Said Opposition Leader only criticising COVID-19 stimulus package 'for the sake of heaping scorn'
Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, Hon Vincent O. Wheatley, who also has oversight for Social Security in the Virgin Islands, has fired back at Opposition Leader, Hon Marlon A. Penn for questioning how the Government was able to source money from the Social Security Board (SSB) to fund its $62.9M COVID-19 economic stimulus plan.
"It is clear, firstly, that the plan presented by your Government is indeed a solid plan, and that the Honourable Leader of the Opposition knows this. That is why he tried to claim credit for elements of your Government’s plan," Hon Wheatley said in a statement published this afternoon, June 2, 2020.
Explain SSB 'Grant' funding - Hon Penn
Earlier today, Virgin Islands News Online (VINO) carried an article where the Opposition Leader raised concerns about the SSB money being pumped into the stimulus plan.
"I am; however, concerned that most if not all, of the $62.9M of funding for this plan is coming from our Social Security Board. I am even more concerned that this is being termed a grant," Hon Penn said while questioning the legality of the funds and its long term sustainability.
Hon Wheatley has responded, calling the statement erroneous, misleading and sensational, "unable to find any substantial grounds for criticism of your Government’s solid plan, the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, just for the sake of heaping scorn on your Government’s good work, has opted to go out on a very long, weak limb to question the legality of the issuing of a grant by the SSB."
'A campaign of mischief' - Hon Wheatley
Calling the rant from the Opposition Leader 'a deliberate nature of his campaign of mischief', Hon Wheatley said it is not unprecedented for the VI Government to receive donations towards public projects.
"On a very regular basis, donations are received for projects such as school repairs and purchases of various types of equipment. These donations have come from private individuals, corporate entities and other types of organisations, including the SSB... it is not unusual for the SSB to issue donations. The SSB has been issuing donations for decades."
The Minister pointed to instances in April where the SSB partnered with the local Rotary Clubs to donate $25,000 and raise a total of some $50,000 for the Family Support Network (FSN) and then donated some $500,000 to a public body, the BVI Health Services Authority (BVIHSA), to address needs in the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Is the Honourable Leader of the Opposition saying that the SSB was wrong to make this donation to the needy?," Hon Wheatley questioned while making reference to monies given to FSN.
Opposition Leader has 'short memory'- Hon Penn
Further, Hon Wheatley said on December 19, 2017, the SSB used its funds to purchase shares in the National Bank of the Virgin Islands, while Hon Penn was a member of the then Government.
"Why is the Honourable Leader of the Opposition trying to taint, and block legitimate assistance from reaching the BVI citizenry in their greatest time of need?" Hon Wheatley questioned while accusing the Opposition Leader of having a short memory and asking what agenda Hon Penn was trying to achieve.
"Is it not peculiar that for all these years and all these past donations, all of which were publicised, the Honourable Leader of the Opposition has had no query and no concerns?"