Appearing before the COI yesterday, October 12, Premier Fahie made it clear that he would not simply be giving evidence to the Commission, but would instead be embarking on a mission to set the record straight.
In a protracted and prepared speech before the COI, the Premier asked for parity of treatment in how the UK and BVI governments — both past and present — are judged for how they have both handled certain issues.
“Even though when you look at the track record of the UK government who called this Commission of Inquiry, in how it has handled its economic stimulus and social support programmes, how it has failed to handle transparency, accountability and value-for-money and other governance issues surrounding COVID-19, I think you will find that the BVI, with our imperfections, does not fail or fall into that same barrel as the UK,” Premier Fahie stated.
He told the COI that both his government and the UK government took similar approaches in skipping procedural and administrative steps, largely in the interest of expediency, considering the urgency of the global pandemic.
He accused the UK of blatant and rampant government corruption and said the BVI has exceeded the UK’s standard if it were to be judged against that benchmark.
The Premier, while declining to single out anyone in particular, said irreparable damage was caused to persons’ reputation internationally in accusing them of stealing funds.
According to the territory’s leader, no local politicians got kickbacks from the government’s COVID-19 stimulus grants which were taken from the Social Security Board fund.
He noted that this was in contrast to the corruption that existed with the UK’s rollout of its social programmes aimed at combatting the pandemic.
Premier Fahie further insisted that no proof exists that shows any monies from the grants were missing and assured that all persons and entities that received grants would be held accountable for the funds they received.
The leader of government’s business also argued that the COI was called in a way that destabilises the territory with allegations that the Premier and his government stole money.
Adding that although his appearance before the Commission may be helpful for the COI, it has been a hurtful experience for him as Premier to appear before the COI and try to recover the good name of the BVI.
“I am like a duck on the pond, Commissioner — looking good on the top but paddling hard underneath to get back our reputation,” the Premier said.
The Premier also disagreed that even in hindsight, there should have been more transparency and good governance in deliberations on how funds were spent by his government in the distribution of COVID-19 assistance grants.
He said there should have been more professionalism exercised by all involved — particularly the Auditor General, Sonia Webster, whom he singled out by accusing her of rushing an audit report on the government’s distribution of the funds.
“We’re [the government is] in charge of policy and you can’t audit policies like that – that’s outside of the domain of even the Auditor General,” the Premier charged.
Following the Premier’s statements that ran for nearly 20 minutes, Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom expressed disapproval for what he described as ‘misplaced and inappropriate political rhetoric’.
“I will not be deflected by political rhetoric, and I will not be deflected by inappropriate comparisons with other places. I will stick to my brief, and I will only focus on meeting my terms of reference,” Sir Gary said.
The COI was issued on January 19 to look into whether corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty may have taken place amongst public, elected and statutory officials in recent years. Following hearings, it will make appropriate recommendations as to governance and the operation of the law enforcement and justice systems in the BVI.