, as a human being, her conclusions are not infallible,” Premier Wheatley said.

He continued: “She is capable of human error and her conclusions can be questioned. Her report is her report, but her conclusions can be questioned and in some other audits, she has some questionable conclusions in my view.”

Criticism of audit on EZ Shipping

Premier Wheatley subsequently criticised the Auditor General’s report on contracts for static marine platforms between the government and EZ Shipping.

According to the Premier, the AG relied on security experts — namely the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force — to arrive at some of her conclusions but appeared to have discounted the advice of officers in the territory’s Customs and Immigration Department which forms part of the Joint Task Force (JTF).

“She doesn’t reference what the other members of the Joint Task Force thought,” Premier Wheatley said.

He further argued that there were very strong presentations made as to the effectiveness of the barges. “So who is right and who is wrong? Are the police right? Are Customs and Immigration wrong?” Dr Wheatley asked.

The Premier told the HOA that he had the benefit of having an objective perspective from law enforcement agencies outside the BVI on the effectiveness of the barges used as radar platforms by EZ Shipping.

“These law enforcement agencies from this other country told me without hesitation that the barges were very effective,” the Premier said.

Dr Wheatley said the agencies were not prompted or prepared for the questions but they answered.

What the audit said

But the AG’s report on the marine platforms concluded that no evidence had been presented to support statements regarding the effectiveness of the barges used as radar platforms.

In fact, the audit noted that the continuance of illicit activities was evident in drug busts that occurred during the period the barges were in use. Webster related in her report that Customs staff reported a change in modus as persons engaged in avoidance tactics to circumvent the sphere of the platforms.

The audit concluded that statistics provided show that the greatest reduction of activity occurred during the period that the UK military ship Medway was patrolling territorial waters.

Webster said the JTF was compelled to adopt the floating platforms after receiving a directive from Cabinet to reconsider the barges that had previously been declined by the Police Commissioner.

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