British Virgin Islands

Thursday, Jan 27, 2022

HOA member pays district office rent with COVID assistance grant $$

HOA member pays district office rent with COVID assistance grant $$

A member of the House of Assembly (HOA) reportedly paid their district office rent with monies intended for a COVID-19 assistance grant programme implemented by the government last year.

The government’s Internal Auditor, Dorea Corea shared that finding when she appeared before the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Wednesday.

The name of the member was not disclosed but Corea told the COI that there was only a single instance of a member paying rent with funds from the COVID grant.

Highlighting other issues arising from the initiative, the Internal Auditor said the criteria for the grants issued under the programme was often seen as vague and was subject to abuse in several instances.

Applicants used grants for old debts

The BVI government had initiated the programme as a form of social intervention to assist residents experiencing financial hardship because of COVID-19, or for those requiring assistance for hurricane recovery and preparation.

However, when applications were reviewed, there were multiple instances where applicants used the programme to settle obligations that predated the pandemic.

The report noted that applicants requested assistance to make payments on loans that were severely delinquent prior to the pandemic; to make payments for credit cards that were delinquent prior to the pandemic; and to reimburse bills that had already been paid. It was also found that grant monies were used on expenditure that was not related to COVID-19 such as education-related payments, long overdue income taxes, outstanding daycare fees, and school fees for persons who were unemployed before COVID.

Those applications, Corea agreed, should have been under other programmes that exist.

Approval process opaque, arbitrary

The internal audit department found that the grant awards appear to have been arbitrarily determined, even when sufficient documentation was submitted to justify the amounts requested by an applicant.

In some instances, award amounts were significantly lowered, even though there was sufficient documentation to justify the need to get a full grant; while in other instances, full amounts were awarded to some applicants without any documentation to justify it.

As a result, the audit found that there were no controls implemented to ensure equitable disbursement of funds.

Grants received from multiple House Members

There were also instances where applicants received grants from multiple members and from other assistance programmes, which the audit found to be abusive.

“I don’t think there was any measure in place to actually do the checks and balances against the members in terms of their recommendations,” Corea said. “[This] maybe in some instances, but not in all, because we realised that multiple payments were made from different members at the same time.”

She continued: “The programmes are not connected, so they didn’t share a common evaluation process or a database where they can be checked and verified. So, a person could have received benefits from say, [the] small business [assistant grant] and still get money from House of Assembly [assistant grant].”


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