Deputy Speaker and Territorial At-Large Representative Neville ‘Sheep’ Smith has complained that the proverbial ‘system’ has been set up for lawmakers to fail.
Smith was speaking during the House of Assembly (HOA) debate over an Auditor General’s report on Claude Skelton Cline’s contracts with the Virgin Islands
Party government between 2019 and 2021.
The report showed that Skelton Cline received more than $365,000 of taxpayer funds without delivering on the requirements of his three contracts. Auditor General Sonia Webster also concluded that the primary purpose of the consultancy services Skelton Cline provided to the government over the period in question “was not to add value to the government but rather to provide employment for the consultant (Skelton Cline)”.
Smith, while debating the issue, said he heard the phrase ‘the system does not work’ being uttered more than 15 times while listening to his colleagues debate the report on the contracts.
“It’s a serious report. They have a lot of stuff in here that speaks to what went down,” Smith said. “I’ve come to this House more than one time talking about the system that we have. [It] is set up for us to fail. And this is the very, very evidence of it — that the system is set up for us to fail.”
According to the Deputy Speaker, there should be some sort of mechanism in place to see a red light when such things are taking place so they can be stopped.
“Reading this [report] here, it’s telling you nothing was delivered. So how was he paid? How did he get paid? This is what, I don’t understand, How was he paid if he did not deliver. Isn’t that a failure in the system? Smith asked.
The first-term legislator argued, among other things, that the HOA’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is already an established system, along with the Auditor General’s Office that are supposed to be in place and should have been able to stop the issue from happening.
He also said the Financial Secretary had a duty to look at the issue and determine how payments were being made to Skelton Cline.
“This is a test. It’s a lesson that we have to put things in place and be accountable for things,” Smith said. “We cannot continue going down the road this way. I’ve said it from the time I was elected, and I’m saying it now again, we can’t continue talking about the system and ain’t doing nothing to fix it.”
Smith said people shouldn’t just blame politicians for the issue. He suggested that lawmakers were being pitted against each other for the sake of politics and argued that people were trying to fuel the problem instead of fixing it.