Governor of the Virgin Islands (VI), H.E. John J. Rankin has flagged as ‘deeply concerning’ a number of findings in the report on the audit of VI Assistance Grants, awarded for the periods 2019-2022 in the VI, while singling out one grant recipient without providing any reason as to why the individual received the grant.
The Governor in a March 10, 2023, statement said the funds were for the most part, not governed by any financial rules or eligibility criteria and were hence, not consistently distributed on the basis of need.
He revealed that in one instance, a senior public officer and their immediate family members received grants totalling $217,900 over the period, however, the Governor did not state the reasons for the large grant funding.
The Governor in a March 10, 2023,
statement said the funds were for the most part not governed by any
financial rules or eligibility criteria and were hence, not consistently
distributed on the basis of need.
Audit report tabled in HOA
The redacted version of the Audit Report on Assistance Grants has since been discussed in the House of Assembly on March 9, 2023, and is now available to the public. The report was conducted in response to Commission of Inquiry
) Recommendation B12, and covered Assistance Grants issued between January 2019 and May 2022.
“Over the last three years, the Government awarded a total of $23m in Assistance Grants across three ministries and the House of Assembly. The Premier’s Office accounted for 47% of the total awards given from these programmes, while the thirteen members of the House of Assembly awarded 39%,” he said.
The Governor added, “All of the programmes were absent of documented objectives and the audit highlights that individuals within the orbit of the political arena may have received preferential treatment in the awarding of assistance,” he added.
Programme lacked control - Report
As such, Governor Rankin said the audit concludes that the Assistance Grants Programmes lacked “controls that would promote equity, transparency and accountabilities” and that the programmes were allowed to “operate unabated at the whims and pleasure of elected officials”.
He said the operations of these programmes, for the most part, did not serve to resolve any socioeconomic deficiencies and were largely utilized to satisfy individual wants and desires.
Already members of the House have defended their issuance of grants, as monies that was needed by those who benefitted.
According to the Governor, the payments considered for this Assistance Grants audit were also separate from the $16m issued in Covid
-19 Assistance Grants and are separate from funding for local district infrastructure projects.
For the separate $16m issued in Covid
-19 Assistance Grants, he said a report will come on the audit of those funds at the end of March, which will be laid in the HoA within three months, in accordance with the Audit Act 2003.
Report blasted as one-sided
Most members of the house blasted the report as one-sided and an attempt to take away funds from students who need scholarships and assistance.
Two members of the House of Assembly, in particular, the Premier Dr Hon Nalalio D. Wheatley (R7) and Hon Carvin Malone (Al) noted that the scholarships were not enough and that the scholarship policy need reviewing.
This report on the grants was also the latest in what many consider one-sided and biased reports done by the Auditor General without extensively interviewing persons who receive funds. Many of those who received grants also provided receipts and justified the need for the money.