British Virgin Islands

Sunday, Oct 17, 2021

I took a backseat from business after entering politics- Hon Smith tells CoI

Deputy Speaker and Territorial At-Large Member in the Virgin Islands (VI) House of Assembly (HoA), Hon Neville A. Smith said in order to be as transparent as possible, he took a backseat regarding managing personal business operations in the territory.

The topic came up at the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) hearing on September 21, 2021, when the Commission was examining a number of Government contracts received by companies in which Hon Smith had an interest.

Some contracts signed without legislator's knowledge

Due to his limited role in the businesses, the legislator said that for some of the Government contracts, he was not aware of them at the time they were signed. “I am being truthful about this… After being elected, I choose to not play any part in any of my companies just for transparency,” Hon Smith said.

“I did it because I did not want to be compromised, so I took myself away… the only thing I didn’t do was take my name off the companies, but I pulled myself away from the companies. I have no day-to-day runnings of any of the companies.”

As a result, the legislator failed to obtain early exemptions from vacating his seat as an elected member of the HoA.

In one example, the Deputy Speaker- in one contract valued at about $72, 000 issued to Caribbean Security Limited with Government Departments- said he only become aware that the company had entered into an agreement with the government after he noticed a cheque written to the company.

This was after the company had put in a proposal for security work in relation to the installation of security equipment in several government departments, including Inland Revenue and the Treasury Department.

The company is reportedly being managed by his business partner and Caribbean Securities Co-Director, Dave Dupree.

Dupree corroborates Hon Smith's statement

Hon Smith's statements to the CoI regarding his limited interest in Caribbean Security Ltd was further corroborated by his business partner, Mr Dupree, in a letter presented to the Commission.

Dupree revealed that Hon Smith had minimal involvement in the business long before he was even elected in the HoA. '

It was revealed that this time frame was for some 20 years, from the time Hon Smith was working in the private sector at Harneys BVI.

The legislator initially told the Commission that he had taken a backseat from his business interests for 10 years; however, Hon Smith said he completely removed himself on the run-up to the 2019 elections leaving Dupree to take charge.

Hon Smith further said on assuming his role in public office, his business partner was warned not to sign contracts with the government without previewing him to said contracts, in keeping with the requirements of legislators to first seek exemption from the House.

Systems corrected to prevent reoccurrence - Hon Smith

He said while some contracts may have 'fell through the cracks', a more robust business system is now in place for the review of contracts and to make sure he is aware of them.

“I built what I have from the time I was a young man and to now take it and give away… because of politics… I see that as wrong because I worked hard to achieve what I achieved in life and what I achieve I want to make sure that my children [and] and family can benefit from it,” he said.

Hon Smith said completely removing his name from the security company is not an option since his family must be able to benefit from his business and hard work should something happen to him.

He said he has no problem with contracts going to the HoA on time; however, moving forward, he will be sure he keeps the issue in focus.


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