British Virgin Islands

Saturday, Dec 04, 2021

Majority Of Trust Fund Board Were Forced To Resign By Premier Fahie – CoI Told

Majority Of Trust Fund Board Were Forced To Resign By Premier Fahie – CoI Told

Former Chairman of the Climate Change Trust Fund Mr. Edwards Childs, is alleging that six non-government members who were instrumental in getting the leg work started for the Climate Change Trust Fund were reportedly forced to resign when the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) administration took over in 2019.

Counsel for the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) Mr. Bilal Rawat read into the record a letter that Mr. Childs submitted into evidence during yesterday’s September 6, live proceedings.

In that letter, dated 5th April 2019 from Premier and Finance Minister Hon. Andrew Fahie, it effectively informed six of the eight members of the Board (the remaining two were government officials) that they had to voluntarily resign within a week of receiving the letter.

However, Mr. Childs said, no board members resigned, and they were seeking an audience with the territory’s new leader on the matter.

The Board had been in place since July 2017.

“We were concerned that a lot of effort had gone into getting the Trust Fund to where it was at that point and particular we were concerned that the operations manual that had been agreed and approved was really the knowledge of all the people on the board,”Mr. Childs told the CoI.

He continued: “So individually, if any of us had to come off the board it wouldn’t matter, but for all of us to come off at one stage, you are effectively starting again with the Trust Fund, and we felt that this would be an issue.”

The former Chairman stated that one of the members was an attorney and that individual provided their legal opinion on the matter.

“We were very clear that what we were being asked to do was not within the wording and agreement within the Act [ Virgin Islands Climate Change Trust Fund Act, 2015], so we decided to reach back to the Premier and requested a meeting to explain what we have been up to, where we are going, just give more information and hoped that we would have an audience. I just think we felt that it was wrong for everybody to step down at the same time," he told the CoI.

Despite hand-delivering the letter to the Premier’s Office, Mr. Childs said their collective letter was not given a response.

Mr. Childs further said it would have been a step back for the Trust Fund and not a prudent move to have six members axed for no apparent reason.

Mr. Rawat said, as per the legislation, the minister responsible may, with the approval of Cabinet revoke the appointment of a member of the Board if the minister is satisfied that the member (a) is guilty of misconduct, (b) fail to attend four consecutive meetings of the Board except where the member had notice granted by the Board or where a member is excused by the Board for having been absent from those meetings, or (c) knowingly failed to notify the Board of a conflict of interest (d) no longer fulfils the conditions of appointment (e ) acts in a way that is detrimental to the Trust.

Trust Fund Lost Ground

After they did not get a response from the Premier, Mr. Childs said minutes of a cabinet meeting that was subsequently released indicated to the public that the members of that Trust Fund had been taken off the Board.

He said the Trust Fund never took off despite some movement to have 40 % of the Environmental Levy collected at the airport from travellers to be channelled to the Trust Fund from the government’s coffers.

Mr. Childs explained that the law making it happen was never implemented, and that affected the Trust Fund’s ability to function and set up a secretariat that would then pave the way to enable the Trust Fund to access international funding for the territory in its climate change thrust.

He explained that the Board has been inactive since, and no new appointments were made.

Mr. Childs also said that the initial Board met many times and achieved an operator’s manual, among other things like a basic website and logo, and also expressed that they were frustrated with the length of time it took for the proper legislation to enable the funds to come from government.

The CoI heard that the BVI was the very first Caribbean island to have a board of this nature.

“There are other islands, Antigua for example, was able while we were still a board, to raise a substantial amount of money in the millions and they were well established and since then I have heard of other islands following suit and passing their relevant legislation in the climate change category,” he pointed out.

“There are certainly other islands that have advanced their climate change policy, and I saw something about a green paper to do something with climate change management policy, but I haven’t seen anything further on that," Mr Childs told the CoI.


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