Territorial At-Large Representative Honourable Carvin Malone (AL) has questioned the level of balance of the Report on COVID-19 Border Security Contracts for Static Marine Platforms [COI R23] in 2020, prepared by Auditor General (AG) Ms Sonia M. Webster.
Speaking at the Third Sitting of the Fifth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly in Road Town on March 2, 2023, Honourable Malone pointed out that the "damning" Report lacks the engagement of the Commissioner of Customs on serious conclusions made by the AG, including that the barge company collected unearned monies.
The AG also alleged in the Report that incorrect information was presented to the National Security Council (NSC), to facilitate the approval of the contract.
“Is there a commitment in the Auditor’s work to hear both sides of the story?” Hon Malone asked, as he pointed out that he was not able to find anything in the report on the accused side of the story.
“I would suspect that if it is taken further, before court, you will then have to have one side; and it is documented in the Commission of Inquiry
report under Section 6- and it carries quite a report…It is also being covered quite extensively in the Auditor’s report and amazingly some of the areas covered there also.
“But the only thing I can’t read is the other side, as from those that are, I guess you can say accused…Those in which the audits are being conducted about. Those are the only sides I cannot hear. I looked and I searched all over and none of those reports are in; because there are some quite vivid conclusions made in the COI
’s report and some conclusions made in the Audit report. And they gave specific reference to whose side of the story is being told. Some will say what the bodies are reporting, what the National Security Council is reporting, what all these others are reporting. So…as I said before, I don’t know the facts of any of these reports. So, I can go based on what procedures and exactly how do we get there from here”, the Honourable Malone said.
Customs Act needed to be taken into account
Hon Malone also said there are some areas of concern as to who is responsible for what, when it comes to border security. He said the Customs Act also had to be taken into account, since there seems to be confusion over who had authority for not only border security but other areas concerning the borders.
Hojn Malone said this seems to be an area that needs to be fully explained and brought under control before more conclusions and conflicts arise, but that he is going to wait to hear the other side of the story.
Referring to a section of the report that claims payments were made for times the barges were not in use by Customs or the Joint Task Force, he said the question remains as to whether or not the barges were engaged and to be paid only on usage by these agencies.
“The Commissioner of Customs, his report would have to be part of this…
'Dog whistle statement'
“The conclusions though…Number 134 of the report, it says, ‘Payments made to EZ Shipping covered two months, when the barges were not used. Incorrect information was provided to NSC and Cabinet to facilitate approval of the contracts and support unearned payments of more than 700,000 dollars…’
“That is quite a statement…I don’t see how that conclusion could have been reached”, Honourable Malone said.
Honourable Malone said this is a “dog whistle” statement, noting that someone has to give account for it.
He continued that the report also failed to specify who provided incorrect information to Cabinet, to facilitate the approval.
“And if this is so, it will be proven in the court of Law…Once these go to court, whether they stand will be based on the facts. And one cannot support any illegal activity, any incorrect or misleading, whether it’s the House, the Cabinet, NSC. You have to get the facts out.
“When we look at the recommendations…the conclusions, the other side of the story has to be given…I am not here to defend any of the facts of which I don’t know…These reports must be more balanced in terms of getting the other side of the story”, he said.
Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) has also criticised the report on the basis that it lacks proper research and interviews.
A Report of the Auditor General, Ms
Sonia M. Webster on the COVID-19 Border Security Contracts for Static
Marine Platforms [COI R23], has been criticised for lacking proper
research and interviews.
Premier and Minister of Finance Dr the
Hon Natalio D. Wheatley (R7), while debating the report at the Third
Sitting of the Fifth Session of the Fourth House of Assembly in Road
Town on February 21, 2023, said while he respects the office of the
Auditor General, one of the biggest flaws with the audit report was that
all the relevant parties, including that subject company EZ Shipping
Ltd, were never interviewed.