Uncertainty surrounding the legality of the recent motion brought to the House of Assembly (HOA) to reprimand Governor Augustus Jaspert for his reported violation of the Audit Act saw Wednesday’s session of the House coming to a premature end during the debate process.
The proceedings, which lasted a little more than three hours, was called into an early recess till Friday to allow Attorney General Baba Aziz to bring a legal opinion on the matter before continuing with the motion.
The request came from Premier Andrew Fahie who had many questions on whether the motion, which he described as unprecedented, would be supported by the Virgin Islands Constitution, and if so, to what extent.
“I would like to know with the legal opinion, what the constitution and the law would have to say if this motion is agreed to and passed in the House of Assembly, and likewise what will be our action if it doesn’t,” he said.
“The motion speaks about reprimanding the governor … If the motion should pass, what form does the reprimand take? Is it a letter, is it sent only to His Excellency or must we also copy the Minister for the Overseas Territories? Do we copy the honourable Prime Minister of the UK or should we also notify Her Majesty?” Premier Fahie added.
Fahie said those answers are needed to those and other related questions before continuing the process for the motion, as he does not want the HOA to be engaged in anything that amounts to an act of futility, or which brings embarrassment to the House.
Motion evidences the need for constitutional review
The Premier also said that the motion lends support to what he termed as “the larger picture”, which is the need for a constitutional review in the British Virgin Islands.
Fahie said believes that under the current constitution, there are too many areas of ambiguity which are in need of being updated to bring clarity on a number of matters.
“The question is even if we go with the motion, what are the consequences? Is it stated in the Constitution? Should it be stated in the Constitution? If the ministers do not perform what are the consequences,” he asked.
He further questioned, “If the audited financial reports have not been here for over 10 years, we know that that is a violation of the House. But what are the consequences? We know of the repercussions that the country suffers, but what are the consequences for those, whether public offices, whether the Public Accounts Committee, whether the backbenchers, and even the Governor?”
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Julian Willock said he has sought independent counsel on the aforementioned motion, which will be brought to the House when it resumes on Friday. These will be examined in addition to that of the Attorney General.
Origin of the motion
The motion in question was brought to the House by senior Opposition legislator Julian Fraser who said the governor violated Section 20(2) of the Audit Act when he neglected to deliver the Auditor General’s special report about the BVI Airways within the legally-prescribed timeframe.
The Virgin Islands Audit Act of 2003, states that “the governor shall, within three months of the receipt of the special report, cause the report to be laid before the Legislative Council (the House of Assembly).
Governor Jaspert is said to have received the special report on January 27 this year. However, it was only brought to the House on May 28, which was more than a month past the legal deadline.